Isis King was a contestant during Cycle 11 of ANTM.
Isis was the first trans woman to compete on America’s Next Top Model and became one of the most visible transgender people on television to date.
Originally from Prince George’s County, Maryland, Isis was assigned male at birth, under the name of Darrell Walls. She has stated that “mentally [and] everything else, [she] was born female.” She has also stated that people might refer to her as transgender or transsexual, but she prefers the phrase “born in the wrong body.”
Isis came out as ‘gay’ in high school, although he felt that the word ‘gay’ was not an accurate representation for his/her orientation. In 2007, King appeared in an MSNBC special, titled “Born In The Wrong Body,” which documented the lives of transgender teens from across the United States. As a “pre-operative” trans woman, Isis began hormone replacement therapy in the summer of 2007 as part of her transitioning process.
Isis hoped to have sex reassignment surgery as soon as possible, so recognizing her strong plea, Tyra Banks arranged for her to have sexual reassignment surgery by Dr. Marci Bowers. According to Isis’ Facebook page, the surgery was conducted on February 27, 2009 and was successful.
Isis has an associate degree from the Art Institute of Philadelphia. In the past, she has worked as a receptionist at a hair salon and as a program assistant for a nonprofit organization.
Isis was living at the Ali Forney Transitional Living Program when she learned about an upcoming photo shoot for Cycle 10 of ANTM. The shoot’s theme was the issue of homeless youth, and homeless women would be used as background models in conjunction with the Reciprocity Foundation, which works to move homeless and high-risk youth into careers in the “creativity economy.” King asked art director, Jay Manuel, whether she could be accepted, as a girl “born in the wrong body,” if she were to audition as a contestant for ANTM. ANTM host and producer Tyra Banks said later that she had her staff search out King to encourage her to audition based on her stellar performance in the photo shoot. She became one of fourteen finalists for Cycle 11 of the competitive reality show. She placed tenth overall.
Isis has appeared in US Weekly (Sept 2008) and was in Seventeen Magazine (Dec 2008/Jan 2009). Isis has already been runway modeling for seven years before participating in America’s Next Top Model. Her experience included competing in the underground ball culture scene.
She has appeared on the Tyra Banks Show twice to discuss her story. She also appeared on Larry King Live on July 25, 2009. Isis is one of a small but growing number of transgender people and characters in film and television, and her inclusion on ANTM has been called an “unprecedented opportunity” by Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. By competing on the show, Isis has brought national and primetime attention to issues of gender transitioning and gender expression. New York magazine has called Isis the cause célèbre of Cycle 11, comparing her transsexualism to previous contestant “issues” featured on the show, such as Cycle 9 contestant Heather Kuzmich’s Asperger syndrome. ANTM executive producer Ken Mok stated that casting her was in support of “redefin[ing] what beauty is,” one of “Tyra’s original missions” for the show.
Due to the intimate nature of ANTM, which films the contestants living together during the several weeks of the competition, GLAAD spokesman Damon Romine noted that “the show deals head-on with the contestants confronting their own phobias. There’s going to be support, and the reverse of that. It opens the door for the other girls and the viewers to get to know Isis and the transgender community.” Some of Isis’ fellow contestants have expressed prejudices in speaking about how her gender-transitioning would be poorly received in their own small communities or in the southern United States. Contestants have referred to Isis pejoratively as a “he/she” and a drag queen. Facets of Isis’ transitioning process have been portrayed in the show, such as her hormone injections and subsequent nausea.
New York magazine noted Isis is one of few transgender models in history to rise to prominence, and that only a handful have reached the higher levels, including Teri Toye, former club kid, Amanda Lepore, and gender-bending club promoter and model André J. Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York, told ABC News that the time may be right for a transgender supermodel: “Maybe it’s time for a tranny [sic] to end up on the cover of Vogue.”
Since the show, Isis has done test shots, which were featured on the Tyra Banks Show together with her surgery results.