When I heard that a transgendered model was going to appear on the newest season of America’s Next Top Model, I decided to watch just to see what kind of reception she’d get on the show. As it turns out, the current season is an “all-star” season featuring models who appeared on previous seasons but didn’t win. Isis King (born as Darrell Walls) first appeared on the eleventh cycle of the show but was eliminated roughly halfway through the competition. Unfortunately, the modeling itself seemed to be the least of King’s troubles.

King was the first (and remains the only) trans person to ever appear on the long running modeling competition. She’s also part of a very, very small transgendered presence on TV as a whole.  (Speaking as someone who watches a lot of television, I can think of only one other transgendered person depicted on tv – on Ugly Betty, Rebecca Romijn played Alexis Meade, a fictional trans woman. One could site Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars as well, but there’s been so much negative backlash in the media about his being transgendered. It’s a shame that what should have been a wonderfully progressive move on the show’s part got twisted so badly.)

King was assigned male at birth but claims mentally she was born female, just in the wrong body. Before appearing on ANTM, she was featured on an MSNBC special entitled Born in the Wrong Body (similar to the documentary we watched in class that followed the four students’ transitions) in 2007.  She began her hormone therapy the summer of that year and completed sex reassignment surgery in early 2009.

During both of King’s cycles on the show, she found herself in the “double-bind” we discussed in class. When her fellow contestants found out about her gender identity, many of them were either offended or put off by her. In private interviews, the women made comments that it wasn’t fair for a trans person to be competing in a “female” competition, despite the fact that King does identify as a woman. One other contestant even said, “Isn’t this supposed to be a girl competition? How’d you even get through the door?” Some went so far as to verbally harass her during a shoot.

From what I’ve watched of her current cycle, the attitude towards her has only slightly shifted to a more positive one. Her fellow contestants don’t make derogatory remarks to her outright, but in private interviews their comments are still very ignorant. In a particular challenge where the models were paired up for a shoot, King’s partner remarked in private that, “I need to deliver. Because how is it that they’re gonna have somebody who’s transgendered do a better job that the actual, real woman”.

Even though King’s gender presentation is female (in addition to physically being female as well now), her fellow contestants still see her as “pretending” to be a woman simply because she was born with male genetalia. King is a very public example of someone who has had to deal with the transgendered “double-bind” head on in her career and in her dealings with coworkers. While it’s incredibly inspirational to have her presence on a show that is so prominent and influential for young women, it’s also disheartening to see so many negative, uninformed views possibly overshadow that.

-Dayln Grossklaus (I would like this to count for my second blog post grade, please)

Bibliography:

“Isis King.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 08 Oct. 2011. Web. 11 Oct. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isis_King&gt;.

“Kristin Cavallari.” America’s Next Top Model. CW. 28 Sept. 2011. Television.

“The Notorious Fierce Fourteen.” America’s Next Top Model. CW. 03 Sept. 2008. Television.