Visibility of trans and non-binary folks has improved over the past five years. Celebrities including Laverne Cox, Sam Smith, and Jonathan Van Ness have spoken out about their experiences; politicians including Phillippe Cunningham and Brianna Titone have won elections; and both LGBTQ+ and general interest publications have dedicated resources to covering trans rights. But there’s still so much work to be done — at least 22 transgender and gender non-conforming people were murdered in 2019, most of them Black trans women; the Trump administration is working to roll back trans rights; and while 62% of Americans now say they support trans rights, that still leaves almost four in ten people who don’t.
Model and activist KhrystyAna is working to change that with her Real Catwalk Project, dedicated to throwing out conventional beauty standards and championing inclusivity. After featuring 13 trans women in a gorgeous photoshoot for Pride month, KhrystyAna is now celebrating transmasculine folks. In this editorial, 15 transmasculine people share their stories and joyously pose for photos, wearing the colors of the trans flag.
“This time around, I really wanted to circle back to the very first reason I personally started all these projects, including the core message of the Real Catwalk: my very best friend,” KhrystyAna tells Refinery29. Her friend, who is transmasculine, “is often misgendered, yelled at in public bathrooms, mocked, and teased — even by other members of the LGBTQ+ community,” KhrystyAna says. “It isn’t that simple to simply exist, even in 2019. The least I can do for my best friend is to push for awareness as passionately as I possibly can."
KhrystyAna asked 15 transmasculine folks to pose for this editorial and share their experiences. The models featured are Miyagi Superior Scott, Brandes Yenchick, Jaxson Marie, Lucas Eliot, Tashan Lovemore, Lex Horwitz, Landyn Pan, Julian Van Horne, Sir Knight, Savy Dunlevy, Chett D’Angelo, Devin-Norelle, Marquise Vilsón, Theo Germaine, and Zach Barack. Photographer Amanda Picotte, stylist Guvanch, and KhrystyAna herself, who produced the shoot, rounded out the all-LGBTQ+ team.
Miyagi Superior Scott (He/Him)
As someone who is of trans experience, it’s part of my journey to accept myself through every stage of my life. At first, I didn’t care to be seen — in fact, I wanted to be invisible. I wanted to exist, silently admiring all the beauty and chaos from afar, creating art from the trenches. All I wanted was to be a reflection. I want the world to know our differences are illusions. We are more connected than separated. I am just a human, and it is important for me to be seen as such, regardless of my gender identity.
Brandes Yenchick (He/Him)
I identify as a transmasculine man and use he/him pronouns. When it comes to my gender expression, the majority of times I am very masculine, but I love to explore my fluidity. To me, my gender identity doesn't describe who I am, my gender expression does. It allows me to feel comfortable in my gender identity as a male, but my still have the femininity that I enjoy.
I explain my gender identity best with the term "demiboy," which is when a person has a partial connection to a gender — in my case, male — but not a full connection. I like to describe my gender expression as more agender, because I personally don’t think clothing should have a gender. I believe I should be able to wear what I want without my gender being assumed.
Lucas Eliot (He/Him)
I identify as a trans male with female experience. I describe myself as such because I'm a male who was born in a female body. For most of my life, society treated me as what it perceived me to be: female. I cherish this experience because it's equipped me with a great deal of empathy for all the women in the world today. My gender expression fits my gender identity, in that I dress and express myself in a masculine way.
We're just like cisgender people. We have careers and spouses with children; we own houses and have incredible talents; we're college educated and own pets we love and care for. We're doctors, lawyers, engineers, executives, actors, musicians, artists, humanitarians, authors, poets, ministers. We walk through this life filled with a desire to be accepted, and we accept others with open minds and the purest love. Now, wouldn't the world be beautiful if everyone else did, too?
I know we are making strides in inclusion if people want to acknowledge it or not. Living as a person of trans experience in New York is a privilege. Here, I can change my birth certificate from what was given to me at birth to who I am currently today; I can use the bathroom I feel comfortable in; I can see a healthcare provider who doesn’t judge me and ask me the proper questions for my care. These all might seem small to someone, but it’s huge when you’re facing a society that doesn’t see you or offer you the space to be who you are. We’ve made tremendous pushes forward, but everyone can’t come to New York. The solution is every state providing the same inclusivity across the board.
