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Jessica Zyrie Makes a Splash in New York City

The activist and model stars in this season’s 'Project Runway.'

Jessica Zyrie (photo via Instagram)

Transgender model and activist Jessica Zyrie is a recent Texas transplant to the Big Apple, but things are already going her way.

“It’s been a little over a month in the city, and I am still adjusting,” the former Houstonian reports from her Manhattan home. “Definitely unlike any place I’ve ever lived. I feel like I’m in a land of opportunity, but I’m still figuring out the best way to navigate it safely with the pandemic.”

Born in New Jersey and raised in San Antonio, Zyrie came out during her last year in high school. She first began her modeling while at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. After college she moved to Houston, where her career took off. She also made an impact here as an advocate for Black trans women through her work as a case manager for an LGBTQ nonprofit, while also raising money for Hurricane Harvey victims. She’s represented by MMG Models, and has done shoots for Absolut and walked the runway for Joy Kimono. She has already made a social splash during the short time she’s been in New York City by attending both the MTV Video Movie Awards and the Met Gala.


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A post shared by Jessica Zyrie (@thejessicazyrie)

“The VMAs was major,” Zyrie says. “It was another moment in which I felt like all of my hard work had paid off. I remember seeing so many people I grew up watching on TV and listening to on the radio, and having this rare moment—a moment of feeling whole, knowing I’m right where I have fought hard to be. I wore a YSL dress for the show.”

And she’s been equally busy with her modeling and activism work in New York City. “Last season, I booked the finale for Project Runway and walked during their New York Fashion Week,” she says. “It was so exciting to be chosen for the show—it’s such a unique experience. So when they asked me to come back for a full season, I was speechless. I can’t say too much about the show, but we have some drama and amazing designs on the way.” The fashion-design reality show began its 19th season on Bravo October 14. 

“Right now, I’m focusing on settling into the city and networking with people in the industry here,” she says. “A lot of the industry is about who you know and being in the right spaces, making connections. I have a couple of independent shows and photo shoots as of now. I am navigating the balance of being in spaces that are intentionally affirming, but also creating space for those of us who historically haven’t been welcomed openly—or at all.

“My goal is to show up in my entirety and work toward something that makes a difference [as I] continue to share my story along the way. It’s led me to rooms I never thought I’d be in, and I am not stopping anytime soon. It’s exciting being here during this time when so much trans history is being made and we are able to exist openly in these spaces. I remember when I was younger, I struggled with accepting myself because every time I showed a piece of my truth to anyone, I was bullied, got in trouble, and ultimately “othered.” There are still hardships with accessing certain spaces, but the more of us there are who remain determined to change society, the better.”


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A post shared by Jessica Zyrie (@thejessicazyrie)

And then there is Zyrie’s advocacy work. “I have already aligned myself with a nonprofit that has many programs for the queer community,” she says. “I specifically work with trans youth to provide affirming spaces and housing. It’s exciting being in a city that is usually ahead of the curve when it comes to equality and access to resources for so many.”

But even with all of her successes in New York City, she still holds a warm spot in her heart for Houston.

“I definitely miss my family and the community there,” she admits. “A huge support system. I miss having easier access to nature and the [wide-open] spaces. Texas was home for most of my life and will always hold a special place, but I am excited to see what this new chapter brings.”

Keep up with Jessica Zyrie on Instagram @thejessicazyrie.


Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and, among others.
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