Laith De La Cruz is the only trans male model on Strut, Oxygen’s new show about an all-trans modeling agency premiering Sept. 20 at 9/8c. But don’t think Laith’s uniqueness is an obstacle--he’s already fronted a Barneys New York campaign photographed by the legendary Bruce Weber. And it hasn’t always been a life of modeling that Laith’s been focused on: he’s a graduate of Fairfield University with a major in psychology and a concentration in religion, law and research. So when you’re talking about the intersection between smarts and beauty, that’s where you’ll find Laith hanging out.
With a chiseled jaw and abs that the statue of Michael would envy, Laith is learning to find total comfort in his skin. It doesn't hurt, of course, that magazines like Vogue Hommes as well as New York Fashion Week runways all want a piece of that skin. We spoke to Laith about growing up watching WWF, learning to shake off criticism, and misconceptions about the trans community.
What was your childhood like? Are there any distinct experiences that helped shape you into the person you are now?
My childhood was not out of the ordinary. My parents were very loving and caring, and only wanted what was best for me. They demanded excellence in academics and in athletics, so that is what I required for myself.
I always enjoyed visiting my aunt and grandmother, because I got to hang out and play video games with the boys. We would also play fight and practice wrestling moves, while watching what was then the WWF.
What are the biggest challenges for you now, being in the public eye?
I don't really find being in the public eye necessarily challenging. In the beginning, I mentioned the negative comments getting to me, but now I take people's criticisms with a grain of salt. I affirm myself. Many people get upset if you have a difference in opinion, but the truth is, no two people will ever agree on everything. Having a difference in opinion is okay. But please do your homework before forming opinions, because then you're just ignorant, haha.
You’re Slay's only trans male model. Do you think this presents its own challenges?
Not at all!
How do you think modeling is important/can help the LGBT community?
It is all about visibility and diversity. I wish I saw positive images of people who were like me on TV or in magazines when I was growing up. it all starts with the media, and how marginalized groups are portrayed. There needs to be more positive representation. This is how you change people's negative perceptions.
What do you think the biggest misconception about the trans community in particular is, and what needs to be done to change this/end ignorance and hate?
There are so many, I cannot choose just one. I'll start with the idea that trans people are sexual deviants and looking to deceive people. Our transitions are for us! It is not about you, get over yourself! Another misconception is that all trans people share the same ideologies. Just like everyone else, trans people should be viewed as individuals, with different, thoughts, backgrounds and experiences, go figure.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from Strut?
I learned patience. I have to allow people to feel how they feel. I cannot change the minds are hearts of everyone, and I shouldn't feel the need to. However, I do hope that Strut can help people who are struggling with their own issues and insecurities, and not just about gender identity and sexuality. This show is so much more than that and there is a little bit for everyone.