Amber / Canada
“My name is Amber Ashem, I’m twenty three years old, a model, I live in Toronto, and I’m a trans-woman of colour. It feels so weird saying “of color” but I feel like it is still relevant to mention.
I transitioned over six years ago from male to female and it’s been a roller coaster of emotions. From feeling very elated coming into myself and who I have as a trans person, to having very low points of realizing exactly what it means to be transgender in society. Coming out as trans meant family members not accepting me and strangers on the street being aggressive and transphobic in the beginning of my transition.
Growing up I’ve always known I was very different and there were virtually no trans people in the media or in the fashion industry. This made it very difficult to discover my identity as there was no representation to relate to. I remember the only trans people in media were either on reality TV or in film in the adult entertainment world. In fashion there were no trans faces and it made it hard to envision transitioning as viable way of life when there was essentially no depictions of us in society.
Getting into my teenage years I began to see trans people’s success stories and more trans people getting exposure online and it emboldened me to seek out the first steps to getting my transition started.
The worst case of discrimination I’ve experienced being transgender was in the beginning months of coming out. The most traumatic moment was when I was walking down the street of the suburbs I lived in at the time and having a group of teenagers in a car driving past me and throwing an open can of coke at my head. The can hit me and doused me in the liquid and I ran home extremely distraught and ashamed. It was the first experience I’ve had of experiencing prejudice and to a scale I haven’t thought possible before hand. I was very visibly trans at the time and being attacked in public made me realize how much discrimination there was still in society against the LGBT+ community.
Being apart of the fashion industry now means I’m able to spread awareness that Transgender people deserve the same amount of respect and recognition as all other groups of people. It is so inspirational to see a wave of inclusivity from brands and companies towards the trans community. I never expected after going through transitioning and being discriminated against that there were opportunities in the fashion industry for trans identities to be represented and celebrated on a commercial scale.
I can already see the change in fashion and media with the trans community seeing more exposure. As more people see different types of gender identities I believe there will be less and less cases of intolerance. Being a transwoman in the industry is a way to be more visible so that it can normalize how we are viewed by the public. I believe this will ultimately help to reduce other people to experience the same stigma and prejudice I faced. I found when society is exposed to different types of people, especially in the LGBT+ community they find them more relatable and it reduces the fear against marginalized communities.
I am optimistic that sharing my story will help other trans people see that there is a community of support and possibilities are available whatever your gender identity is. I look forward to a time when society is completely accepting regardless of what community they belong to, there is still a way to go but with each person coming forward, I believe we are a little bit closer.