The May morning of the MTV Movie Awards, Gigi Gorgeous sat in the dining room of her girlfriend’s Toluca Lake mansion, sipping Red Bull from a paper cup. She’d been up late the night before, she was already suffering from interminable jet lag, and it would have been nice to have another hour in bed. But Gigi was in a good mood anyway, because she was about to engage in her all-time favorite activity: Gigi was about to get glam.
Plucking brushes from a mess piled on the table, a makeup artist painted highlighter on her cheekbones and gold glitter across her eyelids, finishing off the look with so many layers of mascara that Gigi’s lashes began to resemble fluffy black butterfly wings. At the same time, a stylist ironed her platinum strands stick straight. Then she started experimenting with a low key updo, fastened half up with an oversize gold cuff. An hour later, Gigi looked like the star of some future I Dream of Jeannie remake, set on Planet Glamazon — like a fembot Barbie warrior princess prepared for a glitter battle. But there were glitches in the next steps of the glam process, which wasn’t a bad thing. Bloopers make great B-roll. And the camera was rolling.
It started with the shoes. Specifically, the fact that they never made it to the house. The wardrobe assistant didn’t have them, so Gigi dialed up the atelier, August Getty (yes, one of those Gettys), who also happens to be her girlfriend’s older brother. The sky-high Giuseppe Zanotti heels were still in his possession, which meant that the designer shoes had to be ferried in their very own Uber chariot from Hollywood to the Valley. Once they arrived, it became clear they were too small, which would have been bad except that Gigi had a pair of sparkly Louis Vuittons hanging around that worked (excuse me, werked) and, at four inches high, they were “so much more comfortable” than the pair she originally planned to wear.
Still, there were other fires to put out, and one of them was literal. When Gigi slid into the dress (gold leather, dripping with a fringe of chains, featuring a giant bubble butt that would make Nicki Minaj raise an eyebrow), it had to be soldered shut. Holding a lighter up to Gigi’s spray tanned skin, the wardrobe assistant Macgyvered the final touches, and in the process sent sparks flying down her back, into her hair. Gigi screeched, slightly singed. Then she pulled it together, snapped a few photos, and pranced out the door alongside her girlfriend, Nats, who had been ready for many hours by then.
As the car sprinted away, Gigi didn’t know it was about to hail, or that the red carpet would get shut down, or that This Is Everything, the documentary about her gender transition, would lose the golden popcorn award to Ava DuVernay’s 13th. (“Super lame” Gigi said summarily the next day). But while an MTV award would have been a fun bauble to put on the shelf, the truth is that the video she made of herself getting ready was the more valuable asset: Millions would see it, on YouTube and teased across her social media channels, because Gigi Loren Lazzarato — a.k.a. Gigi Gorgeous — has made it.
At 25, she’s a Revlon ambassador, a highly sought after #sponcon queen, an author-to-be with a book out next year, a host on MTV's TRL revival who is also working on her own scripted television series. TIME named Gigi one of the most influential people on the internet this year, putting her on a list with the likes of Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Chrissy Teigen. She's a boss business woman who pulls in six figures a month, easy, as well as a new era reality star whose following numbers in the millions. It all adds up to her being one of the most visible trans women in the world: She has shared, and bared, all, from facial feminization procedures and breast surgeries to hater clapbacks and real talk about hemorrhoids.
But there are also plenty of things that Gigi is not, nor does she profess to be. She is not an expert on bathroom bill legislation or the proposed trans ban in the military. She is not always up-to-date on the latest progressive lingo, and doesn't really want to debate the finer points of femme gender presentation or feminism. She doesn’t consider herself in the same activist league as Janet Mock or Laverne Cox, and she thinks it’s nuts when people lump her into that tier. “I’m totally aware that people see me as a voice for my community and it’s an honor,” she says. “But I’m just living my life.”
