True Talent 

Boise Weekly visits an all-transgender modeling shoot and talent call

Andreja is one of four models featured on Transcendence Icon's website, including owner Amy Icon.

Harrison Berry

Andreja is one of four models featured on Transcendence Icon's website, including owner Amy Icon.

Nikki Jamesson was one of the last aspiring models ushered into the conference room on the 11th floor of the Banner Bank building. It was late afternoon, but the way she swung her bracelet-bedecked arms showed energy and confidence. Sitting on the other side of the table, Transcendence Icon Founder Amy Icon flipped through a photo album and listened to Jamesson talk about how a photo taken of her at Boise Pridefest 2015 sparked her interest in modeling.

"That's part of the reason I wanted to get into modeling—I wanted to show my authentic self," she said.

Jamesson is one of 28 transgender people who turned out for Transcendence Icon's model and talent search at the Banner Bank building July 25. The company, which bills itself as the world's first all-transgender and transexual modeling and talent agency, brings together an industry focused on flawless beauty and people who, by their nature, challenge assumptions about beauty.

While Icon isn't explicitly an activist organization, each of its models, in his or her own way, is an activist. For Icon spokesmodel Aiden Warrior, modeling is about helping other transgender people become themselves. "My passion is to help people find their passion," he said.

Warrior began receiving hormone injections when he was 26, long after he'd developed breasts and a feminine facial structure. The hormones helped him grow a light-colored chinstrap beard, stabilize his moods and bulk up his muscles, but he lamented not learning about medical options for trans people, like hormone blockers, sooner.

Sitting in one of the plush chairs in Amy Icon's corner office overlooking downtown Boise, Warrior, who works as a taxidermist and has been profiled in The New York Times, observed that none of the applicants coming through the agency's door that afternoon were wearing branded or logoed clothing—their clothes reflected their own fashion sensibilities, rather than consumer culture. It heartened him that so many of the models attending the talent call were young people exploring their gender identities at an early age.

"These kids won't have the scars I do," Warrior said, referring to the physical scars he bears on his chest. "I can never get my childhood back."

Despite his difficult younger years, Warrior has come into his own—both personally and professionally. As a member of the Cherokee tribe, Warrior has been cast in the leading role in a feature-length film about Native American trans people, the title of which is being kept secret.

Transcendence Icon has more than 20 clients that range from authors to household-name clothing retailers and film production companies. As the visibility of trans people grows, the company finds itself at the nexus of a larger conversation about who transgender people are and how they're poised to change American culture.

At the Banner Bank building, models chatted, took selfies and, one by one, posed for photos taken by Eric Christopher. Christopher worked at T-Mobile, and the customer service experience, he said, helps him keep models at ease.

"You want to get in there and keep it casual," he said. "I've been able to see people come out and be comfortable with who they are."

That can be a challenge. Many transgender people suffer from body dysmorphia—the persistent belief that they suffer from some aesthetic flaw—and stepping in front of a high-resolution camera requires bravery on his subjects' part and sensitivity on his. Christopher quickly ushered models in front of the white screen he'd set up in the lobby, and each shoot lasted about five minutes. Over the course of the afternoon, he expected he would take 400-500 photographs.

Near Christopher's snapshot station sat Tim Trantham, father of model DW Trantham. He wore a gray suit with a red shirt and sneakers—the same suit he wore when he testified this year before the Idaho House State Affairs Committee in favor of adding "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the state's human rights law.

Trantham hadn't always been such a staunch supporter of LGBT rights. He recalled being upset when, as a child, DW became interested in dolls and later came out to her father as a woman. His transformation into an activist began after a work injury put him behind a desk. One day, out of "boredom," he said, he typed "transgender" into the Google search bar.

"When I learned the facts about being transgender, I vowed to change," he said. "It's a transition for the whole family."

According to the Williams Institute and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the rate of attempted suicide among the general population is approximately 4.6 percent. Among gays, lesbians and bisexuals, that rate jumps to 10-20 percent. According to a survey from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, that rate is much higher for trans people: A staggering 41 percent. The suicide attempt rate was highest among trans people who were 18-24 years old (45 percent) and multiracial (54 percent).

Trans people also experience rejection by their families and systematic violence: 54 percent of respondents reported being bullied or harassed at school and 57 percent reported their families choosing not to speak or spend time with them.

Trantham said he became more sensitive to his daughter's mental state. He removed sharp objects from the house and put away photos of DW from before her transition. He sent her to school wearing a "bully cam." More importantly, Trantham said, he kept his daughter's mind occupied with improving the lives of other trans people.

DW and her father have been deeply involved in trans rights groups and initiatives, and modeling plays a major part in their shared activism. For Trantham, the journey toward being a good father to his daughter has been inward, as well. He still slips up with pronouns and the process has sometimes been slow. Still, his perception has evolved.

"In the eyes of the world, she's transgender; but in my eyes, she's my daughter," he said.

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