A transgender model has left Taylor Swift fans mesmerized after appearing in the singer’s new music video – but who exactly is he?
Laith Ashley, who has racked up more than 320,000 followers on Instagram since starting his modeling career, features as Swift’s love interest in her latest video for Lavender Haze.
His appearance has been hailed as a huge win for trans representation, with fans thanking him on behalf of the LGBTQ community for ‘being part of history.’
But the 33-year-old, who was born in Harlem, New York, has not always been in the limelight.
He’s previously detailed his struggles with his identity after coming out as gay at aged 17 and then transitioning in his mid-20s.
While working as a insurance navigator, he finally got his big break in a Barneys New York campaign.
Here FEMAIL documents Laith Ashley’s steady rise to becoming an ‘inspiration’ who caught the attention of music’s biggest superstar.
Laith Ashley, who has racked up more than 320,000 followers on Instagram since starting his modeling career, has not always been in the limelight
Laith features as Swift’s love interest in her latest video for Lavender Haze, which has sent fans into a frenzy
Laith Ashley recalls a ‘misalignment’ between his body and his gender identity from the age of five
The muscular model has previously discussed how he was just five years old when he first felt that there was a ‘misalignment’ between his body and his gender identity.
He came out to his parents as gay aged 17, but by his own account he was still not quite sure of who he was.
‘At the time I didn’t know what transgender was, so I just told them I had a girlfriend but I never felt right with the idea of being a lesbian woman,’ Laith explained.
But finally in his mid-20s, he realized who he really was and he broke the news to his mother.
‘My mom is Pentecostal Christian, and although she loves me she felt it conflicted with her faith,’ he said.
‘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?’
The star, who has a degree in psychology from Connecticut’s Fairfield University, was on two years of testosterone before undergoing surgery in 2015.
The model has previously discussed how he was just five years old when he first felt that there was a ‘misalignment’ between his body and his gender identity
Laith soon found himself on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week, and has since appeared on the covers of renowned fashion and lifestyle publications
‘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 said at the time.
‘Once I got over that fear, there was no stopping me. I am the most comfortable I have ever been.
‘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.’
Laith got his big break with Barneys New York before going from strength to strength on a whirlwind trajectory
While he was working as an insurance navigator at Callen Lorde Community Health Center, he got his big break in the form of Barneys New York’s landmark advertising campaign titled Brother, Sisters, Sons & Daughters in Spring 2014.
The campaign, which was shot by legendary fashion photographer Bruce Weber, featured 17 transgender stories from models with diverse backgrounds.
Laith’s modeling career then took off at record speed after fellow trans activist Laverne Cox reposted one of his photos to her own Instagram account.
He soon found himself on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week, and has since appeared on the covers of renowned fashion and lifestyle publications including British GQ, Vogue France and Out Magazine.
Speaking of his whirlwind trajectory, Laith said at the time: ‘I went through a period of being very overwhelmed. I focused on all the negative comments I was receiving and just wanted to disappear.
‘I never thought of myself as a role model. It was a label placed upon me after my photos began circulating through social media.’
Throughout it all, Laith has remained a passionate educator and activist for the LGBTQ community
He soon found himself on the covers of renowned lifestyle publications as well as strutting down fashion runways (pictured at the annual Inspiration Gala in New York)
Laith’s presence in Swift’s Lavender Haze video has been praised as a massive step in the right direction
But the model soon found his feet and was soon appearing on TV screens across the country.
In 2016, Laith starred in a series called Strut, executive produced by Whoopi Goldberg, and told the story of a group of transgender models trying to make a name for themselves in the world of fashion.
Just two years later in 2018, he was tackling another media genre when he performed his own songs at LA Pride before releasing his own music video that same year.
Throughout it all, Laith has remained a passionate educator and activist for the LGBTQ community, previously stating: ‘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.’
It is likely that this outlook that helped make him the perfect candidate to feature in Taylor’s latest music video.
The model’s appearance in Taylor Swift’s music video sets to take him to new heights
Swift has been a vocal ally of the LGBTQ community, releasing the Pride anthem, You Need to Calm Down, in 2019.
The hit song name checks GLAAD and takes aim at anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
And Laith’s presence in her Lavender Haze video has been praised as a massive step in the right direction.
Swift is a vocal ally of the LGBTQ community, releasing the Pride anthem, You Need to Calm Down, in 2019, which name checks GLAAD and takes aim at anti-LGBTQ rhetoric
The star, who has a degree in psychology from Connecticut’s Fairfield University, was on two years of testosterone before undergoing surgery in 2015
Fans have been quick to heap praise on Laith and his journey, and thanked him for ‘being part of history for us all’
Sharing a snippet of the music video on his Instagram, Laith wrote: ‘Thank you @taylorswift for allowing me to play a small part in your story. You are brilliant and this is an experience I will never forget. It was truly magical.
‘Your storytelling abilities through your music and visuals continues to leave me in awe, inspired, and hopeful.
‘Thank you for being an ally. Representation matters. AND LOVE WILL ALWAYS WIN!’
Swift added that she ‘adored’ working with the model in a social media post of her own.
And fans have been quick to heap praise on Laith and his journey.
One wrote: ‘Thank you for representing us trans folks! Not going to lie, I cried with excitement watching the music video. You are incredible!’
Another added: ‘I am overjoyed for you and the whole lgbtq community!! This is so awesome so happy for you!!’
Others called him ‘an inspiration’ and thanked him for ‘being part of history for us all.’
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