And yet. Gigi doesn’t need to think of herself that way in order for the world to foist its expectations on her sculpted shoulders. While the concept of gender identity may be a cornerstone of the cultural zeitgeist now, the reality is that transgender people and issues have only recently been granted entry into the mainstream, and that “transgender” is a word that still sounds unfamiliar to most. Millions of people follow Gigi’s channel; many might say she’s the first trans woman they’ve ever really gotten to know. And that’s the true beauty of Gigi Gorgeous: She doesn’t have to be a role model, or an expert, a “perfect” ambassador for the transgender community. All she has to do is be herself.
Gigi Gorgeous has been in a relationship with Nats Getty, the designer and heiress, for nearly two years now, save for one very brief breakup (an event that Gigi documented tearily on her YouTube channel). They are not — I repeat, not — engaged. But the fact is: Earlier this year, Nats bought Gigi the most perfectly pink and literally precious ring, a princess-cut diamond surrounded by other twinkling stones, and that Gigi had sized for her left ring finger one afternoon when we were out together in Beverly Hills.
That day, the duo was dressed down and walking down the sidewalks of Canon Drive, their locked fingers swinging as they went. It was gloriously sunny, and Gigi needed new shades, so we stopped in a chi chi little boutique where the woman behind the counter knew them both by name. Afterward, we strolled to a verdant promenade and waited for a few more members of the entourage. Then the gang all piled into an extra long escalade for approximately four minutes, and hopped out to do some shoe shopping. “I think of myself as a very lucky person,” she says. Welcome to a day in the life of Gigi Gorgeous.
Gigi has always been destined for the limelight. In early family videos, she is a smiley toddler vying to be the center of attention, a classic middle child trying to outshine her brothers. “We were so fricking cute, no wonder my mom kept having us,” she says, and she wasn’t exaggerating. The Lazzarato kids were baby duck blondes with rosy cheeks, plump like little human marshmallows. Family pictures look like ads for the wholesomeness of Canada, where Gigi grew up. Her parents were adoring, supportive, financially secure — a blueprint of the future she hopes to provide for her own future kiddos. Who are “100%” in the future, by the way, as Gigi puts it while cooing over $500 booties on our shopping adventure.
But her happy childhood also contained some big questions. Gigi, whose birth name is Gregory, always felt different from her brothers. (She is comfortable with references to her birth name, which is a term she prefers over dead name.) When Gigi turned seven, she had a party at the local gymnastics academy, where a competitive diving coach spotted her and suggested to her mom that she would be a natural on the board. From that first day in the pool, Gigi was hooked on the sport, which played into not only her natural gift for showmanship but also her tenacious athleticism.
“I loved how graceful it was, how strong everyone looked,” Gigi says about the six years she spent pursuing the sport. “Everyone’s bodies were perfect.” Competitive by nature, she started training, sometimes three hours a night. At one point, she even switched to a high performance high school so that she could be in the pool during the day, too. Her diving career hit a high point when she won first place at a national competition in Canada, putting her on what might have been an Olympic track.
But away from the board, Gigi was not so certain about anything. She had long tamped down a desire to wear makeup and feminine clothes. She was captivated by Victoria’s Secret models. “I would just die over how beautiful those girls looked,” Gigi says. She longed to resemble them herself. A desire to explore those feelings wasn’t the only reason she stepped away from diving — she missed her friends and doing “normal” teenage stuff — but it definitely played a role. A year after nationals, Gigi decided she was done. She went back to her old school, connected with her old friends. But still, something was missing. So Gigi did what kids nowadays do when they’re trying to find a tribe of people who truly gets them. She turned to the internet.
The first Gregory Gorgeous video, which is still up on the Gigi Gorgeous channel today, is a self-described homage. Its star says she was inspired by the upstart beauty vloggers of the day — Michelle Phan, Juicy Star, All That Glitters — but that she knew literally nothing about makeup when she started. “I didn’t want to be them, because I didn’t think that was attainable. I just wanted to do what they did. These girls were in another realm.”
