Trans Model Isis King: From Homeless Shelter To Television Star

The first trans women to compete on America's Next Top Model, Isis helped raise the profile of trans models in the mainstream. Read her story.

By Kat George

You might remember Isis King from America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 11. She was the first ever trans woman to compete on ANTM, raising the profile of trans models in the mainstream in a pivotal way. Now, Isis is returning to the small screen for Oxygen’s Strut (premieres Sept. 20 at 9/8c), a show about the first all-trans modeling agency. But the Maryland born model isn’t just all good looks. She’s also a fashion designer who studied at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, an actress, and a vociferous advocate for LGBT homeless youth, gender transitioning and expression.

Strut sees Isis relocate from New York (where she’s been working in fashion) to Los Angeles to further pursue her dreams of acting and modeling. Having already graced the pages of Seventeen and Out Magazines, and being the first transgender person to model for American Apparel, Isis' hard work and determination have propelled her into the limelight. We took a moment to speak to Isis about her childhood, refusing to take no for an answer in her professional life, and how her responsibility to the LGBT community as a trans person in the public eye has affected her.

What do you think the biggest challenge currently facing LGBT rights and awareness is in America and what can allies to do help stop hate and ignorance?
The murder rates of trans people, especially trans women of color, is shocking. Homelessness among LGBT—it's also high. That is something I personally have been through and I partnered with Ali Forney Center to find more support. We need to get these things under control. The job market and more jobs offered, in my own personal observations, could significantly affect both of those issues.

What did you learn through facing obstacles growing up?

My mom was a single mom struggling to take care of two children but always made it happen. I learned that you have to believe in yourself more than anyone else. It's your life and you’re the only one accountable for it. I've sat around depressed before and know first hand how the world will continue to spin with or without you... So I had to get my ass up and make things happen!

Did you meet anyone on your path that either mentored or inspired you?
I've had a few mentors in fashion design and art (mostly teachers) in high school and college who saw something in my talents and took me under their wings. Juanita Phillips, Amber Brown, Gaines Clore-Wynn, and April Fresh-Burke. They were amazing. Adam and Taz of the Reciprocity Foundation have played a big part of my adult life as spiritual mentors to me. They are also responsible for putting me in the background of a Top Model photo shoot which opened up even more doors with a little hard work.

How do you feel about being seen as a "pioneer" for your role on ANTM?

I’m embarrassed being considered a pioneer now. It was a lot of pressure early on, but once an LGBT youth told me that my story helped him out of suicide I said WOAH THIS IS MAJOR. That's when I learned my responsibility and embraced how forward thinking my presence on Top Model was at that time.

How has being in the media affected your personal life?
Dating, haha! That has been the only thing really it has affected. It’s hard! That's a load to drop on a potential partner/date. I'm not only trans but the world knows it too, haha! I have faith I will meet the right guy at the right time though. I've accepted that my destiny is greater than me. [Photos: Tim Brown for Oxygen]

Watch the trailer for Strut:

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