Ivan Bart, the president of IMG models, exhaled and paused. I assumed he knew the answer to every question he asked me — it's possible he did — but this time he paused, smiled, and cocked his head to the side.
"You know, Hari," — Ivan's voice sounded like my father's Philadelphia and my mother's Boston — "IMG has met with transgender models in the past, but it seemed to us that they did not want to be transgender models. They wanted to be models — model-models — and weren't too keen on going up for jobs that brought attention to their gender identity. How do you feel about—"
"Give me all those jobs."
I laughed when I said it, and my eyes sparkled like I was telling a dirty secret. I couldn't remember when I'd stopped willing to be trans and started wanting to be trans. If there were a difference, I'd forgotten it; words shot out of me. IMG was powerful (Gisele, Gigi, Kate), which scared, excited, and prompted me to speak.
"I want to work," I said.
"And you will," he said. "You've got a good look for fashion." He paused, then chose: "Very Saint Laurent."
* * * * *
On June 16, 2015, @voguemagazine tagged a photo of me. The caption said:
"Meet @harinef, the 22-year-old model and actress who also happens to be the first transgender woman signed to @imgmodels."
* * * * *
My mother frowned at me from the other side of the couch. Light poured into the living room and caught her hair, coiffed like Peggy Bundy's. Good news ignited my mother but never blinded her. There's no word for the sound she makes — it could be a squeal, but it's deeper, embodied. It's a sound only a woman can make, and she shared it with me. I might have been crying, but maybe I didn't start crying until I got to Los Angeles. She rejoiced, then frowned.
"IMG and Transparent … fashion and television … that's big. That's … big … and you know I'm proud of you, but I'm having Mummy Instinct. How do I say this? I'm just trying to figure out the best way to say this. I'm just trying to figure out the best way to — OK. So there are going to be a lot of people looking at you. They will say hurtful things they'll think you'll never read, and you'll read them — I know you, you'll read them. You need a thick skin. You're sensitive. Usually people get more time, but this is happening now. They'll say you're ugly, disgusting — when you read it, it will feel true. They'll say that you wouldn't be acting and modeling on this level if you weren't trans, which actually might be true — let me finish. This is hard for me, because I can't protect you … OK, how about this? Take advantage. Trans is trendy right n— please let me finish, Hari! It is, you know it is, it is what it is … but it's an opportunity for you. The bottom line is that you want to work. Own it. If this is what people want from you, give it to them."
* * * * *
Laverne Cox turned around. I'd called her name, but calling a name didn't mean much on the Emmys red carpet. Even so, she turned around (I couldn't believe it), so I waddled over to hug and double-kiss her, and I asked her whom she was wearing.
"Custom Calvin Klein Collection by Francisco Costa," she chimed.