That was 2008, and things were very different. The Obama family wasn’t living in the White House yet; Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March were movements of the years-off future. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell remained the official policy of the U.S. military and marriage equality seemed like an unachievable dream. The things we refer to as “progress” today were still incubating. Facebook was a mere four years old, Twitter was in its terrible twos, Instagram didn’t exist and YouTube — still in its cosmic soup phase — had just begun bursting into an unpredictable constellation of channels, personalities, and subcultures.
There were the makeup artists and wannabe actors, the lip-syncers, early unboxing phenoms, and Kelly, who wanted to get some shoes. In another category, there were true vloggers like Tyler Oakley, whose early diaristic, low-fi videos helped secure his status as the "first gay person" many people had ever met. Influencer campaigns and social media crossover stars were meaningless word salad phrases. It took some time for the Gregory Gorgeous channel (which has since been changed to Gigi Gorgeous in every field but the ones that would impact long-term search optimization, like the URL) to pick up steam. That first year, Gigi posted a handful of videos; the next, a couple a month. But as the cadence increased, so did the following. The initial inkling that her channel was catching on happened when she was folding shirts at the local mall and someone walked up and knew her by name. “I guess I’m kind of famous in Canada?” she remembers thinking.
At that time, Gigi was identifying as a gay male, something she talked about openly on her channel, along with sharing makeup tips, product reviews, and a revolving carousel of silly stuff. YouTube is sort of like a yearbook for her. “I look back and see: Those were my crazy partying days,” she says, “or this is when I learned about liquid eyeliner.” There’s a hair era that she’s glad is in the past, like most of us. “I was obsessed with the heavy side bang — no more!” But the topics were not only superficial: Gigi’s webcam was also like therapy, a place where she could talk out feelings and fears, and connect with people who understood her in a way that her real-life friends just did not. “I would finish a day at high school, make a video really fast, and get all these words of support and advice that I needed to hear, from all these people I could confide in," she says. "I didn’t even realize I was catapulting myself into a community.”
She also didn’t realize she was setting out on a career path. When she started, YouTube wasn’t set up to make money for its contributors — just posting a video would never generate a profit. Things have changed a lot in the intervening years: Now, on a good month, the Gigi Gorgeous channel can generate a healthy six-figures through Google AdSense alone. Her YouTube presence has also opened up a range of other revenue streams, like integrated advertising on videos, event appearances, and “face of” deals. In the early years, though, no one knew the Gigi Gorgeous brand could generate actual income, so after high school, she followed a friend to Toronto for a fashion program. But she kept making videos on the side.
That’s where she wound up meeting her manager to this day, Scott Fisher. Fisher, in his early twenties at the time, and also living in Toronto, was trying to make a name for himself in the entertainment production world. He was working on a web series of his own and knew that he needed star power if he wanted it to succeed. After tuning into her YouTube, Fisher reached out to Gigi to see if she wanted a role. He tried to make his series seem like more of a big deal than it actually was; Gigi made her best friend email him back and pose as her manager. “It was the ultimate ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ story for us both,” Fisher remembers. He also recalls that the first day of filming, Gigi showed up with a full entourage. “She acted like it was a network show that was going to change her life.”
After that, the pair kept working on videos together, with Fisher stepping into more of a business manager role. Soon, he was making more money partnering with Gigi on projects than he was at Starbucks. He knew that if he turned his attention to the Gigi Gorgeous brand full time, they could make even more. Gigi, who felt like dividing her energy between classes and YouTube was making both areas of her life suffer, agreed: She wanted to take the next steps toward stardom. Together, they were all in.
Gigi’s influencer career had been on the rise before she met Fisher; his coming on board the #TeamGorgeous only accelerated the process. But what kicked things into high gear was a video Gigi posted on December 16, 2013. In it, she’s wearing a fuzzy blue sweater and a cheery splash of bright pink lipstick. The title:“I Am Transgender.”
