By Barrett White
Photo by FireHeart Photography
Navigating between the Galleria’s construction scaffolding and the second-floor boutiques, the Starbucks at last came into focus. Sitting there at a table with flawless makeup, legs for miles, and a smile to make any Houston debutant jealous was the one and only Duchess of Montrose, Victoria Hellyer. With a charmed “Hello, handsome!” I was drawn into her world. Sipping lattes and exploring her fashion tastes, we traversed the Galleria discussing trends from shoes and skirts to River Oaks formalwear and community gala blues.
Hailing originally from the small town of Tarkington, Texas, Hellyer has come in to her own after moving to “the big city” and branding herself, her image, and her transgender activist duties as The Duchess of Montrose.
“I see Cait [Jenner] and I think, ‘I want something less celebrity spectacle and more human,’” she says, hoping her accessibility and community involvement will be of aid to Houstonians who voted down last year’s Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the infamous “bathroom law” that fell victim to the smear tactics of the political right.
After dabbling with makeup and women’s clothing for some time while still identifying publicly as male, Hellyer discovered what it meant to be transgender in her early adult years, prompting her to seek therapy in December 2015. She officially “came out” as transgender last February in the best way a millennial can: via Facebook. Her official coming-out post, accompanied by a photo of her sporting a gorgeous up-do and gown, garnered an impressive 627 likes, 196 comments, and 11 shares as she promoted her authentic identity on social media.
“Above all else, I want to help people. I want to be accessible. My message for the LGBT community is ‘Ask me. I want to inform.’”
Noticing the trend of transgender youth coming out at younger ages, Hellyer hopes to use her visibility to further the clear generational shift in attitudes about transgender identity. “I would love to see more books, like HRC gender-identity books, appearing at libraries accessible to children and young adults,” she says, recognizing the importance of having a sense of self from a young age.
Since her coming out, Hellyer has confidently succeeded in owning her identity. Immediately charismatic, she flipped her phone around to show me a recent photo-shoot image from an absolutely stunning Magpies and Peacocks promo for their first bridal collection, “Love Re-Heirloomed.” Though not a fashion designer herself, Hellyer has found a place as a model, appearing in print and on the runway, stunning audiences and stylists alike with her poise and grace. She holds the unique distinction of having been the first transgender model for Pride Houston’s Rock the Runway when she strutted her stuff at this year’s celebration.
“I’m proud to live in Houston; I’m proud to call it home. I love how diverse it is,” Hellyer comments. Her social circle includes many of Houston’s elite socialites, and she idolizes Lynn Wyatt and Carolyn Farb.
The Duchess is more than just a pretty face, though—along with her looks and charm is a heart of pure gold. With determination and love (and better time-management skills than I have), Hellyer works tirelessly to give back to the community, both by sharing knowledge and monetary donations. Just this past year, Hellyer appeared with both Equality Texas’ TransVisible Project and WIRED’s Google Autocomplete Interview promoting trans visibility, which became a viral YouTube video. Next on her list is a trans clothing drive.
But just where did that Duchess of Montrose moniker come from? It’s not as predictable as you might think. In the 2009 docudrama The Young Victoria, a woman calls out for action and stands up for good. When someone asks for the woman’s name, a British official in the film proclaims, “That’s the Duchess of Montrose!”
“I like to think I also stand up for what’s right…It’s hard being an enigma,” she laughs.
Barrett White is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.