I met Torraine this summer when I proposed that she came to the studio for some photos. I had seen beautiful photos of Torraine taken by Petra Collins and had obsessed over the opportunity to meet and photograph her. Luckily for me she accepted my proposal.
In person, her presence was even more powerful and her beauty striking: sharp high cheek bones, full lips and intense black eyes. She seemed shy at first, but was assertive in her words: "I'm not from this planet" she said when I asked where she was from.
Torraine was playful and at times reserved. As we connected over the shoot, Torraine's youthful energy quickly filled the room as she posed in front of the mirror, fixing her hair, studying her angles. She knew exactly how she wanted to look: "less like Alexander Wang, more like Oscar de la Renta."
Torraine brought with her a fun red ruffle dress and many colorful separate pieces that she layered into a Frida Kahlo-esque look. I asked Torraine to pick the music and without hesitation she said: "Ariana Grande". It was with the sound of Grande's "Dangerous Woman" that we started our shoot.
Since we first we met, Torraine's world has magnified. She's recently been named one of iD Magazine's trailblazing women, has been featured by several publications and had a busy NYFW season walking shows for several designers.
In this Q+A, Torraine talks about her work as a model, visual artist and trans activist.
LJ: As an artist and model you’ve been embraced by many incredible artists. How is like for you to be the subject of your own artwork as well as the subject of the work of other artists?
TF: It's so interesting. I didn't have the traditional model career trajectory. No one had to mold me into someone. People starting wanting to work with me after I already decided who I was and what I was about. I'm at the center of all of my art emotionally and visually, so I had been presenting myself in a specific way for a while. People knew what they were getting from me. Now, there obviously room for collaboration and I love being interpreted by other artists. It's just that my personal aesthetic I think sets the parameters for what would work for me and what wouldn't.
LJ: There is one particular artwork from your “Visionscape” series that really caught my eye. It’s an image of you laying down on the ground with eyes closed as you pull a tie around your neck as if strangling yourself. Next to that image you collaged a photo of two men in suits with their faces pixelated. Tell me about creating that image. What was going on in your head at the time?
TF: Ah, yes, I called it 'Modern Prison'. That was about depicting a rupture point for me. When the life of presenting within the boxes of professionalism and masculinity became unbearable. I was having panic attacks all the time and dreaded leaving home.
LJ: In an interview with Wonderland Magazine, you’ve talked about having the opportunity to rebuild yourself after a very difficult year. What is the most important lesson you've learned about life in the process?
TF: The most important thing I learned is to not cling so aggressively to life as you know it. If there's chaos, just go with it. Life can be awful if you can't have fun when shit goes wrong. I don't even make plans anymore. No plans for the future than the month ahead. No 6 month plans. I could be dead in 6 months.
LJ: This year, you were also featured in Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Boy Problems” directed by Petra Collins. You also walked in Rio Uribe’s Gypsy Sports’ fashion show and many others. How have these experiences impacted your life as a trans woman? Do you see a shift in mainstream acceptance of trans people?
Um. I think a lot more cisgender people see us as humans. And some of them like to think we're all "brave". That's as far as I think progress has come. I'm grateful for all of the opportunities, but I want more for us. People are still pretty bad at understanding us. I get really anxious about the attention I receive from cis people who want to work with me. Well, more so the organizations they work within. I'm always wondering why they want to work with me? What's the REAL premise behind the project? What are they saying in those pitch meetings? How are they treating me vs. cisgender artist/model. I'm just a little bit worried about what will happen when the trans bubble bursts. Will we be assimilated into "mainstream" America? Will it be unacceptable to use transness as a punchline? Will there be a trans Sex and the City? Will casting directors stop casting men to play trans women on screen? Will trans people be taken seriously at job interviews and feel comfortable knowing that they have an equal shot at the job? To be continued...
LJ: If you were to ask yourself a question, what would that question be? Share something you want the world to know about you.
TF: I'll just do shameless promo and say that I have a bunch of great art projects and some wild fashion things coming out over the next couple months that I'm very excited about showing to the world. So expect to see me on lots of different platforms working in different mediums. Feel good to be alive.