Tyra to Transform Transgender 'Top Model'

"As far as I know, provided a transgender model had all the physical traits the industry demands, getting representation and finding work shouldn't be too difficult. Agencies care more about your measurements and your overall look than anything else," said a working high-fashion model, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But while the fashion world may embrace transgender people and throw gender norms out the window, the same can't be said of the world at large.

"There have always been trannies on the periphery of fashion. But using transgender people to market things involves a certain amount of risk because there's a lot of people out there who do have prejudices and preconceived ideas," said Simon Doonan, creative director of Barney's and author of "Eccentric Glamour."

"There are editorial things they can do, say, avant-garde magazines. But they're not going to be Revlon models," Doonan said. "I can't see one showing up in a Lord & Taylor ad. There's too much money at stake."

"They don't speak to a large enough community," he added. "The transgender community … deserves respect and tolerance, but it's not a large community. So from a marketing standpoint, it's a risk to take a transgender model to market to straight women."

Models realize the risk in attaching themselves to a nonheterosexual lifestyle, whether transgender, gay, lesbian or something else, and often shy away from campaigns that could throw them from the mainstream to the fringes of the fashion world.

"I've known male models who, though gay themselves, are antsy [or their agencies are antsy] about them doing work for gay publications or gay-targeted clothing lines, because they don't want to be passed over for that campaign that'll pay $10,000 for a dude to look really sexy next to a girl," the high fashion model said. "And the same goes for lesbians. I know a couple who are, though not closeted by any measure, a little discreet about their orientation, because they don't want clients with male consumers in mind to think they can't look into the camera lens and project pure sex."

But King is open about her status. She hasn't been the only transgender person on reality TV: VH1's "I Want to Work for Diddy" features Laverne, a transgender contestant, and LOGO, MTV's gay-themed cable channel, recently wrapped the first season of "Transamerican Love Story," a dating competition starring a transgender bachelorette. On scripted TV, "Ugly Betty," "Dirty Sexy Money" and "All My Children" have featured story lines involving transgender characters.

"While the actual number of transgender representations on TV remains relatively small, what we're seeing on TV is a move away from the stereotypical, marginalized roles we've seen in the past -- sex workers, behind bars, being murdered," said Damon Romine, entertainment media director for Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD. "These more diverse and accurate representations play a vital role in helping audiences understand transgender lives."

While America may not be ready for a transgender top model, as evidenced by the fact that King didn't make the cut (though she wants to "go forward with her career" and be "mainstream"), it's certainly time audiences and the fashion world considered one. In the sea of too-thin and too-pale models currently dominating in the industry, diversity, of any kind, is a good thing.

"Maybe its time for a tranny to end up on the cover of Vogue," Doonan said.

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