The light bulb went on in New York City five years ago. Gigi was there for an industry event, LGBTQ in nature, and got to talking with a woman who started sharing a story about her own transition. It was like someone flipped a switch. Gigi had so many questions that the woman gamely answered. They talked into the evening. “She was the most open book that a person can be with their life, especially as a transgender person,” Gigi says. “I had never connected with anything more.” That night, she couldn’t sleep. She stayed up, googling and thinking. There were logistics to consider — starting hormones, setting up surgeries, filing the paperwork to officially change her name — as well as the business of coming out to her family, friends, and followers, all to come.
But while that chance meeting is part of the story about Gigi’s decision to transition, there was another important catalyst along the way: losing her mom, to cancer, in February 2012. “It was the biggest pivot I’ve ever had,” Gigi says. “It kicked off my transition, my identity, my independence. After that, more than ever, I was like: I am living for me, and I need to be happy. Because life is just too short.”
Her coming out video, posted four years ago this winter, was generally met with support and congratulations. Longtime followers were thrilled for Gigi to “live her truth” and said so, thousands of times over. “It was definitely a different conversation we needed to have, because I was opening up about this whole new chapter of my life," she told me. "I basically said: ‘There’s a lot more to come.’”
At the end of “I Am Transgender” — a video which has been viewed nearly four million times — Gigi tries to preempt haters by saying that her “choice to be a woman makes me more woman than a lot of women out there.” What predictably ensued in the comment section was a back-and-forth between different coalitions of users. There were the people who understood what she meant but thought she’d phrased it badly and wanted to cut her some slack: “I think I understood what Gigi meant and I can agree with her, let me phrase it like this: Trans* people are more aware of their identity, cis people usually don't question their identity like trans* people do. Therefore trans* people are more aware of their identity and know exactly who they are. Simple as that.”
There were the ones who thought that comment was derogatory to all women, and wanted her to take it back, but were still overall supportive: “WHAT?? I was really quite offended by that because just because she had the choice to be a female doesnt [sic] mean she is better or more feminine or prettier than us natural females. And just clarifying I am not saying because I was born girl makes me better than her. I just don't understand what goes through her mind when she thinks she has the right to say that. I suppose in a way it's sexism!!!”
And then, of course, there were the trolls who took it as an opportunity to trans bash (no need to copy/paste those), as well as a wide, colorful array of other impressions. But while litigation via comment section is just the way the internet works, those posts are also a fascinating real-time sociological record: They reveal, in a 17,000-entry-long thread, a complex portrait of people grappling with the way that they think about gender, some of them seemingly for the first time.
Maybe if Gigi were to redo her “I Am Transgender” video, she might give that last line a rewrite. After all, she’s evolved a lot in the intervening years. She’s older, wiser, has more expansive worldview. But then again: Maybe she wouldn’t. As a savvy creature of the internet who understands the connection between controversy and clicks, she benefits from a certain level of contentiousness, and from saying what she’s thinking for better or worse. In fact, the “worse” moments have become a transparently intentional part of her brand.
Take, for example, the video where she went to Israel, ignored common sense cultural mores, and then titled the footage “BECOMING JEWISH!” Or the one about being “broke and homeless” that was actually about getting locked out of an apartment after a night out on the town. “I get that when you’re rich and beautiful it’s hard to think about things outside of your little bubble," read a typical comment,"but compare what you went through to someone actually losing their home and having literally nothing." (In a follow up video, Gigi basically responded by saying that she was joking and everyone needed to chill.)
But there are also times when she isn’t trying to stir the pot and still manages to wind up taking heat. When she came out as a lesbian a year ago, after she started dating Nats, she didn’t predict the deluge of people whose minds would be boggled by the logistics of that sexual orientation. Comments like: “The title leaves me confused, would you still be gay or lesbian, I'm not saying this in a mean way,” and, “Why is bisexuality always erased? Why is that rarely an option?” It was aggravating for Gigi, she admits. “I think a lot of people were confused about why I labeled myself that way, because there are just so many terms... It’s hard, even for a gay trans girl,” she says. After all, no one gets a brain operating systems update when gender identity vocabulary evolves. Keeping up can be a challenge.
