#QueerHeroes Day 4 – Tracey Norman/Tracey Africa

#QueerHeroes Day 4
Tracey Norman/Tracey Africa

This is one of my favorite stories of queer resilience and ultimate triumph.

Upon graduating high school in the late 60s/early 70s, Tracey came out to her family as a transgender woman. Despite her understandable fears, she was met with an embrace from her mother.

She began using birth control pills as part of her transition and soon found someone in the trans nightclub scene to supply her with underground hormone shots.

Keeping her assigned gender a secret, Tracey began a modeling career. She did a shoot for Vogue Italia in 1971, but she’d be most noticeable in 1975, on the box of Clairol’s “Born Beautiful” hair color. Number 512: Dark Auburn.

It was her first big contract and her face was in every drug store in the United States. Soon, Avon was calling and she landed a contract with them as well.

Then there was a fateful shoot with Essence Magazine five years later. The assistant to Tracey’s hairdresser found out her assigned gender and soon told the editor at Essence. The photos were never published. She moved to Paris and did a six month stint with Balenciaga, but work quickly dried up.

She accepted that her modeling career was over.

She began performing in peep show booths in New York City but found a home in the city’s Ball scene.

Thirty six years following the shoot with Essence, Clairol—the hair color company that was her first big contract—reached out to her after reading about Tracey’s story in The Cut.

They made her the face of their new campaign: ‘Nice ‘n Easy Color As Real As You Are’.

Since then, she’s become one of the first transgender women—along with Geena Rocero—on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.

If her story sounds familiar to you, that’s likely because she partially inspired the character of Angel Evangelista, Indya Moore’s role in the FX series “Pose”.

If you want to honor Tracey and uplift young trans artists, you can donate to House Lives Matter, an organization founded and run entirely by queer people in the Ball scene. House Lives Matter is dedicated to strengthening alliances, healthcare opportunities, mentorships, and other crucial forms of advocacy within the Ball community. You can donate to them here.


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