For the next two weeks, here on The Window we’ll be featuring profiles of the amazing individuals featured in our Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters campaign, shot in New York by the iconic photographer Bruce Weber.
Biographer and journalist Patricia Bosworth interviewed each of the 17 models, capturing a chapter of their edifying stories. Today, we’re pleased to introduce you to Sawyer DeVuyst and Niki M’nray.
I was born and raised in Northern New Jersey. My dad was a woodworker; he and the rest of my family are born-again Christians. I grew up around tools, different kinds of building materials. My brother and I would sketch a lot and draw what we imagined could be our dream houses. I was inspired by Charles and Ray Eames, the Bauhaus movement. I loved creating different interiors with a pencil and a pad.
I sensed I was different when I was five or six. I vaguely understood that there was a biological difference between boys and girls. I was a girl, but I really felt like I should be a boy. I tried to talk to my mom. I told her I was a boy but I was met with such rage and negativity that I didn’t mention it again for years. I suffered.
I felt more and more physically uncomfortable, especially after I started puberty. I layered my clothes to conceal my body. I’d stop eating. I was truly horrified with myself that I couldn’t stop what was happening to me.
I met my first trans person when I was twenty-two. As we became friends, I realized he had gone through what I was going through, and that there were answers. There was a solution. I didn’t have to be miserable. That’s when I finally understood and accepted that male and female, masculine and feminine, were unreliable opposites. I began transitioning when I was twenty-three.
I didn’t take hormones right away. I’m a very composed, rational person and I was worried that hormone replacement therapy could change all that.
I took my transition slowly. I knew I wanted top surgery, since I had always been very uncomfortable with my breasts. It was very hard for me to stand up for myself when I was being misgendered. It was unnerving to be called ma’am and even more terrifying to be screamed at, simply for saying, “No, I’m not a girl.” I finally went on hormones temporarily to change and deepen my voice. That has helped tremendously.
I still have a very hard time with most of my family. They don’t respect me as a male. I tried having a long conversation with my mom before I had top surgery—tried to explain that there was nothing they’d done to make me into what I was—but that they couldn’t change me either. It’s extremely upsetting. I do so want validation from them. It’s very hard to go home because every time I see my parents, no matter what successes I’ve had in my life, they make me feel terrible about myself. My aunts and my brothers are the only members of my family who support me emotionally. My aunt says, “If this makes you happy.” Thank God for her.
I have a successful business designing and hand-making furniture for residences, commercial spaces, even hotels. I love it. I’m also a part-time actor, stuntman and model.
Stuntwork is very exciting. I’ve been lit on fire (which is not really scary if you do it safely), I’ve stunt doubled for Andie MacDowell. I’ve worked on Sex and the City, Law & Order. I like doing different things for work because I can’t stand being bored.
I’ve been in a relationship with a woman for six years. We live in Fort Greene together in a beautiful brownstone apartment. We really want children. I’d love to have two. I would never physically have a child. My partner is excited to carry our children.
Now I have a lot of emotional support in my life, from my partner and my friends. They are all open to talk about anything. They really care about me. This project has been really powerful and surreal for me. Historically, trans people live in fear and shame, but to be recognized and then treated with dignity and respect—and then to be celebrated! It’s been an amazing experience.
I was born in Iran but I grew up in L.A. I knew I should be a girl when I was very little, but it seemed like such a far-fetched idea—it never occurred to me that I could actually ever change. It was easy for me to be bullied growing up. I had to be careful; I couldn’t give myself away. I started reading a lot of magazines. That’s when I discovered Tula, the famous transsexual model in London who’d been in James Bond movies and who was a real activist for transgender people. Reading about her was a revelation.
I started figuring out what I wanted to do. When I was in my twenties—before my transition—I moved back to Iran, to Tehran where there would be no distractions. No friends, no clubbing. I started my transitioning there. It’s legal in Iran; they even subsidize it—although transgender people still face great discrimination within society. I started on hormones but I went to Thailand for my surgery. I had the most sophisticated surgery. It was traumatic and very painful, but I remember walking out of the hospital I felt wonderful. I felt reborn.
When I returned to Tehran I began working in a beauty salon as a woman and I was able to assimilate and blend in and nobody knew. Gradually I became more comfortable. I never told my boyfriend. When I finally did, he was shocked at first but then he said, “You are very special. I love you.” We never spoke of it again.
I wanted to establish myself as a makeup artist in New York. I began at a MAC counter; then I started assisting makeup artists. Now I am on my own and I have agencies repping me in Paris and New York. I do international Vogue covers. I’m also an artist and I do photography and collages influenced by Persian culture with a punk rock overtone.
A lot has happened to me now that I have changed. My brother and mother stayed close to me, but two of my sisters won’t speak to me. I always knew I would lose people. I’ve developed survival techniques. You walk a lonely road when you do something out of the ordinary.
I would like to write my story of how it feels to be living in an Islamic country as both a man and a transgender woman. I feel harmonious in my physical self and spiritual self. I accept that I’m not just a woman, I’m a transsexual. Female.
When I walk down the street I think of my role models—women who’ve inspired me, like Tula, and there’s a trans woman working at the department of defense, Amanda Simpson, the first transgender political appointee in Obama’s cabinet. That’s really something, isn’t it?
The most important part of this campaign is the awareness it brings towards trans issues. I’m happy to lend a voice to it and educate folks who are in the dark with regards to this subject.
Sawyer (on left) and Niki (on right) both wear Maison Martin Margiela.