At the recent 2023 Fashion Awards, Kai-Isaiah Jamal made history as the first trans person to be nominated for Model of the Year. And they are wasting no time putting their platform to good use. In a recent interview, they called out the UK government for “trans cleansing.”
Jamal is a model, activist, and a poet. Before their nomination to Model of the Year, they were the first Black trans model for Louis Vuitton, and they have since featured on the covers of i-D, Vogue, and Elle. “Everyone struggles from imposter syndrome, but there has been no trans people on the list ever, so that’s exactly why I am meant to be there,” they said in an interview with The Standard.
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While they’ve experienced a great deal of career success in recent years, that doesn’t mean being trans and nonbinary is easy. “I can walk up every catwalk in the world but I still can’t go from A to B with complete certainty that I’ll be safe,” they said.
“I don’t think people realize what it’s like to exist where there is so much hatred coming at you from every angle,” they added. “I’ve had split lips and cracked ribs. I’ve had people spit on me, I’ve had people out me, I’ve had people call me every name.”
In particular, Jamal pointed to the state of trans rights in the UK. Just this past October, Rishi Sunak laid out his agenda at the Conservative Party conference and said outright, “A man is a man, and a woman is a woman, that’s just common sense.”
“When Rishi [Sunak] stands on a stage, in a time that is already very harmful for trans people, and says we do not exist, it’s dangerous,” Jamal said.
Throughout their career, they’ve been praised as a veritable force for change, with fashion designer Virgil Abloh calling them “the voice of their generation.” But it is the government that can ultimately derail that change. “It doesn’t matter if the next generation has the language and resources if they cannot legally exist,” they said.
“No one is ready to call this trans cleansing. But that’s cleansing. Either we lay down and let them win — or we fight back and take up space.”
One way Jamal has taken up space is through their modeling work, showing the world that there is a place for queer folks in the mainstream. “That’s why I want to be on a cover, that’s why I want to be in this list, and why I want to win this year,” they said. “I don’t do this because it strokes my ego, I do it because we didn’t grow up with visions of who we could be.”
Outside of the Model of the Year nominee, their work has already paid off. “Sometimes you get a message from a kid that says: ‘me and my Mum looked through your Instagram, and it made her understand about me,” they said. “This is what I care for. All the awards in the world could never add up to one kid not being left outside in the dark and cold.”
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