Meet Teddy Quinlivan, Chanel's First Openly Transgender Model

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Who Is Teddy Quinlivan? Meet Chanel's First Openly Transgender Model

In the last few years, transgender individuals have opened up about their personal struggles. And though trans people have received more representation in the media, films and television, and the entertainment industry, they still have a long way to go. Especially in the wake of the Trump administration “asking” the Supreme Court to make being transgender a fireable offense

The filing by the Justice Department read, “Title VII does not prohibit discrimination against transgender persons based on their transgender status. It simply does not speak to discrimination because of an individual’s gender identity or a disconnect between an individual’s gender identity and the individual’s sex... Title VII prohibits treating an individual less favorably than similarly situated individuals of the opposite sex.”

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Still, the fashion world is giving hope to the trans and LGBTQ+ community. Who is Teddy Quinlivan? Not only is she the first openly transgender model to be hired by Chanel, but she’s making strides for transgender rights. Here are eight things to know about her, her personal struggles, and how she hopes to bring about change.

1. She’s been modeling since 2015.

In 2015, Quinlivan was discovered by Louis Vuitton’s creative director, Nicolas Ghesquière. And since then, she’s walked for designers like Diane Von Furstenberg, Jason Wu, Jeremy Scott, and Carolina Herrera. She’s also been featured in other beauty ads for Milk Makeup and Maison Margiela.

2. Chanel hired her for their company.

She’ll appear in their beauty ads and as a face for the brand. In an Instagram post, Quinlivan expressed her gratitude and revealed her struggle:

“My whole life has been a fight. From being bullied at school consistently, kids threatening to kill me and going into graphic detail how they were going to do it, my own father beating me and calling me a fagot, to receiving industry blowback after speaking publicly about being sexually assaulted on the job... This was a victory that made all of that s*** worth it. 

I had walked 2 shows for Chanel while I was living in stealth (stealth meaning I hadn’t made my trans identity public yet), and when I came out I knew I’d stop working with some brands. I thought I’d never work with the iconic house of Chanel ever again. But here I am in Chanel Beauty Advertising. I am the first openly trans person to work for the house of Chanel, and I am deeply humbled and proud to represent my community. 

The world will kick you down, spit on you, and tell you you’re worthless. It’s your job to have the strength to stand up and push on, to keep fighting, Because if you give up then you will never experience the tears of triumph.”

3. She came out as trans in 2017.

In September 2017, she came out as transgender, exclusively to CNN Style. Of her decision to come out, Quinlivan said: 

“I've decided to reveal my trans identity because of the political climate in the world right now, particularly in the United States. We made an amazing progression under the Obama administration, and since the new administration took office, there's been a kind of backlash.

There's been violence against transgender people — particularly transgender women of color — since before I even knew what transgender was. I just felt a great sense of urgency. I’m very fortunate to be in (a) position (that) I never really thought I would be. It’s really important to take advantage of a time like this... I think the personal is political. It’s political, but I’m also doing it for myself. I was ready to come out, but I think the times we live in elevated the sense of importance and urgency... I’m definitely a little bit nervous, because I’ve been presenting as cisgender (a person who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth) for so long...

Since I transitioned when I was 16, I’ve been living as a cis female... I was very lucky, because I won the genetic lottery — I looked a certain way and my voice hadn’t dropped. That privilege gave me a lot of confidence to walk down the street, date and (work) in the fashion industry, where people I would presume I was a ‘normal’ girl.

But when you come out as transgender to the world, on a platform, there may be some backlash. People might be violent against me because of something I never chose. That makes me nervous, but I’m really excited to share my story with the world. My optimism outweighs the fear.”

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4. People were extremely supportive of her decision.

Designer Marc Jacobs commented, “I respect, admire and support Teddy’s decision to come out as transgender. Now more than ever it is vital that we pledge our allegiance to the LGBT community and use our voices to encourage and inspire acceptance, equality, understanding and love.” 

Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD president, released a statement, saying, “[Teddy is] sending a phenomenal message to transgender youth by using her personal story to show that transgender women can and should aspire to be whatever they want to be.”

5. She voiced her opinion on labels and being known as a “transgender model.”

But she doesn’t think wearing that label is a bad thing. 

