To mark International Trans Day of Visibility, models and activists Koko Barno, Tobias Dionisi and George Gorg got together to reflect on their careers, their futures, and their greatest inspirations from within the trans community - including the names you may not know, but should.
Meet Koko, Tobias and George
Hailing from different parts of the globe, French model Koko Barno (25), Argentine Tobias Dionisi (22) and Slovakian George Gorg (23) have all crossed paths at one point or another during fashion seasons, whether it be walking runway shows together or winding up at the same after parties.
Each of them began modelling in their mid-to-late teens and are now all represented by London-based agency SUPA Model Management. “It was the first time in my life I could really be who I was without being apologetic” says Koko, who moved from Paris to London with nothing more than a backpack aged 18. Some of the accolades Koko now carries under her belt include physical trophies - for becoming a two-time kickboxing champion no less - as well as achievements such as working with Marc Jacobs and Jean Paul Gaultier.
“I always felt that I was normal, and it was the other people that were weird. I always followed my gut. As long as I am happy I don’t give a sh*t. I’m so proud of where I am. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m fighting for it”, says Koko.
Of the three of them, Tobias was the latest to enter the modelling industry: “I was in law school, and in the closet too, not feeling myself, surrounded by people in suits”, she explains. Since then, Tobias has fronted campaigns for Dolce & Gabbana and Bottega Veneta, as well as walked for the likes of Ferragamo and GCDS. “My grandfather was actually the one who pushed me to start modelling, so I started to send emails and eventually got an agency in Argentina. I started travelling and now here we are” Tobias explains.
George Gorg was the youngest to fall into modelling when they were scouted through Instagram aged 15 by a Bulgarian modelling agency. “In Bulgaria I was only doing male modelling. It was very traditional, they put me on a high-protein diet to try and bulk up my muscle, obviously I hated it. I gave it up and moved to London and started my self-discovery journey where I was able to be more free with my style and self-expression, so I thought I’d give modelling another shot”. Since then, George has closed shows during Paris Couture Week and been part of campaigns for Dickies, H&M and Levi’s.
Whilst each of the models note that the fashion industry is slowly improving when it comes to trans representation, they explain that it can often feel like one step forward and two steps back. “Just last year, a casting agent said to me ‘I hope you have your heels and you’re ready to pretend to be a woman’, I thought we were past this”, says George, whilst Tobias explains: “If certain brands have very conservative clients then they don’t want to see trans girls walking in shows. Or they might not have the right heels for the girls walking in the show, so you feel like you’re getting somewhere and then suddenly you’re back in 2005. It’s not it.”
They also emphasise the difference in treatment when moving between the major fashion capitals. From New York to London, Milan and Paris, there is a noticable shift in attitude. “In Milan I have people trying to punch me for wearing a dress on the street” says Tobias, “it’s crazy, you’ll move from one city to the next and feel like you’re time travelling.”
“It’s one of the reasons why I left France” says Koko, “I’m not from Paris, I’m from Bordeaux which can be very racist, very homophobic, and just very, very. I left at 18 and when I got to London I had more freedom to understand who I was. After three years living here, I decided to transition. London really helped me, you don’t really have to explain yourself here, people just get it.”
Keep up with Koko, Tobias and George’s work here. Below, the three models list the names of those who inspire them, as well as those whose names should be far more widely known.
Koko, Tobias and George select the names they want you to know this International Transgender Day of Visibility
Marsha P. Johnson – She helped to found the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries activism group, campaigning for greater inclusion for trans people, so definitely a big inspiration for me.
Sarah McBride – The first out transgender state senator in the entire U.S.
Fallon Fox – The first openly transgender woman to compete in mixed martial arts (As I did kick boxing for so many years, she really inspired me in my journey).
This day is dedicated to the Trans Community. It is in place to highlight discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide. I want to use this opportunity to share the names of four young trans people who sadly lost their lives purely because they were trans. They inspire me to continue fighting and stand up every day. There must be a revolution to save our trans children from murder. Trans kids deserve to become trans adults. The fight for visibility is political, those in power need to focus on the trans struggle, trans people will not stop fighting for our rights.
Tehuel de la Torre was a 22-year-old trans boy from Argentina who disappeared one day when he left his home in Buenos Aires to go to a job interview, to this day there is no news as to where he is.
16-year-old Brianna Ghey was stabbed to death by two teenagers in a park in Warrington, UK.
Unique Banks was a 21-year-old Latina trans woman shot and murdered along with her mom in Chicago, US.
Tasiyah “Siyah” Woodland, an 18-year-old black trans woman murdered in Maryland, US.
There are so many dolls that make me feel hopeful and grateful. That being said, I want to preface this by saying that I think all women - trans or not, are incredibly powerful and deserve a safe and happy life. I’ve listed a range of trans artists that stand out and have had an influence on me, however this list is not definitive and there are a lot of other trans women I’d love to mention. My love and appreciation for women and queer people is very deep and the list could be endless.
I encourage everyone to branch out and discover models, actors, and artists that are queer. While they may not share the same difficult human experiences with you, they share a unique point of view and vision that could inspire you and help you grow no matter who you are.
Dylan Mulvaney - For sharing her vulnerable transition from day one to a very wide audience, sharing all the good and the bad of the trans experience and queer issues.
Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, and Michaela Jaé Rodriguezfrom the cast of P.O.S.E - I’m grateful to have met Indya and briefly interacted with Dominique. These women work with passion and intention, share a great message, and make the world a more beautiful place.
Gia Bab - She is very kind, loving, and grateful and I appreciate a person that can go through hell and back and keep radiating positivity, hope, and inspiration.
Casil McArthur- I was lucky to have met Casil at the SUPA Model Management office in London and have kept in touch with him since. He is an incredibly interesting trans person to me, really pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a man, a trans person, and a person in general. I appreciate someone who can be completely true to themself regardless of what people may think or say.
Hunter Schafer - She’s had an incredible career as a model and has made a huge impact on the trans community through her role as Jules in Euphoria. One thing I’ve discussed with her was how impactful some of the scenes from the show were when it comes to aiding transfeminine viewers with their gender dysphoria, by doing things that could otherwise make someone feel uncomfortable (such as peeing while standing up). Her character does these things with love and in a way that can be translated as healing and breaking of destructive societal beliefs. We LOVE to see it. Even if it’s brief, it is still powerful and important.
Alex Consani - The hardest working trans model I’ve met, I’m grateful for her being acknowledged by top designers and industry professionals, she is a hilarious and free spirit, full of life and excitement and she shares this with everyone, which is infectious. I’m happy that there is someone like this who is ingrained in the fashion industry to change people’s mindsets and beliefs, to show that trans women are beautiful natural people. After all that she’s been through, I’m so proud of her for always keeping her head up and continuing with a confident and powerful attitude.
Grace Valentine - They’re a gorgeous non-binary model, with powerful masculine and feminine energy presented in a beautifully confident and natural way. They advocate a lot about mental health issues, while also working incredibly hard. They’re very open about living life as a model and about their mental health issues. I think that’s a great way for people to be able to connect with someone from a "minority" group and understand that we are all a lot more similar than what is portrayed in the media.
Other trans artists that inspire me are Margo and Maddie Whitley, Ella Snyder, Charley Dean Sayers(who recently released a book documenting her transition), Koko and Tobias who are also a part of this interview (go girls!), Reinard Grevin (a trans femme casting director in Paris who casts almost exclusively trans people and is incredible at creating diverse beautiful casts while always pushing the boundaries of fashion shows, campaigns, and clients), and of course, Sophie- a talented angel that we lost, but always keep with us.