from Issue 189 of Jalouse
It’s been a rollercoaster year for Hari Nef. In May of 2015 the 23 year-old actress and model signed a contract with IMG Models (the very same month she graduated from the theater program at NYC’s Columbia University) , making her the first transgender model signed to their roster. She has set runways alight for the likes of Adam Selman, VFiles, and Gucci while her writing on sex, gender, and identity graced the pages of Dazed, Vice, Blackbook and Adult. Just as her star in the fashion world and her reputation as the new doyenne of downtown NYC continued to rise she was cast in the second season of Transparent, tackling the role of a tragically doomed German cross-dresser with incredible aplomb that it appeared as if the role had been written especially for her (and it was). Though she is happy to serve as both an inspiration and muse for trans people everywhere, she is quick to point out that there is much more to her appeal than just her gender and her almost preternatural sense of style. “I have a lot more to offer to you than an identity and a body,” she says. “I have perspective and I have talent-- those exist on their own.”
T Cole Rachel: Were you a super performative kid? Did you always want to be an actress?
Hari Nef: Oh yes. I'm still a super performative kid. I always wanted people to understand me and feel what I was feeling and see what I was seeing. I guess performativity was just something that I sort of harnessed to translate myself to all of these people I had in my life.
Rachel: You’ve been very open about your experiences as a trans woman and I’m sure there is a certain amount of pressure on you to be a representative of the trans community. For trans people in the public eye, there is always this intense fixation on gender and presentation. Is it your hope that eventually people will start to fixate less on that part of your life?
Hari Nef: I hope it will. I'm just happy to be here, happy to be working. If people are still asking me the same things that they're asking me now in five years, I'm going to start to get a little worried, because I'm going to be bored. And I hope that this becomes boring for people. I hope that after a certain amount of education and discourse is sort of disseminated throughout the world that we can move forward, because everybody is asking me these questions under this supposition that we need to educate people, and I believe that's true. We need to deconstruct stigmas about bodies and identities. I don't feel like it's going to happen overnight, but at the risk of sounding arrogant, I'll say I have a lot more to offer to you than an identity and a body. I have perspective and I have talent, and those things--while perhaps inextricably informed and enmeshed in my lived experiences as a trans woman and many other myriad identities I carry-- those exist on their own. I'm a trans model, I'm a trans actress. I'm also a model and I'm also an actress.
Rachel: As trans people continue to become more visible in popular culture, there’s a hope that one day it won’t be seen as such an anomaly.
Hari Nef: I feel like as the word transgender is starting to be defined for people by popular culture, but If you're only looking at five people to represent an entire community, you need to understand that there are armies of people on the trans spectrum that do not resemble these folks that are your reference points, that do not have the same lived experiences as your reference points, who do not identify along the same gender binary as your reference points. Being trans is not about, "I was born one way but now I identify as another way." It's really about this idea of gender fluidity and being able to look at someone who is gender variant to any extent and affirm their identity. It's not just about binary trans women, or binary trans men, or people who have medically transitioned or had certain either feminizing or masculinizing procedures or whatever. It's less about the people you're seeing and more about the way you see people.
Rachel: Thinking about this past year, what have been the biggest surprises for you?
Hari Nef: Things that have happened to me or things that I've done, like signing a worldwide modeling contract with IMG, making my acting debut on Transparent, walking the Gucci show. I never expected that any of this would happen to me. Maybe there was a certain sense that I thought that maybe I could take my talent somewhere, but especially after coming to terms with my gender identity and a lot of the pain that was associated with that, all of my dreams came true right at the moment I was sort of becoming comfortable with giving up on my dreams. Understanding that my gender variance is probably going to make things very difficult for me, and understanding that there were so few precedents for people with my body and my identity doing the things that I wanted to do, that I should never ever bank on doing them…and then a bunch of them happened anyway. That was the biggest surprise, because I didn't expect it and neither did anybody else. Before I signed with IMG, every other agency--literally every other one--either wouldn't even meet with me or just straight up wouldn't sign me. This was not a sure thing, for anybody, much less me. Just the fact that I'm even sitting here is a surprise to me still.
Rachel: In terms of acting, do you have a dream project?
Hari Nef: I would love to play Lady Macbeth. I would love to play Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. I would love to play Candy Darling in a biopic. Or Patti Smith! There are dream roles out there, but because I don't bank on getting those roles, my big dream is to write for myself and to create a role that I can embody. I feel and think this a lot of the time, but a lot of my fellow trans girls just say it straight up, "None of this shit is made for us. These clothes aren't made for us, these movies aren't made for us, this shit is not made for us, and people don't want us around." They look at me and say, "Okay, little Ivy League white girl, you got through the door, good for you. We love you, but your inhabiting this space doesn't necessarily mean that they want any more of us in there than there already are." So I try to have an open heart about my collaborations, but there is a part of me that has these voices going through me, that none of this shit is made for me. Sometimes you have to make something for yourself.