According to her, “I don't think it’s a problem because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being trans. I’m a woman first and foremost... I’m a model but I’m also transgender, and I think in a time when I can count most transgender celebrities on my hands, (this) is crucial. If being transgender is something that gets attached to my name throughout my career, then it’s for a worthy cause. But I look forward to the day when it doesn’t matter.”

6. She also opened up about her role models.

Speaking to CNN, she revealed:

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have any trans role models until I was probably 18 or 19. Laverne Cox being on Orange Is the New Black is new. Janet Mock, Caitlyn Jenner coming out — that’s recent.

When I was growing up it was all Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. I was seeing this exploitation of trans women. They were made to seem like a bad joke. I felt like that was such a negative portrayal. I wasn’t like the women on these TV shows, so it gave me a lot of confusion.

Hopefully, my story reaches people in the same way that the stories of Laverne Cox and Janet Mock have (already) reached trans people. There are not a lot of openly trans people in media, and I think it’s really important to show people that not only am I trans, I’m (also) very successful and good at what I do.”

7. She’s supportive of giving trans people a platform.

“I think one of the ways we can help people in the trans community is to give them a platform. And I think the fashion industry plays a very crucial role in that. The fashion industry dictates what’s in fashion, what’s cool, what’s acceptable. It’s not just about who’s walking fashion shows, it’s about who’s on every newsstand in the country. The transgender community needs more visibility. And with more visibility will come more acceptance,” she said.

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8. And she’s also been candid about her struggle with her sexual identity.

In a piece featured on Elle, Quinlivan spoke to writer Naomi Rougeau about transitioning and her family life:

“I actually started taking hormones when I was 17. I grew up in Boston and knew early on that I was very much female, despite my anatomy. I would sneak into my mom’s closet and play dress-up. Unbeknownst to my parents, I would change into girls’ clothing and put on makeup once I got to school. I understood at a young age that fashion is about identity and self-expression, and that we convey gender through clothing.

People would say, ‘Take that dress off; you are a boy!’ But I’ve always been rebellious. I thought, ‘Fine, you don’t want me to wear a skirt? I’m gonna wear one every day.’ I was viciously bullied for it. When I would defend myself, I’d be the one in trouble. Every time in the principal’s office, it was the same spiel: ‘If you don’t want people to bully you anymore, then conform.’

At home, things were a bit better. Although my parents were both very conservative, they nurtured my creative side. For a long time, they thought I might be gay, but it wasn’t that. One night, I told my mom that I wanted to live as a female. She was like, ‘Okay, if you’re going to transition, you have to really do it — take the hormones on schedule, and be responsible about it.’ 

She was very vigilant about finding the right doctors. She didn’t want me to have a challenging life and was concerned for my safety. My dad didn’t get it at first. But he made the effort, especially after I started presenting as female and he saw that I could live in the world safely and comfortably.

They let me switch schools.. Still, when we visited, my mom was like, ‘Please just present as a boy; look normal.’ I did because I wanted her to be comfortable... Everybody there had been ostracized for one reason or another. As soon as I started classes there, I felt a really strong sense of community. I could wear high heels every day, and for the first time, I got to decide my pronoun. I had this incredible art teacher who asked me, ‘Do you want me to call you she or he?’ That was revolutionary. I chose ‘she,’ and from then on, it stuck.

My dad had always discouraged me from coming out as transgender publicly, since there are a lot of people who want to hurt trans people simply for existing. When I started modeling after high school, I chose to conceal my truth. Because I was so passable as female, I was closed off to the idea of telling anyone. I had a very normal life.

But transitioning isn’t just a matter of growing out your hair, wearing heels, and piercing your ears. Taking hormones affects your mood; it’s like being born again. It changes not only the way you look but the way you see the world. While my career was taking off — I was signed when I was 22 — I was going through a lot emotionally. All of a sudden, I was acting like a prepubescent girl. And since I was concealing my identity, no one understood.

So about a year ago, I decided to come out to my bookers, Michael and Pedja. They had no clue. Telling them opened their eyes and helped them better understand my situation. I realized I was ready to tell the world...”

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Samantha Maffucci is an editor for YourTango who focuses on writing trending news and entertainment pieces. In her free time, you can find her obsessing about cats, wine, and all things Vanderpump Rules.