Trans Model Arisce Wanzer: “Stop Hiding Us Or Portraying Us To Be Freaks”

"Visibility is the largest problem for LGBT people in the media. The fact that most people would rather see two men shooting each other with guns rather than two men kissing says a lot about how messed up society is."

Fully transitioning at the age of 19, Arisce Wanzer is one of the fiercest characters on Oxygen’s upcoming show Strut, which is about the first transgender modeling agency and premieres Sept. 20 at 9/8c. Appearing in prestigious magazines like Vogue, Vogue Italia, Forbes and Purple, and having strutted down the runways of New York, Los Angeles and Miami Fashion Weeks, Arisce is all high fashion. But that’s not all—she’s also a graduate of the Art Institute of Miami, and is passionate about the fashion she models.

In addition to being a pioneer for trans modeling, Arisce is a strong, decisive, multi-dimensional and multi-talented force. Seeing the modeling world as a source of constant objectification, Arisce has become a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and awareness. We spoke to Arisce about what it means to be a transgender model, the media being “America's religion,” and how we can stop hate.

When did you first realize you wanted to model?

When I was 14, I remember watching the Victoria’s Secret fashion show on TV with my family and thinking of how much fun of a job those women made modeling look. They all looked so happy and so beautiful. I never really got the reality of how much work actually goes into it (I learned that the hard way!). I definitely started out doing this for me, to prove to myself that I could be beautiful or desired and be paid for it, as I had never been an object of desire before. Well, let me tell you, that gets old very fast—being objectified should definitely not be a goal, kids! My sights have since shifted to trans visibility, attempting to normalize our presence in society by constantly producing great work that people want more of.

Did you face any obstacles on the course to that dream, and what did you learn from them?

The challenge with being trans in this industry is the same as it is for any cisgender model. We have to fit the clothes and appear marketable to casting directors and designers. The fashion industry is notorious for tokenizing anybody that isn’t a cis white person, so trans people, black people, Asians and other minorities are all in the same tiny boat in this business. It's shitty, but I'm grateful to have gotten in and be able to speak on such issues. Racism in this industry can and will be stopped, it's just a matter of people taking action and being inclusive.

Who is your personal inspiration?

My mother. She is the strongest person I've ever known, so I'm proud to be a result of her hard work and personal sacrifices. A lot of people don't want to grow up to be like their parents but I can't imagine anybody I'd rather live up to.

What do you think the biggest challenges are to members of the LGBT community who are visible in the media?

Visibility is the largest problem for LGBT people in the media. The fact that most people would rather see two men shooting each other with guns rather than two men kissing says a lot about how messed up society is. The media is America's religion, so when they don't show our image regularly, people will continue to see us as “irregular.” It's that simple. 

How can the media aid in ending hate and ignorance in America?

Hire us. Feature us. Share our stories. Stop hiding us or portraying us to be freaks or sexual deviants. Stop categorizing everybody into little boxes and start treating people as individuals. Nobody's background is the same and we need the media to stop playing it safe and share more diverse stories.

How do you feel about being a "role model" in the public eye?

I'm a born leader, I make my own path and do everything I can to make my dreams come true, so this is just another milestone for me. This was a dream of mine so I'd like to think everything I've done up to now has prepared me for this. 

{Photos: Tim Brown for Oxygen]

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