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America's Top Model: The Isis Impact

by Brianna Austin

  Terri Toye

Terri Toye, 80's model, and Transgendered.

Being the first transgender contestant on America’s Next Top Model certainly has created a flurry of media buzz around the show, and the 22-year old Isis Tsunami. Her presence on the show has heightened transphobic hysteria rhetoric amongst some groups, but also, albeit unintentionally, provided inspiration to all those people, trans and not, who have been told “no you can’t -- you don’t fit into our version of acceptable.”

When asked early on if she thought being in the public eye made her a role model she said, “I like to help people, but I am doing this for me.”

Isis is the first transgender model on this particular show, but there have been many transsexual high fashion models before her, such as Terri Toye and Lauren Foster, for example, both of whom enjoyed long careers working for the biggest names in the fashion industry. Yet they had reached the world stage before their transsexual status was revealed.

“For the first few years that I modeled, no one knew that I was a transsexual woman,” Lauren Foster said. “After I was ‘outted’ at the Miss South Africa pageant by another contestant, many of the designers I had already worked with loved that I was transsexual. But, they also had to be selective [going forward] as to which countries the print ads I appeared in ran -- because of the publicity that being a transsexual model generated around me.”

Isis was ‘out’ before the competition had even begun, and some of the other contestants on ANTM were quick to dismiss her credibility: “America’s Next Top Model is not going to be a drag queen,” one contestant mused, while others openly mocked Isis during the first round of photo shoots. Some of those catty girls have already been cut, while others have since befriended her.

Isis seems to have in some cases transcended the gender divide and gained the respect from some of the other girls for who she is, rather than the label others tried to force her to wear. And through the whole ordeal, Isis has acted with class.

Yet while she looks and acts like a woman, which might serve to educate the mainstream as to the difference between a transsexual woman and a drag queen (man in a dress), the question remains as to whether that will help reduce discrimination against transsexual woman -- or just raise the bar so that all other transsexual women will have look like a model in order to be seen as a woman.

Still, in her attempt to overcome the challenges of being accepted at face value and advance her modeling hopes, Isis has, it seems, achieved something she hadn’t expected. “I am who I am, a diva, take it or leave it, “Isis said. But she is more than a diva. While she may possibly become a fashion model, she has emerged a role model. Through her drive, focus, preparedness, self confidence, and the courage to go after her dream against all odds, she leads by example, and win, lose or draw already achieved more than most would attempt.

About the writer:

Brianna Austin is a free lance writer and publisher of

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