[Say it proud] Arisce Wanzer: “Don’t let nepotism and rejection get to you”

Arisce Wanzer is the black trans supermodel, with 20 years of experience in modeling. It's a nice time get to know her personal like this.

Arisce Wanzer is “that girl”. She is a trans model who fronted the digital cover of Vogue Germany, the first trans model to be featured on the cover of Spiegel, she’s appeared on ELLE, Vogue Italia, Forbes, Dazed & Confused, Purple Magazine… She worked with multi-award-winning prestigious photographers such as Patrick Dermachelier, Danielle Levitte, and Mario Sorrenti… and starred in multiple TV shows, including the GLAAD Award-winning show ‘Strut’. Her list of clients includes Opening Ceremony, Asos, Lululemon, BCALLA, Marco Marco, Lucky Brand Jeans, Frederick’s of Hollywood.

June is Pride Month and in the celebration spirit of the LGBTQ+ community, I have the opportunity to have a chat with the supermodel to understand more about the life of a trans model in America – one of the biggest markets for fashion. Read on to know more about Arisce’s perspective on being successful, coping with failure, surviving tips for a new model, and how much of a struggle it is for the trans community living in America right now.

Photo: Alex Evans

You have been modeling for 20 years. what has changed in the fashion industry?

Nothing has changed much unfortunately, there is a lot of conversation about diversity in the fashion industry, but whenever they try to do something different, it only lasts for 2 seasons, then it gets back to the normal – where all the white, blond, size 0’s dominate the runway and editorials. It is the same for trans models, all the white, blonde, skinny trans models are the ones fronting big campaigns or editorials. But trans models are so much more diverse than that, and we need to see different representatives, or it’s just a soon-passing fad, in my opinion. 

Is there anything trans models can do about that?

We (trans models) need to do our best to be visible and raise our voices whenever we can. we need to show them that trans models are capable of selling clothes as well as others. At the end of the day, it’s all about the business that we need to understand in order to succeed.

Arisce on Vogue Deutsch. (Photo: Jen Collins)

Tell me the most memorable moment in your model career, good and bad

The most (good) memorable moment in my 20 years of career was when I had a shoot with the late, great, Patrick Demarchelier (the famous French photographer). I moved to New York to work as a model in 2010, with no money, no connection, no agency. I tried to apply to become a model for agencies but got turned down by everyone. No one wanted to sign me. so I had to rethink my approach. I graduated as a fashion merchandise and marketing major, so I applied for an intern position at every agency that rejected my modeling applications. Ford Models called me back only minutes after I emailed my resume, and I got accepted to work for them the next morning. Even though I was there to work as an intern, never a day went by that I didn’t present as if I was one of their signed girls. Black tank tops, dark skinny jeans, heeled boots, and a clean face were the look du jour. Two weeks in, one day, the board director pulled me into his room, took my Polaroid, and sent them to a job casting, with no warning, he’d never even introduced himself to me before that. It turned out to be an editorial for LOVE magazine, by Patrick. I was cast to be featured in the editorial, along with Crystal Renn, Dafne Cejas, and some of the most popular models at that time. After that, I got signed with Ford Models in New York. My modeling career took off soon after.

The worst moment in my modeling career was right after I chose to leave New York. After three years of hard work, suffering from anxiety and disordered eating, I called it quits on the fashion scene in New York and moved back with my parents in Virginia to destress my mind and health. The last big gig I decided to do was a campaign for Barneys New York. I must admit that I was thrilled to work for the brand because Barneys New York was a huge brand back then and the photographer on the project was the famed Bruce Weber. On the day of the shoot, my mom was ready to drive me to the airport at 6 in the morning, but before I could get on the plane, the casting director called and told me that I did not have to come anymore because they (Barneys) changed the direction of the campaign. It basically meant that I was fired from the job. I remember crying so hard, I had never been in that position before. It was a tough breakup for me and New York.

As a trans woman, what is still the most challenging part of your life?

Right now, the most challenging is the United States government. Because they are trying to take all of our rights away. As a trans woman, I’m tired of all of the politicians out there who keep trying to eradicate us. It’s just not how I want to live, constantly feel anxiety, and don’t want to leave my house at all sometimes. Luckily, I am surrounded by love and my community. They keep me going and help me get through all of this. 

Why do American conservatives discriminate against trans folks so aggressively? 

Because they (the politicians) are trying to distract people from the class war, hence they create a culture war. Trans people only make up 0.2% of the population, so our voices shouldn’t disturb anyone else’s. Most people don’t even get the chance to meet a trans person, they can’t possibly have an informed, educated opinion on our lives. To trick people into thinking that trans people are the problem in America is just ridiculous. The government should be looking at the bigger problem – which is the rich have everything and the poor have nothing or gun control. But those are issues they don’t want to fix because it makes them all money. So trans people are placed at the forefront as a political football to toss around like a game. 

Photo: Paul

Does the fashion industry show empathy and protection enough for trans talents, in your opinion?

