We've had discussions here before about the relative lack of role models in the public eye to whom transgender youth can look for inspiration. Popular reality TV show America's Next Top Model may help to change that with its decision to feature Isis, a male-to-female transgender individual who has yet to undergo any gender reassignment surgery, on its upcoming season.
Given how natural and confident she appears presenting as female, it doesn't seem difficult to understand why Isis knew from an early age that her gender assignment did not match her true identity. ET Online has more details about Isis's background; personally, I find it very encouraging and inspiring that Isis has chosen to become a professional model without having any chest or genital surgery. If anyone follows this show, definitely drop a note here or on our message boards about her progress.
Unfortunately, some of the coverage of Isis's selection for the upcoming season of America's Next Top Model has portrayed trans individuals in a negative and/or satirical light. A recent interview from Fox News highlights this problem, and shows that as a nation, we still have miles to go before we can consider America a truly hospitable environment for people of every gender identity. Despite the fact that Isis has not yet had, and may never have, gender reassignment surgery, she is no less female than a cisgender or post-op transsexual woman. While pronouns may seem like a nonissue for those of us who have always felt comfortable in our assigned genders--if not the social roles that ostensibly accompany them--using proper pronouns when addressing or discussing a transgender individual changes the entire tone of the conversation, and creates a positive environment for others who may still be questioning their gender identity.
In the meantime, regardless of some media networks' failure to discuss Isis's participation on the show in a respectful manner, it's wonderful to see a trans person taking the spotlight in an industry that has traditionally been dominated by cisgender individuals. While there may be relatively few trans teens who actually wish to become fashion models, Isis can hopefully stand as an example of a trans individual following her personal ambitions and not allowing traditional notions of gender to impede her participation in the industry of her choice. Trans people all over the country continue to break barriers in professional life, but when one does so in such a high-profile industry, this poses an important opportunity for Americans of all gender identities to learn more about what it means to be transgender, and about the experiences of trans individuals in the professional world.