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Born Isis King[1]
Prince George's County, Maryland
Modeling information
Height 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)
Hair color Black

Isis Tsunami (born Isis King, 1986) is an American fashion model and contestant on the eleventh cycle of the TV series America's Next Top Model.[1][2][3] She is the first transwoman to compete on the show and has become one of the most visible transgender people on television.


Tsunami is originally from Prince George's County, Maryland and currently resides in New York City. As of August 2008, she is 22 years old.[4] Tsunami was born physically male, but has stated that "mentally [and] everything else [she] was born female."[5] She has stated that people might refer to her as transgender or transsexual but she prefers the phrase "born in the wrong body".[5]

While in high school, Tsunami came out as a gay man, but felt that it was still not the accurate label for her orientation.[1] In 2007, Tsunami appeared in an MSNBC special, titled "Born In The Wrong Body," which documented the lives of transgender teens from across the United States.[3] Tsunami is a "pre-operative" transwoman and began hormone replacement therapy in the summer of 2007 as part of her transitioning process.[6] She hopes to have genital reassignment surgery as soon as possible.[7]

Tsunami has an associate degree from the Art Institute of Philadelphia.[6] She has worked as a receptionist and is currently Program Assistant at a nonprofit organization.[4]

Fashion career and America's Next Top Model[edit]

Tsunami had been runway modeling for seven years before participating in America's Next Top Model. Her experience including competing in the underground ball culture scene.[8] [5]

Tsunami was living in a homeless shelter when she learned about an upcoming photo shoot for ANTM's tenth cycle.[9] 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 career in the "creativity economy". Tsunami 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.[9] ANTM host and producer Tyra Banks said later that she had her staff search out Tsunami to encourage her to audition based on her stellar performance in the photo shoot. She became one of fourteen finalists for the eleventh cycle of the competitive reality show.[10][7]

Tsunami 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 (GLAAD) [11][2] By competing on the show, Tsunami has brought national and prime time attention to issues of gender transitioning and gender expression.[12][13] New York magazine has called Tsunami 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 Aspergers syndrome.[14] 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.[15]

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 Tsunami's fellow contestants have expressed prejudices in speaking about how Tsunami's gender-transitioning would be poorly received in their own small communities or in the southern United States.[7] Contestants have referred to Tsunami pejoratively as a "he/she" and a drag queen.[16] Facets of Tsunami's transitioning process have been portrayed in the show, such as her hormone injections and subsequent nausea.[17]

New York magazine noted Tsunami 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, RuPaul, former club kid Amanda Lepore and gender-bending club promoter and model André J..[18] 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 to end up on the cover of Vogue." [15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Thomas, Natalie (15 September 2008). ""I've Always Felt Like I Was Different": One New Hopeful From 'America's Next Top Model' was Born a Man. Now Isis King Tells Her Story To 'Us'". Us Magazine. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  2. ^ a b "Transgender Contestant to Compete on Top Model". Us Magazine. 13 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  3. ^ a b Johnson, Chris (13 August 2008). "Isis to bring it to the judges' panel on America's Next Top Model". Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  4. ^ a b "Cycle 11 - Cast: Isis". CWTV. August 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  5. ^ a b c "The Cut: Transgender 'America's Next Top Model' Contestant Speaks, Works It". New York magazine. 13 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  6. ^ a b Thomas, Natalie (15 September 2008). ""I've Always Felt Like I Was Different": One New Hopeful From 'America's Next Top Model' was Born a Man. Now Isis King Tells Her Story To 'Us'". Us Magazine. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  7. ^ a b c "The Notorious Fierce Fourteen". America's Next Top Model. Season 11. Episode 1. 2008-09-03. 
  8. ^ "America's Next Top Model Transgender Contestant Breaks Her Silence". Us Magazine. 27 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-10.  In a promotional interview for ANTM, Tsunami stated she is looking forward to runway as she has been walking for seven years.
  9. ^ a b "America's Next Top Model Transgender Contestant: "This Is Who I Am"". Us Magazine. 3 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  10. ^ Hinds, Paulene (9 September 2008). "War Of The Supermodels". Reality TV Magazine. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  11. ^ Serjeant, Jill (3 September 2008). ""Next Top Model" Brings Transgender in From Cold". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  12. ^ "Fox News Addresses Isis Tsunami, Angers GLAAD". New York magazine. 15 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  13. ^ Pivirotto, Alyssa (5 September 2008). "Major twist revealed on America's Next Top Model". ABC 15. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  14. ^ Brown, Lane (2 September 2008). "'ANTM' Takes Lovelies Closer to Fame, in Hollywood". New York (magazine). Retrieved 2008-09-10.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  15. ^ a b Rocchio, Christopher (22 August 2008). "'Top Model' producer: Transgender model to help "redefine" beauty". Reality TV World. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  16. ^ "Top Model Inauguration". America's Next Top Model. Season 11. Episode 2. 2008-09-03. 
  17. ^ "The Ladder of Model Success". America's Next Top Model. Season 11. Episode 3. 2008-09-10. 
  18. ^ Odell, Amy (14 August 2008). "Tranny Models Who Made History". New York (magazine). Retrieved 2008-09-10.