Tracey “Africa” Norman, one of the first trans models we know of, is posting rejection letters she received during her career.
In the 1970s, Norman shot to fame in the fashion industry after being discovered by Irving Penn. He shot her for Vogue Italia, before she went on to notably bag a high profile spot as a face of Clairol in 1975. Projects for Ultra Sheen and Essence came, as well as other lucrative work. This all, for the most part, came to a halt after she was outed as trans in 1981.
This history served as an inspiration for Angel’s storyline in Season One and Season Two of Pose. Once Angel is outed in the industry, her boyfriend, Papi, begins to book her work internationally. While she was set to head off to Italy at the end of Season Two, Norman went to Paris. There she booked work with Balenciaga as a house model for a few seasons before returning to America. On her return, her career petered off again. But not for a lack of trying.
In new posts on Instagram, the model — who is also known as Tracey Africa as she joined the ballroom community and eventually became mother of the house of Africa and was inducted into ballroom’s Hall of Fame in 2001 — reveals that she was doing what she could at the time to continue her career and prompt discussion about trans people in the 80s.
“We tried to make things happen but the world was not ready,” she wrote in a caption of a post. “Timing is everything. My mother always said I was born before my time.” The post included photos of letters from both Playboy and The Oprah Winfrey Show, in response to Norman’s inquiries.
“Thank you for submitting pictures of Tracy Gayle Norman to PLAYBOY,” one letter reads, saying that while Norman is “certainly an attractive lady,” the magazine “must, unfortunately, turn down many promising candidates” for its Playmate feature.
A letter, signed by Oprah Winfrey, not only thanked Norman for sending the photos but said that the host would forward the letter on to producers for their review.
Though the '80s were said to be too early, in the early 1990s Caroline Cossey shot for Playboy as an openly trans woman. As a part of that, she appeared on The Phil Donahue Show in 1990, The Joan Rivers Show in 1991, and The Geraldo Rivera Show in 1992, doing in-depth interviews. Playboy would name Ines Rau as its first trans Playmate in 2017.
In 2016 Clairol reached out to Norman to become the face of their 'Nice 'n Easy Color As Real As You Are' campaign. Clairol global associate brand director Heather Carruthers stated that the company was "honored to bring back Tracey Norman as a woman who no longer has to hide her truth." The campaign focused on the "confidence that comes from embracing what makes you unique and using natural color to express yourself freely.” Norman also went on to cover Harper’s Bazaar India.
RELATED | OUT100: Tracey Norman, Legend