Photography By Gavin Bond. Photographed in Tribeca, New York, on September 12, 2016. Hair: Walton Nunez using Living Proof. Makeup: Amber Amos for The Only Agency using Sisley Paris. Dress by Douglas Says.
Trans women of color don’t often have happy endings. According to the latest numbers from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 72% of the victims of hate-violence homicides are transgender women, 67% of whom are transgender women of color. As one of the most vulnerable groups in America, trans women of color are also more likely to experience police violence and sexual violence, and face higher levels of discrimination in housing, employment, and access to health care.
All of this is why Tracey Norman’s story is so remarkable. Given the transgender community’s sudden increase in visibility, some would assume that trans people are relatively new to the world. But back in the late 1970s, Norman’s impossibly high cheekbones graced the cover of a box of Clairol — No. 512, Dark Auburn — with the words “Born Beautiful” beneath her portrait.
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But Norman’s modeling career abruptly came to an end in the ’80s after she was effectively “outed.” During this time she became a member of the New York drag ball scene. Norman recalls briefly attempting to join the same community in the ’70s before her modeling career took off, but she wasn’t “well-received.”
“I can’t tell you why,” Norman says, slightly bemused. “Maybe because I’m from New Jersey.”
The second time around proved more rewarding, with Norman eventually becoming the mother of the House of Africa and a legend in the ball community. And second chances are a recurring theme in Norman’s life. A December 2015 New York magazine profile of her went viral, sparking renewed interest in the 64-year-old stunner, who has now partnered with Clairol again for a new barrier-breaking campaign.
Though she once had to hide a part of herself, today Norman is celebrated for being fully herself, which is all she ever wanted. And the younger generation — the Laverne Coxes, Janet Mocks, and Andreja Pejics — have all lined up to give props to Mother Africa. In return, she has some advice for anyone struggling with their identity.
“Live your truth,” she says. “I know sometimes it might be hard because of your environment — your parents may not be so loving and accepting — but hold on. And when you have the opportunity to live that truth, I think it’s very important that you do. You’ll be so much happier with your life.”