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As a Southeast Asian Trans woman in this industry, I’m still seen as an "other"

We stumbled upon Yên (she/they) on Instagram and fell in love with their energy. We knew straight away we simply had to work together. We then got to know them properly during a photoshoot (spy them rocking the Heartbreaker in Dusty Pink here) where Yên joined us as one of our model on set.We asked if could have a chat about modeling, fashion and the industry.

 

Yên, how did you get interested in acting and modeling, and what was your early career life like? We recently saw you appear on Sex And The City reboot. Super exciting!

Well first came modeling, and that happened back when I was in middle school and “America’s Next Top Model” was in it’s prime! Growing up in the suburbs in the early 2000’s, shows like ANTM and Project Runway were HIGH FASHION [laughs] and I just remember watching them and being, like, wowww this is everything. I became obsessed with magazines and modeling and dreamt about the day I too could be one. I was always on style.com looking through shows for Asian faces, faces like mine, only to be disappointed by the major lack of and every month I’d look forward to the covers and editorials of magazines praying to the Goddesses that I’d finally see an Asian face, only to be disappointed again as well.

The fantasies I’d have serving face in the mirror every evening were dreams that I eventually had to let go because back then, someone like me becoming a model just wasn’t possible. But 10 years later this dream somehow found its way back to me and has now become my reality. Which is beyond surreal to me, it’s truly a dream come true.

It’s definitely still a struggle as a Southeast Asian Trans woman who’s short in this industry as I’m still seen as an “other” or diversity token for brands to feel better about themselves but I’m finding my way and doing my best to leave an open road for those coming after me.

As for acting, this is a pretty recent discovery and gradual realization for myself actually. A few years ago I was DM’d on Instagram to audition for a lead role for a show on HBO and at first I was so like “me? Act? No way!!”. I never thought me acting would ever be a possibility or even an actual thing cause I just never saw anyone like me on TV or the silver screen, so I never saw it for myself. But either way, at the time I had nothing else going on in my life as a new freelancer and person who recently lost their job, so I was like “ok why not, what do I have to lose?” Definitely didn’t get that one, but they invited me to come in for another role a few months later, didn’t get that one either so I was like OK whatever…I never really wanted to be an actor anyways. Then the year after I got DM’d again by another casting director to audition for a co-star roll in a new exciting series on Hulu and so I went in, shot my shot, had fun with it and the casting director asked me “have you ever thought about acting?” And in that moment the seed was planted. I didn’t get that roll either but I did get a callback! After that, I took a huge leap of faith and decided to trust this new flow of energy that was organically entering my life and now here we are. Still a long way to go but I’m very proud of myself. 

 

Can you talk about how the industry has allowed you to be yourself, or not?

Well it’s interesting because I wouldn’t be where I am or doing the things I’m doing now if I wasn’t myself and didn’t share my story with the world back when I first started transitioning. So the industry is indebted to folks like me who have been against the status quo, expanding but also dismantling the narratives of what it means to be human and shifting the direction of society to a more progressive future. Although there’s still a ways to go, the industry wouldn’t have made all this progress if it wasn’t for us “different” folks who were once shunned, shamed and hated and our vision, stories, and light. I’m very fortunate to have only been on projects where I have been respected and gotten to work with folks from all walks of life. 

However there are still plenty of brands and folks who are racist, elitist, transphobic that work and gate-keep in these industries and uphold outdated and toxic beauty standards so there’s definitely problems that come with that, but I also won’t let those losers deter me.

 

 

What changes do you think are needed in the industry to make it possible for trans people to be open and comfortable?

Well the industry is made up of individuals so I think a better way to answer this question is by answering how can cis gender and heterosexual people do better and be better allies to queer and Trans folks.

First, we need y’all to do your own research on how to be good allies to queer and Trans folks so y’all can carry that knowledge in your everyday life and apply it into your work place because it is not our responsibility to educate anymore when there are endless amounts of resources available. 

We also need y’all to really reflect on how y’all uphold the systems that oppress us everyday because it is your responsibility to dismantle it, as cis and het folks are the ones who created them and why we’re suffering from inequality and injustices in the first place.

Ask yourselves how you uplift queer and Trans folks everyday, do y’all donate to organizations such as For the Gworls, Transgender Law Center, G.L.I.T.S, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Marsha P Johnson Institute? Have y’all researched local organizations that you can support? What are y’all doing to help us live and thrive in this world?

We need cis and het folks to see us for our full humanity beyond our gender identity and sexual orientation because we are full human beings with full lives, which too many people fail to recognize while they tokenize our queerness.

As for the industry, I think fashion needs to be de-gendered because clothes have no gender, like a dress is just a dress, a turtleneck just a turtleneck and anyone has the right to wear whatever it is they please. Like there is no need to have a separation for women, mens or “unisex” clothes, discard the restrictive labels, clothes is for everyone! Same goes for beauty, skincare, etc! The usage of binary labels is not just harmful to a persons potential and creative freedom but it’s also very polarizing to ones existence. 

Continue to hire us, uplift us, make space for us. Respect us, normalize asking for pronouns and never assume anyone’s gender, put pronouns in call sheets, your email signatures, about me blurbs—its a small gesture that holds a lot of meaning and for me always brings a big sigh of relief when I work with a new team when these are practiced because it shows that y’all are taking the steps to learn and I know I’m in a safe space to exist when I see them.

 

Who do you consider to be your biggest inspiration?

My families (biological and chosen), and my queer and Trans community because despite all the hardships they’ve all had to and still deal with living in this world, they all still live with so much love, compassion, fearlessness, power and tenacity for creating a better future and living the life they desire. 

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