Meet Laith Ashley
Model, Musician, Actor, and Transgender Rights Activist
What got you interested in modeling/ how did your modeling career start?
I was not really looking to be a model. It kind of happened by accident. I would joke about it in High School, and at 19, I was asked to take photos for a new photographer’s portfolio. After that shoot he never returned my calls or emails, and I never saw the photos. I thought nothing of it, as that wasn’t my career path at all. I was a sophomore at Fairfield University, and that was the least of my worries.
It wasn’t until after I graduated, that a friend of mine told me Barneys New York was casting for a trans specific campaign and suggested I submit my photos. I went in to Ford’s office in New York, took a couple digitals and submitted them. The following day, I learned I had gotten it, and was scheduled to begin shooting in November of 2013, almost months before I began my medical transition.
What is your main passion/focus these days?
My main focus is to be happy, and to build a financially secure life for myself and my partner, while doing the things I love to do. I want to create beautiful things in music and fashion through all mediums.
What have been some of your experiences growing up transgender in The United States?
Other than my internal thoughts about who I was and what I was supposed to be, my life was no different from any other kids’. I went to school, played sports, played video games, watched my favorite television programming, listened to the music I found most appealing, recorded my favorite music videos on VHS, and I would sing and dance all over the house.
What are your thoughts on the current bathroom regulations that are being debated, that will affect the transgender community?
These bathroom regulations are just ridiculous. People who do not have any idea of what it means to be a transgender individual are making decisions on our behalf. Cisgender, white men, are telling women, who they should fear when using the restroom based on genitals. They are essentially projecting their own ideas about men, and placing the sick perversions on to a marginalized group, in this case, trans people, and mainly trans women. These laws do not protect anyone, and harm everyone. It doesn’t allow for transgender individuals to exist in a public space, it also polices bodies of all women (both cis and trans). Cis-women, who do not fit a certain look, can be harassed and asked to exit. There have already been accounts of this. Gender nonconforming individuals are also a major target. These laws only open up the doors to hate and disorder.
How does it feel be to a role model for the transgender community?
At first I felt like I would crack under the pressure. I quickly realized that I was creating that pressure myself. My existence, and my being visible is enough, and having the opportunity to use my platform to raise awareness is a complete honor.
What words of wisdom would you give to kids growing up transgender today?
Your journey is yours. Do not try to recreate someone else’s or be anyone else. Your life and experiences are all valid, but do not let tough times dictate your path or future.
Do you find the music industry more or less accepting than the fashion world? Please explain.
It’s all the same to me. You have to create the change, and make yourself something they can’t live without or at the very list want to see and hear more about.
Who are your heroes, and what inspires you?
Art inspires me, creatives inspire me. It doesn’t matter how well known you are.
If you could educate someone who has never met a transgender person before, what would you tell them?
Like with anything else, listen with the intent to understand and sympathize with the experience, because, it will never be yours, thus you can never fully comprehend it. It is all about justice, and the right to live, to exist, and to pursue happiness.