This week, Whoopi Goldberg went viral for wearing a $1,200 sweatshirt Vetements sweatshirt on The View. Audiences know her for putting up with her rotating cast of messy co-hosts, being an EGOT, and singing while dressed as a nun, but Goldberg loves expensive streetwear fashion. She attended Hood by Air's Pornhub-sponsored fashion week show and starred in Opening Ceremony's political pageant. She is taking her cutting-edge fashion taste mainstream by executive producing Strut, a new Oxygen reality show following the lives of trans models signed to an exclusively trans modeling agency called Slay.
"This show is important right now, because for all of the positive advances the community has made and continues to make, 'transgender' is still a hot button word that gets people hysterical," Goldberg tells Broadly.
Trans women and men make up the majority of Strut's cast, a first for a show on Oxygen. The landmark comes after E! made Caitlyn Jenner and a slew of prominent trans women the stars of I Am Cait. Most scenes revolved around the women arguing over major political issues while road tripping across California. The series received low ratings, and the network cancelled the show after the second season.
Strut tackles similar issues in a more casual setting that should prove more successful. Model Ren Spriggs brings up her time as a homeless woman while on the way to a modeling shoot, and another model, Arisce Wanzer, fights with her agent over her large nose and refusal to take hormones (he believes it makes her look masculine). The next scene lacks any political subtext; a cast member throws a drink on someone, like thousands of reality show women before her.
The mixture of over-the-top drama and serious political discussions in business settings makes the topics feel way more honest and less forced than most television presentations of trans Americans. "People tend to focus on the stereotype instead of the person, and this series will give viewers a unique opportunity to spend time with real people who are struggling with the same challenges we all face as we make our way through the world," Goldberg says. Gender identity only serves as a fraction of the show's plot and characters.
"This show has heart!" says cast member Isis King. "It's not all glitz and glam. We get real, vulnerable, and authentic. That is relatable to anyone."
King knows what makes good reality television. She starred in the 11th and 17th cycles of America's Next Top Model and loves Braxton Family Values and Dancing with the Stars. She says she has received offers for other trans-focused reality shows, but only accepted the offer for Strut because its complex treatment of trans women seemed more accurate to real life.
"I am used to giving lectures and talking anyway, but this show is more than that because it follows us and our lives," King says. "We are normal people doing normal things. We aren't monsters, who would have thought!?!"
Despite her fame, King has struggled to find work in the fashion industry. She has been a model for a decade, but landing jobs was difficult after America's Next Top Model. "I've been 'un-casted' before," she says. "I don't know if that's even a word, but I remember one time I booked a show and right after booking it, the assistant to the booker noticed who I was, and I never got the details to the show."
She heard about Slay through a modeling associate. "It was new, so no real information was out there yet!" she says. Other trans women recalled positive experiences with the agency, so King signed with Slay. The reality show followed.
When filming started, King already knew one cast member: Dominique Jackson, an activist, author, and long-time model who has appeared in Vogue Espana. "Dominique and I go way back," King says. I love her!"
As the elder of the group, King cares about the younger models. "I'm still getting to know the rest of the cast," she says. "Laith, with a little more confidence will be a powerhouse. Ren is a little butterfly who is more delicate then she portrays, and Arisce is hilarious and super confident!"
Experience has taught King that it's unpredictable to know how the agency and Strut will change her career, but she feels confident the reality show will progress America's static views of trans people. As Whoopi Goldberg says, "You may even be surprised to discover that you have been seeing and interacting with transgender men and women in ways you didn't even realize!"