Tracey “Africa” Norman was the first black trans fashion model, though she hid the secret of her gender identity as she rose through the industry in the 1970s, according to a new profile in New York magazine. Norman was recruited by Irving Penn for the Italian version of Vogue and quickly became a model, appearing in magazines and advertisements for such brands as Avon and Clairol. But Norman tells New York that she only went into modeling to avoid sex work, which she thought of as the only other outlet for a black trans woman from Newark, New Jersey, who had just begun taking hormones. Along the way, some industry insiders learned Norman’s secret: fellow model Peggy Dillard told the magazine she knew, but never told anyone until now, and a makeup artist confided in her that he knew but wouldn’t tell anyone. Norman said that around 1980, an assistant on an Essence magazine photo shoot who recognized her from Newark exposed her secret, and Norman stopped getting modeling work after that. She got some work abroad in Paris and Milan before moving back to Newark, and only decided this year to tell her true story, she said.
Read the full story in New York.