This week’s episode of States of Undress explores how transgender models are becoming increasingly visible in Thailand’s fashion industry—with a little help from one groundbreaking agency.
In 2014, Apple Model Management became the first modelling agency in the world to create a division specifically dedicated to transgender models.
“Most of the trans models, they were represented in other agencies as female, nobody knew that they were trans,” says founder Siwaporn 'Apple' Hotarapawanond.
She tells States of Undress host Hailey Gates that the decision had a huge impact on the lives of aspiring trans models in Thailand.
“The minute we opened this division, they came to us and said, ‘Wow, this is the first agency to accept us the way we are. We don’t need to hide anymore.’”
But while Thailand is still considered progressive when it comes to accepting different genders and sexualities—there are 18 recognised gender identities in the country—the trans community still lacks basic rights.
Sarina Thai is one of the 28 transgender models on the books at Apple Model and says that while trans people are mostly accepted in daily life, their identities are still not legally recognised.
“We don’t have same-sex marriage, we can’t change our title to Miss or Mrs. My ID is still Mr,” she says, adding that she’s forced to pin her long hair back for official photographs.
And despite the huge strides that have been made by the community in recent years, “The press and television like to make jokes and make fun of the ladyboys,” Thai says.
For Hotarapawanond, creating the transgender division has been a labour of love—with some clients still hesitant to book trans models for more prominent TV gigs.
“The past two years that we’ve done this, it’s very hard work to represent them to clients and try and get them jobs,” she says. “I can tell you they work much, much harder than male or female models.”
And that hard work has resulted in history-making moments—Sarina Thai became the first transgender model from Thailand to walk at New York Fashion Week.
“People are recognising that the trans community is skilled,” gender confirmation surgeon Dr Thep Vejvisith tells Gates.
“These people have a strong role in our nation. They can make Thailand more famous like Mimi Tao or Ariya Bua. These people are making our country known.”