Uncovering The First Black Trans Model: Tracey “Africa” Norman

The year 2015 has been a celebratory year for the trans community. From Caitlyn Jenner finally coming into the world to Hari Nef’s spot on Transparent, some trans women are getting chances that were often unheard of. In New York magazine’s cover profile, Jada Yuan and Aaron Wong spoke with Tracey “Africa” Norman, the black trans model that infiltrated the very white, very cisgendered modeling world of the ’70s.

Collage from NY Mag
A collage from Norman’s modeling days.

The in-depth story walks us through the wildly successful career of Norman, which is studded with painful times and transphobia. Becoming the face of Clairol’s No. 512 Dark Auburn, a best selling color for the company, kept the vixen’s visage on the box for six years. The feature astutely notes, “Thousands of Clairol customers were emulating the look, and affirming the beauty, of a transgender woman.” The turning point of Norman’s career came was when she did a photo shoot for Essence; the magazine’s editor-in-chief at the time Susan Taylor allegedly got word of Norman’s identity. After that, coincidentally, it was nearly impossible for the model to get work in the states.

The piece not only goes through Norman’s long history of modeling, and meteoric rise in the ball scene, but also the legacy she left, and the inspiration she gave the other trans women of color. The piece re-tells the renowned author of Redefining Realness, Janet Mock’s discovery of Norman saying, “Mock Googled everything she could about Norman, which at the time turned up just one YouTube video. ‘There was a sense of relief for me, at least on a personal level, to know that, ‘Holy shit, someone has been there before and has done this, at a time when there was a lot more violence and a lot more risk.'”

Image from NY Mag

Orange is the New Black superstar, Laverne Cox told New York magazine, “I can’t tell you how many hours I stared at that photo of her on that Clairol bottle and that caption, “‘Born Beautiful’…Yeah, we are born beautiful.” The piece also remarks that Essence, the magazine that rejected Norman, has since featured Cox on its cover twice.

The enlightening and inspirational story of Tracey Norman’s fashion career, not only reminds us of the prejudiced history that we have come a long way from, but also honors a woman that literally risked her life to be seen, known, and legitimized. As the legend herself put it, “I was reminded that I made history and I deserve to have it printed […] And I’m still here.”  

Read the entire story of Tracey Norman’s amazing story here.

All imagery from NY Mag cover story; Shot by Peter Hapak

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