Lex Horwitz (They/Them)
Gender identity (someone’s internal sense of self as being a woman, man, non-binary, etc.) is not the same thing as someone’s gender expression (the ways in which someone presents outwardly as masculine, feminine, and/or androgynous). I am a non-binary transmasculine Jewish human. The clothes that I put on my body, the makeup I apply to my face, or the mannerisms that I use to navigate through space do not affect or change my gender identity. I am still a non-binary transmaculine person when I wear a sequin dress and when I wear a suit. The only thing that changes is my gender expression (the way I choose to present myself to the world).
Does this mean that my gender identity will stay the same forever? No, it doesn’t. My gender identity may change or shift as I come to understand myself better. Or my gender identity may stay the same. Who knows? Because the truth is this: gender is a social construct — gender identity, gender expression, and sex assigned at birth were all defined by people. There is nothing ‘natural’ or inherent about the ways in which we understand these categories. Just as people created these restrictive categories, we have the power (and duty) to dismantle them... or at the very least reimagine them in inclusive and expansive ways.
I was incredibly lucky to come out as a teen in a progressive and accepting environment. Because I was involved with queer youth programs around Seattle, I saw many trans teens changing their names, socially and physically transitioning, and being open about who they were. Being in this environment gave me the courage to experiment with a new name and explore new pronouns when I was 14 or 15. A lot of my peers had accepting parents, and this gave me hope that my parents would change their views one day. For six years, I continually argued with my mom and tried (and often failed) to educate her, even though it was always emotionally difficult. Now, it’s paid off, because my immediate family accepts everything.
I am often assumed to be cis, and that comes with safety and privileges. But when they find out I’m trans, people love to ask invasive questions about my former name or how my family reacted. I’m always willing to be open with other queer and trans people because we might have shared experiences, but when a cis straight person is supposed to be talking to me about an art project I’m doing, it’s irrelevant and inappropriate to ask me about my coming out, my growing up, and my family. It’s happened enough times now that it makes me feel like they are fishing for a sob story, or that they assume every trans person’s life is tragic and miserable. There are challenges, like healthcare access, but overall, I’m really happy. I wouldn’t trade my life or my experience. I find a lot of power and love in being a part of the trans community.
I identify as a transmasculine individual who is also very in touch with his femininity. It’s both good and bad to live as a trans person in 2019. In some ways, we’ve come so far. When I came out 10 years ago, no one was talking about trans people. But in other ways, I still can’t believe how far we have to go.
As a trans person, I’ve faced many obstacles. I’ve lost jobs, friends, and family members. I was bullied and had to switch schools multiple times, and I faced transphobic comments at my first job. Cisgender people need to know that being trans is a frightening reality. We’re afraid of losing our jobs, healthcare, basic human rights, and of being abandoned by loved ones or strangers. Being trans or non-binary is not a choice. Cisgender people can help us by speaking up and being as educated as possible on these issues. If you hear a coworker being transphobic, don’t turn away just because it doesn’t ‘affect you’ — it affects millions of people’s basic human rights and safety.
I am answering my soul's wish to be free and live authentically. My physical presentation and gender identity are a reflection of just that — my true soul, a Black Royal Man. When people see me, they see a Black man first, and that's why Black will always be my primary identifier. Black is me. Black is my community. A man of similar experience to me who is not Black is not living life through my lens. It's a totally different journey.
I am trans-masculine and gender non-conforming. For me, this means realizing the harmful position society's binary gender roles place on us, while embracing the divine feminity and masculinity I’ve always embodied. As a queer person, my identity is always changing as I explore new traits, as my character evolves, and as more terminology becomes available to describe myself to the public. Despite the way labels can help, I don’t think any single one can describe the whole entity of a person. We are all wildly unique. Gender non-conformity allows me to be free, find support, and shed traditional gender labels.
I'm extremely grateful to have the privilege to live my life authentically, despite how long it took to drown out the negative, internalized transphobia I had learned from society. I'm lucky to live in an age where trans* people are represented and accessible through social media. If you are someone who is trans* or questioning, please know that there is time and space for you in this world. Please stay alive and see all the things you can grow to be. You are not glued to one identity for life, and you are worth more than a label! I am rooting for you and loving you always!
