When he's not helping our community as an insurance navigator at New York’s Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Laith Ashley de la Cruz is breaking barriers in the modeling world.
He was one of the first trans male models to appear in a national campaign, Bruce Weber’s “Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters” campaign for Barneys, and works to increase visibility for the trans male community.
"It's been stressful, I can't even lie about that," the 26-year-old admits about the transition process, which he began in January 2014. "I try not to react to things that make me upset... which is hard, because this is not something that I'm used to. It's all brand spanking new."
Below, we chatted with Laith about being trans in the modeling world, his work with Callen-Lorde and his popular Instagram page, which has more than 100,000 followers to date.
What is the biggest difference between the real Laith Ashley De La Cruz and the Laith Ashley we see on Instagram?
My Instagram handle only captures a small moment in time. All one can see is a photo or a short video that can be interpreted in any number of ways. I am more than just a model in a photograph. Someone who cares about people. I am a dreamer. I imagine a world where people were more kind and understanding, a world where people aren't taking advantage of one another.
On Instagram, I try to put the best, most perfect visual image of myself out there. A stronger, more confident, less fearful and more eloquent me. In reality, I am confident but also afraid. I am strong, but when I'm weak it is very evident. I am also guarded, vulnerable.
What are some of the biggest challenges of being trans in the modeling world?
The industry isn't necessarily looking to change the standard. Some people are really trying, but the fact remains, that the industry looks—and will continue to look—for the cisnormative/heteronormative beauty standard. They only stray only if there is something to gain.
Did you always want to be a model?
No, I actually wanted to be a professional athlete and a performing artist. First boxing, then a baseball player, followed by basketball—and this was all by age 6! I also daydreamed of making my own music and having my music videos play TRL, VH1's Pop Up Video and BET's 106 & Park.
Who is your idol?
I wouldn't say I necessarily have an idol, but there are several people I admire: Actor Jesse Williams is one—he is very intelligent and articulate. Hearing him speak in interviews, and even reading his rants on social media, you can see and hear his passion for social justice. It's refreshing.
On a lighter note, I have always admired Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson. I dreamt of playing in the NBA as a child and Jordan was the best to play the game and is an absolute icon for the sport, a legend.
Aside from basketball, I also loved to sing and dance, so naturally I looked to Michael Jackson, a legend in music and performance.
What’s been your biggest accomplishment to date?
My biggest career accomplishment would be working at Callen-Lorde and having the opportunity to offer services to my community and especially homeless youth, most of whom are LGBT. It opened my eyes to a community of young people that I had no idea existed, even though I would walk past them on a daily basis.
I'd always thing, "Geez, why aren't these kids in school or something?" It never crossed my mind how badly they were in need of help, of guidance and love.
What’s the next great frontier for the LGBT community?
I think this movement for trans visibility is absolutely magnificent. However, like the modeling industry, there is a focus on cis-looking individuals. I think we need to begin including gender-non-conforming folks in the movement as well. Their struggles and identities have not yet been spoken about.
Is the fashion world coming around to trans models?
As I said, there is an attempt in being more inclusive but only if you adhere to the cisnormative beauty standard.
What would you say has been the best trans depiction on film or television?
Jaime Clayton as Nomi Marks, in Sense8. It was fabulously done. She plays a lesbian, too! That's probably confused the heck out of people who were not aware that sexuality and gender identity are not the same thing.
With what company or brand would you love to walk for or do a campaign for?
I would love to do a campaign for Calvin Klein or Tom Ford.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in modeling?
The biggest challenge with modeling would be my height (5'10"). Aside from that, my tendency to become overwhelmed when overstimulated. My first reaction is to run away. I am learning to be more confident in myself, so that when I am presented with a difficult task(s) I can handle them with grace.
What scares you?
My biggest fear is failure. Of putting myself out there and being rejected. I know, I am in the wrong business, right?