VICTOR/VICTORIA, MEDIA ICON
FIELD: MEDIA TITLE: GENDER-LESS MODEL, SOCIAL WORKER
A. | How did you become interested in the fashion industry?
I got into being an androgynous model completely by accident…I used to do it in different countries as a teenager when I was in Singapore, but then I got a degree in social services related field to pursue social work. After moving to the United States, I never thought that I would model again. Three years ago I was on a shoot just accompanying where there was supposed to be two female models. One didn’t show up and then the crew saw me and said “you are very thin and you are very proportionate, you do it!” But then when I took off my shirt they said “oh my god, you’re a boy!” They also didn’t know that I used to model so they were fascinated and probably thought “this is so weird, this is a person that just came to hang out and knows how to model professionally. People said to me your life will change, people will want to know who you are but I didn’t think too much about it. I also love being social. I usually do not think about what is going to happen, I just go with the flow, and I have been very fortunate—it just keeps going. I am lucky to meet many talented individuals—great photographers great fashion designers, and great makeup artists/hairstylists. I am very grateful. It is not so much about the quantity but the quality. I have embraced my identity and gender. I met Kate Mensah, an amazing designer in Portland Fashion Week…there was an immediate connection—I liked the way she dressed, she liked the way I dressed, and then she thinks I am unique and stylish, so we keep in contact. Eventually, I modeled her designs, and our work got published…. Kate told me something: “If this was 20 years ago, this would not work because then people were very conservative—the timing is perfect for you because this is the time people really embrace more diversity, including transgender and transexual models.”
Now I brand myself as an androgynous/genderless model. I get my work through word of mouth and social media (especially Instagram), because designers who see my work will ask “whose that model?—he’s a boy but he’s a girl!?” And people say oh, there’s only one that we can think of in Seattle! Every assignment I do, I treat it like the last one. It's amazing that I meet very great people. Often times this is rare—you may not meet really authentic people. I am very lucky. I also do advocacy/social services work at the same time, so I have also established a strong network within this industry as well.
As part of National Council for Behavioral Health, I am very fortunate to be selected as one of the top 25 leaders in the country to address health disparities to enhance health integration…when I met the other 24, some of their first reaction were very interesting. At the end they were telling me that their first perception of me was that I was coming from a fashion industry that was very shiny and fake, but when they met me, it changed their perspectives of what they think. I found out that what they say is true—at times, it can be a very fake industry. But what I do now is because I have a very personal passion for arts, fashion and social justice…Arts and fashion is such a powerful media that if you use it the right way, you can have a very great impact. I remember when I was 7 or 8 just volunteering at an assisted living facility, and I was handing out crackers—I handed one to an older woman who just held my hand and said “I cannot give you anything, but I’ll give you happiness,” and that was something that always resonates with me—at that time, I knew I wanted to do social work. To me it is important to be very clear about my branding. People who know me can say that off or on camera I am the same person. People know if you are being authentic and sincere.
A. | What is your work routine? What does your job entail?
Whether I am doing social work or modeling, even when I just go hang out with friends, I try very hard to dress very well. I know that people perceive you in certain ways even though it sounds superficial. When I walk down the street and people recognize me, it can become an opportunity for another modeling assignment. And we want to change the perception here in Seattle that people don’t know how to dress.
Overexposure is not a good thing. It’s about the quality not quantity. I get offered many projects, so I am selective about which ones I participate in and know when to say no.
I don’t like to take life too seriously. I met some really good friends that support one other in our fashion work, but we have become so close we also hang out and go dancing.
A. | What do you do outside of your work routine?
I am a very health-conscious person. I like using elliptical a lot—you just keep going! I also love yoga and body sculpting exercises. I really believe it is all about the mind, body and soul. If you have all three, you are balanced and you can continue to do what you like to do. And having friends that you can have fun with really help with liberation and self care. I also like time where I am completely alone sometimes, so I can do self reflection. I have a balanced personality of an introvert and extrovert.
A. | What are you most proud of in your career?
Every moment where I can integrate arts/fashion with advocacy/charity/social justice. I call this fashion integration, similar to the national movement of health integration.
A. | What are the biggest challenges you have overcome?
My branding is usually working very well, but it does have a flip side. There were designers who didn’t realize from the photograph that I was a boy, and when I showed up they were a little bit shocked that I am actually not a girl, so there are negative sides too—the conservative people are so uptight that they still cannot accept it.
A. | Where do you feel at home?
Seattle feels at home to me now. I have established such a strong connection in social work here and then androgynous modeling is something I didn’t expect to happen, but has been turning out very well. Living here in the city has given me a lot of opportunities and friendships.
A. | How do you define success?
To me success is helping other people to be more successful than you. I believe in cultivating leadership. In helping other’s succeed in what they do, you essentially benefit….Success is never being complacent with the current state of your life: keep striving for another goal.
A. | Did you ever change careers? If so, why? When?
I used to do musicals with children first as a “marketing strategy.” My agent once told me “you need to have a gimmick,” and I did. So I went into doing this and fell in love. I realized that actually social work is something that is no longer a gimmick, no longer a marketing strategy. So I went from modeling to doing social work. And I didn’t think I would go back into modeling.
A. | What do you think are the most important traits in your industry?
In order to be a good model, I follow my three D’s. Determined. Devotion. Dedication.
I read everything about a designer, so when I show up I can actually speak intellectually about the brand, because sometimes when you go for audition/casting, there may be many more beautiful models, but at the end of the day, having wit beyond looks can help.
I will say I am pretty stubborn. Unless you can convince me that a project is for a significant and specific purpose, I am not going to do it.
Be approachable. You can be someone who is innovative, and keeping up with the current trends, but if you cannot be calm, personable and approachable, you may not have the cohesiveness of a project.
A. | Where do you get inspiration?
Through observing the people who are really successful at what they do, I become inspired. I see what the qualities are that make them successfulI. Success can also be perceived the wrong way if you take it the wrong way, it can become jealousy. Friends can begin to be more distance from you when they are envy.
A. | How do you think that oppression and privilege affect the fashion industry?
There is still racism, whether it is external or internal, whether people admit it or not. As a person who is gay, a boy who looks like a girl and Asian—these elements work against me. However, I defy these elements, and use it to my advantage! My oppression has helped me build resiliency, and it has become part of my branding; I use the oppression based on my racial and sexual identity as something that motivates me, because then it is to my advantage, and that is why I am so determined. Use those negative things to get inspiration.
A. | What would you recommend to yourself 10 years ago?
Don’t worry too much about pleasing others. In hindsight, the more you try to do this you end up loosing yourself, and at the same time you may end up hurting other people. Let go of people who are negative, and dishonest.
A. | Any other production advice you would like to share?
Learn when to say no, when to let go, and when to say goodbye. Speak with action, not just words. It's more than your portfolio or your face, it is really about your personality. Learn to agree to disagree.
FIELD | PRINT MODELING
ORIGIN | SINGAPORE
ZODIAC | VIRGO
FAVORITE COLOR | BLACK—ITS A CLASSIC WITH A HINT OF MYSTERY