Filipina Transgender Model Makes Waves in the Fashion Industry
Everyone’s first impression of Angel is undoubtedly the same: “What a pretty girl!”
The epitome of a professional model, in fact: 5’8 tall, slender and long-legged with an oval-face, high cheekbones, wide-set eyes, delicate nose and full, pouty lips. She’d look as much at home on Milan’s fashion runways as on a Vogue or Cosmopolitan magazine cover.
Flashing a sweet smile, she welcomed me with a warm hug and stepped back. Straight, shoulder-length windswept black hair revealed a slim, elegant neck.
She is beautiful and every bit the woman every girl wishes to be. But she wasn’t always a woman.
Angel Qinan was, in fact, assigned boy at birth with the given name Angel Castillo and attended La Salle Green Hills, an all-boys private Catholic school in Metro Manila, Philippines.
“In grade school I wondered why my mother dressed me only in plain shirts, shorts and trousers. I preferred the girls’ clothes–pretty blouses, skirts, and dresses!” she remembers. “Feeling like a girl, I wanted to wear girl clothes and was frustrated that I couldn’t”!
According to Angel’s Catholic teachers, such feelings were taboo; so she kept it to herself for years. Then at age 17 she first expressed her desire to become a woman. Angel’s mother dissuaded her from risking well-being and safety; since transgender persons face gossip, ridicule, and sometimes physical harm at the hands of intolerant and ignorant people. So Angel patiently postponed her transition.
After earning a computer science degree from De La Salle University, Angel migrated to New York and got a nursing degree too. While working full time as a registered nurse after she moved to Los Angeles, she decided it was time to transition. So in the summer of 2013, Angel Qinan was reborn . . . and opportunity first knocked at her door.
Shortly after she transitioned, Angel was signed up at Thailand-based Apple Model Management Agency, the world’s first that represents transgender models. This Thailand-based agency is a leader in this major new fashion industry trend.
“Asian transgender models are overlooked in the fashion industry,” Noam Lev, Apple agency founder and director, has noted. “Filling the gap is long overdue in an industry that constantly seeks emerging trends.”
Angel Qinan, the first Filipina at Apple’s elite lineup of 15 transgender Asian models, was groomed and trained to walk, dress, move, and pose while Apple worked to book them with top clients in the best markets of the fashion and commercial industry. They all hope and wait to grace the covers of high fashion magazines, appear on television and advertisement, and strut the runways of New York, Paris or Milan.
Angel Qinan did not have to wait very long. On February 21, she’ll walk the ramps for the grand finale of Sacramento Fashion Week, modeling this year’s fall and winter couture (scheduled for February 15-21). At the casting call, Angel impressed Maisha Bahati. For four-years, the fashion week veteran has introduced contemporary, ready-to-wear designer clothes like those featured in boutiques in Sacramento, Los Angeles and New York. Angel will model Maisha’s current collection which represents strong, confident, and feminine women.
“I was drawn to Angel’s exotic look, strong and graceful walk, positive spirit and high energy,“ Maisha said about spotting Angel at the casting call. “I prefer diversity on my runway and feel attracted to models who’ll represent my brand well.”
Angel Qinan is the first Filipina and first transgender model to represent Bahati’s clothing line at Sacramento Fashion Week. She’s gaining traction in the fashion industry in a remarkably short time.
Lev and Bahati hope the demand for transgender models will continue to grow so women like Angel Qinan could flourish in the fashion industry. Several years ago, the media was filled with the very public and successful transition of Bosnian model Andreja Pejic from male to female modeling. The visibility of transgender models, actresses and artists has increased through the years as the world slowly opens its eyes to their potential and talents.
Laverne Cox, the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time in June of 2014, was also nominated for an Emmy for her role as Sophia Burse in the popular television series, “Orange is the New Black”. She claims that her role in the series serves as a platform to speak on the rights of transgender people.
But what is a Transgender? GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) explains, “Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender man is a person who was assigned female at birth, but identifies and lives as a man. A transgender woman is person who was assigned male at birth, but identifies and lives as a woman”.
“Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to change their bodies. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon medical procedures”. (http://www.glaad.org/transgender/trans101)
(Transgender people should not be confused with gay, lesbian and crossdressers who fall into an entirely different category).
Angel, assigned boy at birth, felt her girlhood in grade school. Most transgender individuals feel this difference at an early age. The sensational public transition of 5-year old Ryland Whittington from girlhood to boyhood in May, 2014 prompted emotionally-charged approval from the transgender community and the passionate dismay of those who see it is a phase that kids outgrow.
But transgender people disagree, after growing up into confused and depressed teenagers who get bullied at school or commit suicide because their parents refused to accept them for who they are. As adults, they faced widespread discrimination and, sadly, even homicide.
The rise of transgender people in the fashion industry and mainstream television, along with their active efforts to educate the world, will slowly but surely help increase acceptance of transgender people.
“I’m fortunate to have family and friends who support me,” Angel says today. “I am true to myself and love who I am.” She advises closet transgender Filipinos (and non-Filipinos) to educate themselves, discover resources to help their transitions, and more importantly, learn who they really are to set the foundation for the life they want to live. “Surround yourself with people who love you and support you. Love yourself and things will fall into place in due time.”
Angel Qinan is definitely on a roll. In addition to taking the fashion industry by storm, she’s getting opportunities for commercial modeling and acting.
“Last year I had no idea I might reach this point in my life,” Angel muses. “So much has changed so fast since I transitioned, and all of it leads to the materialization of my dreams.”
Angel credits the Lord with all her blessings and hopes to inspire people through her continued success. She aspires to be the voice for anyone waiting to be heard.
“What a lovely woman,” I whispered to myself as I left Angel Qinan–truly is a beautiful woman, inside and out.
Photo 1: Photographer: Hemali Acharya Zaveri. MakeUp Artist: Bionka Stevens
Photo 2: Photographer: Jamie Cardenas. Art Direction: Cecilio Asuncion. MakeUp Artist: Jasmine Cardenas
Photo 3: Photographer: Photographer / MakeUp Artist / Stylist: Jennifer Maria
Photo 4: Photographer: Chris Nordone. Fashion Designer: Veejay Floresca. MakeUp Artist: Ally Castillo. Hair Stylist: Nicky Despi / Tuesday Drew
Photo 5: Jamie Cardenas. Art Direction: Cecilio Asuncion. MakeUp Artist: Jasmine Cardenas
Photo 6: Photographer: Chris Nordone. MakeUp Artist: Ally Castillo. Hair Stylist: Nicky Despi / Tuesday Drew. Fashion Designer: Veejay Floresca.