A Closer look at Laith Ashley’s upbringing, his transition, and his experiences with discrimination

Laith Ashley is an American model and activist of Dominican descent who is one of the most famous transgender models in the world. Ashley became a national sensation after modeling photos he posted on Instagram went viral. Laith’s popularity caught the attention of various brands, including Calvin Klein and Diesel.

Ashley became the first transgender man to feature in a Diesel campaign. He has since modeled for Elle, Attitude, Gay Times, GQ, and Vogue. Laith is also a musician, and he has several television appearances.

This piece will look at Laith’s upbringing, his transition, and his experiences with discrimination.

Laith’s religious parents took time to accept Ashley’s sexuality and gender identity

Laith Ashley De La Cruz was born on 6th July 1989 into a Dominican household in Harlem, New York. As an athletic and competitive young girl, Ashley often competed successfully with boys. He endeavored to follow in his father’s footsteps, and aged three, he put on his first boxing gloves. “I wanted to make my parents proud,” he told GQ

Unfortunately, the pressure he put on himself to succeed weighed on him heavily. “But when you’re a little girl and you’re on the boys’ team, you have to prove yourself continually,” he added. At age four, Laith started feeling differently about his identity, but at the time, he couldn’t make sense of what he was feeling.

As he grew older, Laith felt more in touch with his masculine side. He dressed like a boy and dated girls. However, he didn’t feel comfortable identifying as lesbian. “Being assigned female at birth, I thought I was a lesbian, even though I hated the word,” he told GQ.

Ashley came out to his parents at age 17, though not on his own terms. His aunt found out that he was dating a girl and outed him to the family. It took some time for Laith’s religious parents to accept his sexuality. Ashley told The New York Post:

“My dad was fine. I told him that if he is proud of me it takes the power of people who criticize. My [mom] is a Pentecostal Christian and although she loves me, she was conflicted with her faith.”

Laith’s mom eventually came around and doesn’t shy away from expressing pride in her son. “’My family and friends are very excited about my modeling,” he continued. “My mum brags about it to her friends and church.”

Ashley tries to keep his parents in the loop with what is happening in his life. He informed his parents of his decision to transition a year before he started taking hormones. “It was basically letting my parents know, since they probably never thought I would go through with it, but it was letting them know that this is what I wanted to do,” Laith told HuffPost

Laith almost left social media after pictures he posted on Instagram attracted transphobic comments

Laith launched his modeling career in November 2013 after a friend told him that Barneys was doing a trans campaign. He auditioned, and to his surprise, he got a callback. On 22nd January 2014, he started his transition by taking testosterone hormones. Nine months later, he had a double mastectomy and began to grow out his beard.

Ashley’s big break came after photos of a campaign he did with Calvin Klein went viral. After receiving the photos from photographer Nelson Castillo, Ashley posted them on Instagram. The photos had gone viral, but they had attracted tons of negative comments. He told HuffPost:

“A blog site was first, who made up a story about a trans guy’s photo and talking about me very personally. I read through the comments and people were so nasty and being such trolls and making nasty comments about someone they didn’t know based on a picture. And you know, I really considered erasing all of my social media, I just couldn’t handle it.”

Thankfully, actress Laverne Cox came to the rescue before Laith left social media. She reposted the photos on her Instagram page, and all of a sudden, positivity started flooding in. Ashley’s social media following also increased to previously unthinkable heights. However, the euphoria was quickly eclipsed by fear as Laith didn’t feel confident enough to showcase himself before thousands of followers. He said:

“I was scared to death, but Nelson told me to stay confident and that ‘all publicity was good publicity.’ I started getting contacted by people who wanted to do pictures with me and it really felt good. From being kind of depressed and not sure of what direction I wanted to go in, people were reaching out to me and wanting to hear my story. It was great having these good things finally come my way.”

As a trans Latino male, Ashley faces discrimination in all spheres of life

The world has made great strides towards the normalization of LGBTQ+ sexualities, but there remains a lot to be learned and said before people fully embrace the community. Despite his success, Ashley still faces discrimination for being trans. He admits that some of it may be innocent, but nevertheless, offensive. He explained:

“You sensationalize it and oversexualize it, and then you have people asking questions that they would not be asking a cis gender person, especially about body types, which can get uber annoying. It’s privileged, and people feel that it’s their right to ask. It can get super frustrating and then people can get easily offended.”

Ashley also faces discrimination in the modeling world. He realizes that some brands will not work with him simply because he is trans. In the outside world, his Latino heritage makes him a target for discrimination, especially by the police. “Because I’m of color, I’m perceived as a threat,” he told GQ.

“If I’m on the subway in jeans and a T-shirt, I’m stopped by the police. That didn’t happen prior to my transition.” Ashley doesn’t experience much luck in his love life as well. “I can grow my beard and have the biggest muscles, but for a lot of cis men I’m just a woman who took hormones,” he added.

Violence against trans men is also becoming an emerging issue. “We’re told to be quiet,” Ashley said. Nevertheless, he takes pride in everything has achieved:

“For a long time we’ve been taught that femininity for men can be degrading or it decreases what it means to be a man. It makes you a more complete person. Just be yourself.”