For people who are still working on the language out with the best intentions, Gigi is happy to help them through that processing. But for anyone just trolling her videos to tear her down, she’s got a choice acronym: DGAF. “Being on YouTube and online in general has made me build up a really thick skin,” she says. “I’ve heard it all, and I’ve been called every name in the book, over and over.” Still, in spite of everything: Gigi’s comment sections are dominated less by shade and more by warmth. We talk about the internet being the place where people unleash the worst versions of themselves, and too often that's true. But on Gigi's channel, the following is mostly accepting and curious. Overwhelmingly, people respond to her with love.
For reasons largely self-evident, Gigi Gorgeous is obsessed with Halloween. So much so that she rarely settles for just one costume: A couple years back, she dressed up as “sexy Catwoman” (pleather bodysuit, perky ears), as well as in an outfit she called “soldier Barbie” (camouflage onesie, thigh-high boots, dog tags). Her then-boyfriend donned complementary attire (not worth describing). This year, Gigi went all out, per usual, bringing Nats into the couples costume plan. But in 2017, she didn’t just get glammed up. She got glammed up for a good cause — twice.
The first event was the UNICEF Next Generation Masquerade Ball, on October 27. Gigi and Nats channeled their inner Britney and Justin, rocking head-to-toe denim in tribute to those unforgettably awful outfits worn to the 2001 American Music Awards. Gigi Spears and Nats Timberlake were a hit in their matching Versace. But those costumes were a mere amuse-bouche. Two days later, Gigi slipped into a pale blue ruffled minidress and did her best Cinderella impersonation, escorted by — who else — Prince Charming. Their destination? A Haunted Halloween Bash in West Hollywood at Bootsy Bellows, hosted by Gigi herself.
It was another fundraising event; this time, on behalf of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Center for Transyouth Health & Development. The buy-in wasn’t insanely high — a $25 donation at the door and $1,500 minimum for bottle service — but it was something, and after touring the facility earlier this year and hearing about all the services it would provide for trans youth, Gigi wanted to help. She’s growing more comfortable being thought of as an advocate, a fact that no doubt has something to do with her proximity to the Getty family, who have donated extensively to LGBTQ causes and initiatives. Plus, it meant getting dressed up.
Everything about the Halloween bash was very on brand for Gigi Gorgeous, in terms of aligning herself to a worthwhile cause. She got to put on a costume and party, plus generate content. It's also the kind of activism to which she believes her celebrity lends best. “I feel like I am forever growing, but I’m also not trying to be anything I’m not,” she told me. “Sharing my story, being a stepping stone for people looking to find resources — that’s my calling. I’m not political. But I can speak from what I know.”
Last spring, sitting in the dining room, the glam swirling around her, she the calm eye of the storm, Gigi said something that I bookmarked in my mind and have been thinking about in all the months since. I had asked her about questions she doesn’t want to answer anymore. One is: How does it feel to be famous? “What am I supposed to say to that?" she said, rolling her eyes. "Just, like, talk up my own ass? No thanks.”
But then Gigi got a little bit serious. "People ask me: Are you sick of being labeled as transgender — do you want that word to fade away?” Her response: “Absolutely not. I’m really proud to be transgender. I want to bring it up in everything I say, because it’s powerful. It’s who I am.” Gigi has worked hard to become her true self. And that is exactly the person the world needs her to be.
Gender and sexual orientation are both highly personal and constantly evolving. So, in honor of Transgender Awareness Week, we're talking about the importance of language and raising the voices of the LGBTQIA community. Welcome to Gender Nation, where gender is defined by the people who live it. Want to learn more? Check out our Gender Nation glossary.