In Transition

“I’m just an overall creative, trying to create worlds and pieces of artwork that reflect a world beyond gender and beyond hyper-masculinity that I would like to see.”

That is how Hunter Schafer wants her narrative to read. Refusing to be labeled or put in a box, Hunter has in fact spent the majority of her young life fighting other people’s perceptions. Carving out a fluid and authentic path for her work as an artist, a transgender rights advocate and a human in transition. And now, as a model with a break out runway season and scores of high profile editorials, she has the eyes and ears of the fashion world.


“I’ve always had a sense of feminine expression, but it’s really just who I am and that did not fit the mold of what I was assigned at first, which was male. I don’t think I knew what being transgender was until middle school when I was around more open minded friends who introduced me to characters in the media who were of the LGTB community. That’s where I learned the language and the terminology which enabled me to label myself, and not be what people told me I was. That allowed me to start playing with my gender expression and sense of femininity in an outward direction.”

After coming out as gay in seventh grade, Hunter says she was “the only gay kid who took on that stereotypical role of being gay. Expressing some femininity really wasn’t enough and I wanted to keep pushing the envelope of what my gender could be. Eventually I started wearing makeup and sneaking high heels to school under my parent’s noses, they didn’t really know what was going on. It was only after I started experiencing gender dysphoria in high school, that I came out to them as transgender. I felt so overwhelmed and anxious that I needed their help. Of course, they were confused and angry but over time they came along and did their own research and got me to hormone doctors.”

“It was when I moved away from home to attend a fine arts high school that I was able to play with my gender expression. Away from the eyes of my parents and the church, both of my parents are pastors. Gender has always felt like a performance to me. Gender is a performance to everybody. It’s just like, how aware of the fact that you’re performing is what I think influences how you go about it. I’ve since graduated high school and now live in New York City, still exploring gender, still transitioning, I don’t think that’s ever going to end.”


“I’m not sure how I feel about being called an activist. It’s a heavy word because I feel like I can be doing so much more on a political level. I understand that my existence is political in the world we live in –  but I don’t know if that justifies being called an activist. I’m just trying to activate other people in whatever way I can by being open and present with the following I have.”

Hunter’s journey was brought in to the political spotlight when House Bill 2 was passed in her hometown of North Carolina. HB2 legislates that in government buildings, individuals may only use restrooms and changing rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. In turn, preventing transgender people who do not or cannot alter their birth certificates from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity. This legislation essentially removed anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Hunter was contacted by an ACLU lawyer at the time and joined a lawsuit against House Bill 2. 

Although the bill has since been repealed, the lawsuit is still in place because of the tragedy the trans community in North Carolina faced as a result. Hunter says, “the bill was not limited to discriminating against trans people, it was affecting people of color in neighborhoods below the poverty line. To see not only my trans friends, but trans friends who resided within those communities as well, being affected by the law was really frustrating.”

“finding refuge from the hella toxic environment that young people in masculinity can find themselves in. That gave me an idea of who I wanted to be, sharing the same space as them and everything.”


With Schafer slated to study fashion design at Central Saint Martins, the worlds of fashion and art seamlessly and politically manifest themselves into her work. “I want to make work that is physical and kinetic with other people. I use clothing as my main form of artwork and as a way to create conversation about the binary and social constructs that we are all navigating through, because the binary is so heavily enforced by clothing. The first thing you might see about a person when you look at them is if they are a man or a woman, because that’s all that we’ve been trained to do. I am interested in making clothing that contradicts that, and that may even literally talk about or in some way represent how it’s contradicted that immediate need to put a person in a box.”

“Art has always been if not a way to escape, then a way to approach things in my life that I either can’t have or am unfamiliar with. It was this idea of creating something that didn’t exist for myself and having it be a tangible product that I could touch and know is real and I think that is directly related to the fact that I never saw myself in a way that was represented in the media. Now it’s evolved to working through my head space, like in my Instagram bio I have “map maker” because I think that art work in all forms is like a form of map making and mapping out the self-conscious and how our minds are functioning. When I’m struggling with how I feel about my place within the gender binary, I can go to my journal and try to map it out and write words down and draw pictures to try to express some sort of feeling or emotion that I can’t really articulate.”


“Some of these genuine actions towards diversity are being taken at the same time as less genuine actions and it’s hard to make the distinction. A fast fashion brand came out with an A-gender line last year and it was literally blue jeans and sweatshirts. It was labeling the spectrum between being a man and being a woman as normcor. It was such a cop out.”

“It’s been interesting to watch because it points out the differences in how our society raises us, men and women. It is still unconventional for a man to wear a skirt out in public or honestly outside the fashion industry and even within some contexts. But with women, it’s fashionable to wear a suit or pants or whatever. I think it puts a spotlight on the masculine construct specifically and how oppressive that is. Which is just an interesting facet of gender that is getting some light right now.“

“I think I entered the fashion world at an interesting time to be a trans person – there is a lot of ‘openization’ happening within the industry so that brands can feel like they’re on board with diversity. But there is still definitely a sense of work that we need to do as an industry to be more inclusive, I don’t think that journey is over. I think I have gotten a lot of the jobs that I have because of my position in the industry as a trans person. I am cool with people casting me because I am trans, but I would rather the people casting me be trans as well or be from a community that can understand what it is like to be marginalized and excluded. Because it is really wierd entering this industry, walking around with this privilege and white privilege, and being thin and meeting the industry standards, but also having that kind of background and having been through that journey.“


“Modeling is a window in to working in the fashion industry, something I’ve wanted to do since middle school. It’s like being an actor or having the opportunity to play with gender and make characters and play with identity and therefore, I do find it stimulating. But I’m not going to limit myself to being a model because there is so much that I want to do. But it is an interesting window and I am getting to work with people I really admire and have admired for a long time. Like Shayne Oliver from Hood by Air, absolutely one of my favorite designers and I think one of the most important designers of our generation. He knows what is up as far as how to play with gender in masculinity and race and how those all intersect in our day and age, in a way I kind of think is unprecedented. His runway shows are so performative and challenging to what the rest of the fashion industry looks like.”


“I’m in a point of transition and I believe I always will be. But I believe my purpose right now is to use my platform as a model and as someone in the community who is fighting legislations. I feel like I need to be speaking my truth as much as possible and using my privilege to help others empower themselves to transition, move forward, and liberate themselves from the mess of our society. Honestly, I believe everyone is transitioning and some are just given more opportunities to do so. To outwardly and publicly transition is somewhat radical right now because we are expected to be the same person or the same entity or identity for our entire lives, and that is so not reflective of how human beings grow, void of gender or whatever else we are working through. And I guess most importantly, just be allowed to evolve and change and grow with it.“