My name is Chett D’Angelo and I go by he/him pronouns. I am a trans man. This means that I am a man who was born in a female body. Throughout my transition, there have always been people close to me who have tried to invalidate my existence. They would tell me, “you’ll never be a real man,” or “a penis is what makes a real man.” This used to hurt me so much, until I realized it was coming from them, not me. When someone else has something negative to say about me, it actually has nothing to do with me. I’m so valid and sure of who I am. I just hope these other people heal from their trauma of toxic masculinity.
I identify as androgynous and non-binary. There's a misconception that each non-binary person must have a certain look — trans masc, white or white-passing, and extremely slim, with a short haircut. I want to help debunk that stereotype. I choose to present in a variety of ways. I dress “masc” most times because it's easiest, but also because I have a lesser chance of being harassed by onlookers if I'm out in public. I'd like to present more often as what's traditionally considered as “femme” because I like makeup, skirts, sequins, and the like. I believe any of the aforementioned things aren't necessarily femme, but rather just fun and stylish means of gender neutral expression. Going outside in a muscle tank, with a skirt, and a glitter beard is as much masc as it is femme.
Androgyny encompasses a variety of body types and people. People with curves or differently abled people can be androgynous. Brown and Black people can be androgynous. Even people with muscles, like me, can be androgynous. My muscular structure does not minimize my identity. I'm not a man, nor a woman. Sometimes I very heavily resonate with both, and other days, neither fit me at all. I hope that one day, our society will stop making assumptions about people's gender or sexual identity based on appearance.
I believe as a trans person in 2019, I have inherently gained resistance from my predecessors, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. If it were not for their efforts, we wouldn’t be where are now in this moment as TGNC [transgender/gender non-conforming] people. I’m inspired by any person who’s been marginalized yet persist to exist. Women, women of color, trans women of color, migrants, queer folks, and especially my fellow transmasculine people of color.
Cis people should know that I, too, am having a human experience, and my experience isn’t some sort of burden or problem. Recognizing that I exist doesn’t mean cis folks exist any less. We each navigate life in our way, and that’s the beauty of the human race: No one person is the same, yet somehow, we are all alike, discovering our way. Respect our existence.
I am non-binary, transmasculine, androgynous boy, and I express myself however I feel. Some days I want to dress like Marie Antoinette or Cinderella, and other days I want to be Ponyboy or Captain America. My identity is my house, and my expression is the roof, the siding, or the flowers in the garden.
Sometimes I face issues when people “aren’t able to tell if I’m a man or a woman” and they pick one. When it happens at night, sometimes, predatory men want to aggressively hit on me or follow me when they think I’m a girl, fuck with me or hurt me because they think I’m a gay man, or fetishize or chase me when they “discover” I am trans. I have been grabbed and hurt and assaulted. People tell me I’m attractive “even though I’m transgender,” as if trans people can’t be beautiful. But we all are.
I wish that cisgender people were better at educating themselves and helping stop all the violence that is happening towards trans women of color. I wish that cisgender men could unpack their toxic masculinity and love trans women proudly and openly without fetishizing them I wish that people knew how tired we are of having to explain ourselves over and over and over again. I wish they would stop explaining “how hard” it is for them to start using my pronouns or my name.And I wish they were better at just listening to us — and not making it about them.
Zach Barack (He/Him)
I express myself pretty masculinely, but since coming out and having a lot of external support, I’ve felt more comfortable wearing all kinds of outfits. I identify as transmasculine overall. Seeing a trans man on scripted TV for the first time didn’t happen until I was 17, and it literally changed my life — maybe saved my life. I finally realized that people like us existed en masse, and that I wasn’t alone.
At first, it was hard for people to get my name and pronouns right. Some people didn’t fit into my new life, which was a painful thing to learn to accept. The best way to support trans people is to listen and spread valid information. Make sure people are being gendered correctly, even when they aren’t around. Make sure people don’t make jokes out of trans people. Don’t let people dehumanize us — that’s how violence happens. There’s a lot of danger out there, especially for trans women of color. We have to do better.
Thanks to all the designers featured as well as donors Williamsburg Pizza, Dermaquest, Leovard, Trilogy, and Monaliza Studios Brooklyn.