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COVER STORY: The Dynamic Beauty of Jessica Zyrie

A snapshot into the life of a transgender Houston model and advocate.

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Jessica Zyrie (photos by Christelyn Nash, makeup by Cassandra Bustos).

Trans fashion model Jessica Zyrie and her boyfriend, Alexander Miller, posted a photo of themselves on Miller’s Facebook page in early January. The photo showed the couple dressed in color-coordinated outfits of black and yellow. 

Zyrie, who has walked the runways of New York Fashion Week, stole much of the focus. While Alexander is equally as attractive, Jessica has that breathtaking beauty that is rare among mortals. Although the photo was like millions of other photos of couples that are posted every day on the platform, shortly after it was posted it was removed by Facebook for violating “community standards.” 

“We were both completely clothed and it was fully appropriate, but somebody reported it. Why? I don’t know. I’ve had people steal my photo, post it on their wall, attack me, and have all of their followers say horrible things about me as a person. And Facebook does nothing. Somehow, that’s okay and not violating anything,” said a frustrated Zyrie.

The photo Zyrie posted of herself and Miller online (@thejessicazyrie on Instagram).

The photo that she is referring to is of her as a child, side-by-side with a current photo of her at 26. When she posted it online, she intended it to be inspirational. 

“The post was intended to convey that I wish I could go back and tell this little kid that it’s okay to be yourself—that if you keep living your life, there will be people that love you and accept you, and you can follow your dreams. It was just talking about my story. I got a lot of support when I posted it on my page originally,” said Zyrie.

Followers of the site that stole her photo left comments like “This is Satan, what a shame!” or “This little boy was so cute and now this happened.” They also added throw-up emojis over Zyrie’s face.

She shrugged it off, accustomed to a world that often does not welcome trans people. “At first, I didn’t really think too much of it. I was just like, ‘Whatever—haters are gonna hate.’ But I continued having people come on my public page for modeling and leave comments saying that I was disgusting and gross, and putting more throw-up stuff on there,” said Zyrie.

“A few went onto my boyfriend’s page and said, ‘You’re really dating this?’ My boyfriend is also trans, so he started receiving attacks too. We both reported it, and Facebook’s response was that the behavior still fit within the community guidelines and it was okay for them to do that,” she continued.

“People don’t realize that social media can be such a beautiful thing. I have met so many friends and have been able to network and promote my modeling on social media. I even met my boyfriend on social media. But the other side of that is this wall, and it makes it easier for people to dehumanize a person that they may never have met.”

A Snapshot of Youth

It may be easy via social media to only see Zyrie as a model, or only as a transgender activist. What photos won’t show is Zyrie’s bachelor’s degree in psychology that she earned in 2016 from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, graduating with honors.

She is the first person in her family to graduate from college. It was at A&M that she began developing her interest in modeling while living day-to-day as her true self after coming out in high school.

“I was blinded by society’s feelings about who I may be, and I didn’t want to cause an uproar. Now I’m more able to stand up and fight for myself.”

Jessica Zyrie

“When I came out, I was 17 years old. It was winter break and I was thinking about prom a lot. I loved to dance, and I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable at this dance that I knew I was going to remember for the rest of my life. I contemplated over break if I wanted to just show up at prom as myself for the first time ever. But then I was concerned that my school might think it was a joke and I wouldn’t be able to attend. I decided that winter break was a good time to buy clothes and get everything situated. I talked to my parents, talked to friends, and then went back the first day as myself. 

[I figured that I wouldn’t] have to pretend to be anyone else at prom, and could be comfortable as myself. And maybe I could get a date!”

Zyrie ended up going to the dance with friends and enjoying the prom as she had hoped. Even in 2019, Zyrie’s story of simply going to school and the prom sounds like an act of bravery that many in the LGBTQ community can identify with.

Coming into Focus

Student groups like GSAs and SAGA clubs have helped improve the school environment for LGBTQ people, but progress is still a daily struggle—especially for trans students who feel they must capitulate to the status quo and fake their way through the milestones of growing up. On a daily basis, they fight for the basic right to use the correct restroom, to be identified by the correct name or pronouns, and to participate in sports. 

Most recently, a transgender teen named Mack Breggs was forced by Texas UIL rules to participate in state wrestling tournaments against female competitors. He trounced his competition, winning all-state titles twice. Mack had his top surgery in August and finally joined the men’s wrestling team at Life University in September.

“If you keep living your life, there will be people that love you and accept you, and you can follow your dreams.”

Jessica Zyrie

A school’s location in Texas can also dictate how friendly the school district may be to transgender students. Nearby Pearland ISD’s superintendent has been particularly hostile towards transgender students. When Kimberly Shappley fought to allow her daughter, Kai, to use the girl’s restroom, she and Kai were met time and again with resistance. On several occasions, the elementary-age little girl wet her pants while adults fretted about whether or not Kai could use the girl’s restroom. Shappley ended up moving her family to Austin, where the school district is inclusive and Kai can attend school without having to worry.

Zyrie can relate to that experience, to a degree. “When I went back to school, the principal called me into his office. I was concerned because I had never been called into the office before. I had never been in trouble. He just asked me a little bit about how I was feeling, and I explained to him what was going on. At the time I felt very supported. In retrospect, however, I remember the bathroom thing was a huge deal. I had to use the nurse’s bathroom.”

The “nurse’s bathroom” has been the usual compromise offered to transgender or gender nonconforming students for many years in Texas schools—a well-intentioned but misguided approach that in and of itself can be discriminatory, ostracizing, and inconvenient.

“At the time, it kind of hurt. I wish I would have been able to use whichever restroom was accessible to me. But honestly, my main concern was not being able to be myself at school. I also just thought, ‘Look at the big picture. You won’t be in trouble for being yourself.’ That was key. I just forced all of those feelings to the back, because I’ve spent all of my life pushing everything to the back. I think about how sad that was, because now I wouldn’t stand for that. But at the time, I was still so blinded by society’s feelings about who I may be, and I didn’t want to cause any more of an uproar than my transition had already caused. Now I’m more able to stand up and fight for myself.”

Fashion Forward

These days, Jessica works at the Montrose Center when she’s not in front of a camera. As an HEI counselor who assists clients with early-intervention HIV services, she helps link clients to resources they may require, whether it’s housing, employment, healthcare, or other general needs. 

Zyrie has always been very involved with helping the community since she arrived in Houston in 2016. She started with PrEP advocacy and education at the Montrose Center a year ago, and is the first trans woman to have that position at the Center. In fact, she was the Center’s January 2019 employee of the month. 

Zyrie will return to New York for Fashion Week this spring for her second time. She walked in Fashion Week for the first time last year, fulfilling a career goal and a lifelong dream. Zyrie had hoped to one day become a Victoria’s Secret “angel,” but those plans may be on hold after one of the company executives made discriminatory comments about hiring trans models for the show. 

As for her relationship with Miller, things are moving along nicely, even though he lives in Kentucky. Zyrie hopes that he will make the move to Houston as their relationship evolves. That photo of the couple that had been reported and removed for violating community standards was finally reviewed by Facebook, and they determined that the couple was, in fact, not violating their community standards, and their photo was allowed back up on the platform. However, Zyrie still receives harassing and abusive comments from other users related to the other photo that was stolen.

But she will still keep on strutting, even if it’s not on a fashion-show runway. Nothing is going to get in the way of her dreams.

This article appears in the February 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.

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