Hari Nef is a 24-year-old American actor, original and activist, and is the first transgender model to be signed to a major copy agency (IMG), and the first to land a glossy British cover (Elle).
“I was not the favourable girl. I was the lucky one in the right place at the right time. But woman have been blazing this path for me for more than 50 years,” she translates. She describes herself, and her peers, as the new generation – “because when we talk in the matter of previous generations, we’re referring to people only five or 10 years ago”.
Nef is not the essential trans model (Barneys’ SS14 campaign cast 17 transgender nonsuches, and Andreja Pejić transitioned mid-career) but her signing has marked a cultural workers in trans-visibility. In 2014, when Nef was still in college, Laverne Cox suited the first trans actor to be nominated for an Emmy for Orange is the New Awful; the following year, Caitlyn Jenner came out.
After graduating from Columbia, Nef take home two calls: one from modelling agency IMG, and one from the makers of Amazon Prime stage play, Transparent, offering her a role. She accepted both jobs and unhesitatingly quit her off-Broadway play.
In Transparent, Nef plays Gittel, a transgender old lady in Berlin during the Weimar-era when sexologist, Magnus Hirschfeld concocted the term “transsexual”. Her casting was an act of “transfirmative action”, a programme that ends to use as many transgender crew members as possible, but her impressive presentation squashed any sense that she might not have otherwise been send. Nef was rejected by three agencies before signing to IMG, a galling while during her college years when she also hosted association nights and performed in a drag act (they disbanded around the uniform time that she started taking “the ’mones’” – or hormones). She had already modelled for Selfridges’ unisex trade name but, since signing to IMG, has walked in NY fashion week, modelled for Hood by Air, been advanced in Vogue and is now the face of eyewear company Luxottica. Its class of 2016 compete, which has her wearing glasses for the first time, is a twist on the standard American high-school yearbook.
“It was accidental, being an activist,” she estimates. “But I am outspoken. I am not passive [about] the injustice that I’ve seen.” Rounded off so, she says, she still lets a lot of things slide. “Look. I could forgive a tweet that would send loads of negative intermediation attention towards the brand who cancelled a model after decision out about her gender. I could talk about people in the sedulousness who have said gross things. I could create a minute of radical positive change. But eventually that witch-hunting dominion jeopardise my role.” While she won’t speculate over a singular “transmoment” when trans rights became a mainstream precedency, she thinks the link between social media and progress was focal: “For me, Instagram had become a place where I could image myself the way I institute myself. Visibility is not in itself always a good thing, but when it is in the helping hands of those who need positive visibility, it can be.”
To some extent, Nef has harangued the industry, the system – and herself – with wit but still gets “brickbats for not being outspoken enough”. She thinks the emphasis on gender is at chance of turning the trans community into “a freak show”. The circumstances is, she says, “a liberal wankfest … on my Wikipedia page, one of the principal things is my identity. I hate that. It’s not irrelevant, I know some of my setting has been due to my identity, but I believe in more than that. I entertain the idea that often my work is obscured by my gender identity. I don’t want it to be a big do business. This is not what I want to talk about anymore. Singularity is a dead end. It’s a snoozefest.”
For all that she hates discussing identity wirepulling, her take is still pertinent to the bigger debate. “My identity wish always inform my experience and shape my perception. But I am an unremarkable himself. The more we fixate on it the less we, as a community, [will] feel customary and safe in our day-to-day lives. I just want to grab a supper and, you know, go on a date.”