Hari Nef is a 24-year-old Jewish American actor, model, and activist. She’s also the first transgender model to be signed to a major modeling agency (IMG), not to mention the first to land an Elle British cover.
While Nef is not the first transgender model–as Barneys’ SS14 campaign cast 17 transgender models, and Andreja Pejić transitioned mid-career–her coverage is huge, and shouldn’t be overlooked. In a recent interview with the Guardian, which also coincides this week with Transgender Awareness Week, she said how she was lucky:
“I was not the right girl. I was the lucky one in the right place at the right time. But people have been blazing this path for me for more than 50 years. Because when we talk about previous generations, we’re referring to people only five or 10 years ago.”
Besides modeling, Nef also appeared in the second season of the Amazon Prime drama, “Transparent,” where she played Gittel, a transgender woman in Berlin during the Weimar-era when sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld coined the term “transsexual.”
That being said, it’s not as if Nef has never been rejected–she was turned down by three agencies before signing to IMG while she was in college. During this time, Nef hosted club nights and performed in a drag act before she started taking hormones.
“It was accidental, being an activist. But I am outspoken. I am not passive [about] the injustice that I’ve seen.”
At the same time, Nef wants to be smart about it:
“Look. I could write a tweet that would send loads of negative media attention towards the brand who cancelled a model after finding out about her gender. I could talk about people in the industry who have said gross things. I could create a second of radical positive change. But eventually that witch-hunting might jeopardise my role.”
For her, what has been a saving grace has been Instagram, of all things:
“For me, Instagram had become a place where I could image myself the way I found myself. Visibility is not in itself always a good thing, but when it is in the hands of those who need positive visibility, it can be.”
Of course, what makes being an activist hard for anyone, especially Nef, is also being confined to the labels that people want to define you by. She explained:
“On my Wikipedia page, one of the first things is my identity. I hate that. It’s not irrelevant, I know some of my exposure has been due to my identity, but I believe in more than that. I think that often my work is obscured by my gender identity. I don’t want it to be a big deal. This is not what I want to talk about anymore. Identity is a dead end. It’s a snoozefest.
My identity will always inform my experience and shape my perception. But I am an unremarkable person. The more we fixate on it the less we, as a community, [will] feel normal and safe in our day-to-day lives. I just want to grab a meal and, you know, go on a date.”
I’m glad that Nef speaks out, and I’m also grateful for the fact that she wants to be more than her identity–she just wants to be who she is. As a queer-identified person myself, I can’t agree more.