A hunky New York model who’s racked up tens of thousands of Instagram followers is known for his piercing eyes, broad shoulders, and sexy six-pack — and, if you know his backstory, the fact that he used to be a woman.
Laith Ashley, 26, has been finding success in the modeling world since he started transitioning two years ago, walking in shows for Adrian Alicea and Gypsy Sport during New York Fashion Week this February and even posing for a Barney’s New York campaign with legendary fashion photographer Bruce Weber.
‘Being a model now is definitely exciting. I’m always shocked when I’m walking to the gym or going to the store and people recognize me. It makes me feel good, but it can be a bit of shock.’
Laith had a great time taking to the runway, thought it wasn’t exactly where he thought he’d end up.
‘New York Fashion Week was fun — it’s funny as I never intended to get into modelling,’ he said. ‘It just happened… [but] everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited to see where it goes from here.’
The muscular New Yorker was just five when he noticed the ‘misalignment’ with his body and gender identity, he said. When he was a 17-year-old girl, still not quite sure of who he was, he came out as gay to his parents.
‘At the time I didn’t know what transgender was, so I just told them I had a girlfriend,’ he explained. ‘But I never felt right with the idea of being a lesbian woman.’
Finally, a year before he medically transitioned, he broke the news to his mom.
‘My mom is Pentecostal Christian, and although she loves me she felt it conflicted with her faith,’ he said, adding that she now brags about him to her friends at church. ‘My dad was fine. I told him that if he is proud of me, it takes away the power of people who criticize. Who cares what other people think, if he is proud?’
After two years of being on testosterone, Laith underwent surgery in 2015.
‘There was a lot of fear at first. It took me six years from the moment I came out as trans to actually begin my medical transition,’ he recalled. ‘Once I got over that fear, there was no stopping me. I am the most comfortable I have ever been.’
Now, he works out three times a week to keep himself muscular, and flexes his incredibly toned physique online.
‘When I look in the mirror, I am satisfied with that image. It is how I want to present myself to the world. This is me,’ he said.
Still, he’s been thrown a bit off-balance by all of the attention. Since he began modeling, he’s earned almost 60,000 Instagram followers and support from celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and transgender actress Laverne Cox. But while the attention was exciting at first, it soon became too much.
‘I went through a period of being very overwhelmed. I focused on all the negative comments I was receiving and just wanted to disappear,’ he said. ‘I never thought of myself as a role model. It was a label placed upon me after my photos began circulating through social media.’
Laith, who used to work as an insurance navigator at Callen Lorde Community Health Center, said he is still passionate about being an activist for the LGBT community.
‘I know many look up to me, because I may fit the image they wish to achieve, which I find incredibly humbling, but I want them to also know that their life journey is their own.'”People should be true to themselves – they don’t have to fit a box.”