I think there are some forms of improvement. I remember back then in 2013, while I was still in New York. I had a two-hour casting and after that, they were like “Oh, we hope you can come back next season because we choose not to do that trans stuff this season”. The funny thing was they asked me to go to the casting. Casting directors treated trans people as a trend then, some still do. I think the New York fashion scene probably has changed for the better now, hopefully with more sympathy for trans models because most fashion insiders are from the LGBTQ+ community. We all have to fight the same fight for our rights in America. I’m now living in Los Angeles, and this place is way better for trans models in my opinion. 

What were three career-changing moments for you as a model?

My biggest career-changing moment was when I got featured in Vogue Germany. I was booked for a hair campaign that led to my first Vogue cover shoot, the editor reached out to me personally and I sent it to my agent because I didn’t believe it was real. It was.

The second career-defining moment would have to be when I was cast as one of the stars of Strut on Oxygen Network. After the show premiere, we had dinner with Whoopi Goldberg at her Georgian mansion in New Jersey, it was surreal to know that my career had reached places trans people fully weren’t allowed to go to before.

My last career moments must include my two big campaigns with Lululemon and Lucky Brand Jeans. Both of the brands had chosen me – the first trans model to be featured on their nationwide campaigns, and not during Pride Month! There is a thing that trans models only get booked more during Pride Month, but both of these campaigns were not. It’s a good signal that trans models are being seen and given the opportunities to shine.

Arisce Wanzer: "Don’t let nepotism and rejection get to you"
Photo: Madeleine Collins

Do you have any advice for trans models who are just at the beginning of their careers?

Always show up on time, this is very important. Being on time, it shows how professional and serious you are as a model. Second, don’t abuse filters and beauty apps on your online photos, that’s a big no-no with the casting directors. Lastly, work hard on your own strengths, hone them, and make them your power. Don’t let nepotism and rejection get to you. This is the industry where all the insider connections will get you jobs. But working hard, knowing your worth, believing in yourself, and improving yourself constantly will sustain your career. No nepotism kid can beat that. 

Let’s talk about your television career. you became a sensational, strong representative of trans women on the show you were on Strut, many mini tv series, and recently on Ex On The Beach for MTV. Is it now a common thing that Hollywood to acknowledge trans people and give them the opportunity to showcase their talents on the small screen?

It’s still at a trendy stage. As a trans person, being trans is not your whole identity. Your job is not your identity. How you live your life, and how you treat people, is who you are as a person. The industry has not yet told that story of us, but rather, they center around our transness and cast us more because it’s a sexy topic. I don’t go on with my life, thinking about how trans I am. My meaning has nothing to do with me being a transgender, that only matters to other people who can’t mind their own business. Not until the industry decides to tell the story of transgender people being human beings and not just about the trans narratives then the industry won’t have really changed.

Arisce Wanzer: "Don’t let nepotism and rejection get to you"

How is the journey for you to switch from modeling to acting?

Modeling is acting, you have to be whoever that garment is. You have to play the characters to tell the story of the design. the better you are at acting, the better you are as a model. The difficulty really comes from going from high fashion to commercial, those attitude changes will test your acting skills, and for me they still do. Luckily, my wonderful and loving boyfriend, John, is my on-call acting coach whenever I need it. He’s helped me more than he knows!

How do you evaluate your self-growth as a model and now actress? 

I always look back at how far I have come, going through my old photos and videos, I realized that I never want to do something that I’ve already done before. My mindset is that I want to challenge myself to change and grow with every project. I always aim to improve my skills, my knowledge, and after so many years of hard work, I choose what I do next and who I want to work with. I even direct a lot of my shoots now, it helps me protect my narratives and their integrity.

Arisce Wanzer: "Don’t let nepotism and rejection get to you"

As you are getting more and more recognizable, do you receive more love and support from the LGBTQ+ community?

Yes, I’m fortunate that I have fans that are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and they support me in every step of my career. I remember the first time I worked at Drag Con (the biggest convention event for drag queens and queer talent all over the world), there was a long line of people waiting for me, just to see me in person and take pictures with me. I felt so emotional and could not believe that someone like me – a black trans woman from Virginia could influence the community in a positive way to earn their respect and support.

What can you say about the relationship between a trans person and their community? As a trans woman, do you feel belonging to a community is mandatory?

Absolutely! What a lot of people fail to realize is that transgender people are banding together and forming communities everywhere. Trans people are not loners. That is the biggest misconception. Speaking of community, that is what I love about Slay Model Search (a modeling competition for trans models). The competition is all about bringing trans women together and showcasing their beauty, and talents but in a sense of unification. All the models come out from the show with friends, and soul sisters, that can continue to love, care and support each other. That is the power of community I’m glad to see. 

Arisce Wanzer: "Don’t let nepotism and rejection get to you"
Photo; Margot Lily

Your only advice for any trans women out there?

Love yourself. You know who you are. You don’t owe anyone any explanation and have to defend yourself for being who you are. Living your truth, proudly. Living the life that you want for yourself is not selfish. Life is short and you only have one chance. If you want to do something. Do it now. 

Thank you Arisce for this inspiring conversation! I wish to see you shine even more in the future!

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