With series like Transparent and Pose among the best on television and more transgender celebrities in the spotlight than ever before, the trans experience has officially entered the living rooms of many. For someone like South Africa-born, Miami-residing model, advocate and all-around vessel for fabulousness Lauren Foster, that ‘trans experience’ has been her life for quite some time.
While she kept her transition to herself initially, Lauren Foster — who many became acquainted with through her time on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Miami — is now using her platform to speak out about her life experiences to help educate and inform the entire LGBT community.
Lauren Foster found time to chat with Hornet about the newfound prevalence of trans visibility, her time in front of the Bravo cameras and how she’s been using her experiences as a trans woman to help others in their own journeys.
Lauren Foster, you are the first trans woman to be honored by Variety magazine as a “Woman of Empowerment.” How does it feel to be the first of hopefully many trans women to receive such a lofty recognition?
You know, it really makes me feel like I am on the right path. My life has always been a little crazy, and always fun. I have always been proud of what I have done and accomplished. To not only be acknowledged by a publication like Variety magazine but to be honored as the first trans woman, it was truly an amazing honor. I was so proud to be there, and was supported by so many colleagues and friends. It was a beautiful moment.
Things have changed greatly for the trans community in the past decade in terms of visibility, access to care and presence in a multitude of media. What do you think the greatest change has been for trans people, particularly looking back to when you originally transitioned?
You know, to be honest, I think it has actually gotten worse. When I transitioned, which was a long time ago, I was 18 years old. It was relatively easy for me at that time because there was not such a spotlight on being trans. I was supported by my parents, my family and my boyfriend at the time. I went away, had my surgery, and started my life as a woman. I never really was out as trans back then. I kind of lived my life — not really in stealth, I just never really spoke about it.
I come from a small town in South Africa, so not many people understood that. It was also pre-internet, so if someone said something at a dinner table or in passing conversation, it was something that was just not spoken about. Now with this whole trans revolution, I feel like trans people are so out. Many of them probably feel like they have a target on their back. I don’t think that’s easy at all.
Shows like Pose are showcasing the trans community in a way that we’ve never seen before. What do you think of the community’s visibility now with shows like this?
I have obviously watched Pose, and I think Ryan Murphy is an absolute genius. I have many friends who are either on or somehow involved in Pose also. I think it’s great that he’s employing so many trans people, and I actually think it’s the largest amount of trans people employed by one show ever, and I think that is absolutely amazing.
I think it’s shining a light on that era in the ’80s. People were transitioning at that time, being infected with HIV/AIDS and of course the ballroom scene was happening. I love the ballroom scene, I think it’s just amazing. Leiomy Maldonado is a friend of mine, and she’s a Voguer; I mean, she is the ballroom queen basically. Trace Lysette was just on Pose, and I think she grew up in the ballroom scene also. I think it’s just great. It’s wonderful that people get to experience that scene now in this way.
You first came to many people’s attention when you appeared on The Real Housewives of Miami as a friend of the housewives. It even looked like you might be on track to be the first trans “housewife.”
You know, I think Andy Cohen would have made me a “housewife.” What happened was, my friend Marysol Patton’s mother, Elsa — who truly was the ultimate star of the Real Housewives of Miami — she became very ill and could not film any longer. Elsa was the fan favorite of the show.
I personally believe that’s why the network decided not to move forward with the fourth season. I think that if they’d moved forward with a fourth season of the show, I would have been an official housewife. I had huge support from the fan base, and it would have been great. I loved working with all of the girls; they were so great, and it was an amazing time for me.
Although they did out me as trans, basically.
Your castmates outed you as trans on national television?
This is what happened: In one scene, Marysol outed me on the way to Palm Beach Gay Polo. They never had directly said that I was trans on the show; I was always described as “Marysol’s model friend.”
Marysol was traveling in the limo to Gay Polo and said, “Who better to go to Gay Polo with than transgender model Lauren Foster?” The producers immediately said, “We’re keeping it in!” It was crazy. I loved every minute of the experience, though. It was great.
You notoriously bickered with a fellow Miami doyenne, drag queen Elaine Lancaster, on the show, and some felt it was slightly exploitative to have the show’s two LGBT cast members at odds. Did you find it exploitative?
I was actually fine with it. None of the shows are scripted; so many people think that reality shows are scripted, but they aren’t. The producers will say that you are going to dinner at a certain place, but you are not told what to say.
I was fine with what happened. Elaine was being mean to Marysol, and I was coming to Marysol’s defense. I did not think it was a bad representation, though. I think that Bravo was very supportive of my role, but also was very respectful. Matt Anderson and Nate Green from Purveyors of Pop were just great to work with also.
You’re currently working at the University of Miami as director of its LGBTQ clinic. What’s it like to work with an established school in such an important and visible role?
I am so lucky to work at the University of Miami. It happened organically, and it’s just so beautiful. I can mentor these young trans teens that come here looking for help, surgery or medical advice, things like that. I wish that I’d had someone like me when I was transitioning. It’s just wonderful. No one knows this journey like I do. We have wonderful nurses and staff that work here, and all of the nurses are compassionate and empathetic, but they have not traveled this road. I have.
I know what you need tomorrow, what you will need three years from now. I know the emotional support that you will need, things like that. I have been here two years, and it feels like just a minute. Our leadership is so supportive of the LGBTQ population here, and Dr. Salgado is one of the premier gender affirmation surgeons in the country, and I work with him closely on a daily basis. It’s wonderful to have this opportunity, and I’m so blessed to be able to do it.
You’ve lived a life filled with color. And as we just wrapped up Pride Month, I have to ask, what gives you the most pride?
I had the most beautiful parents that any woman could hope to have. My parents have since passed, but I know they are looking down on me and are truly proud of me. If they were alive I would be FaceTiming them daily. That gives me a lot of pride. How I live my life with integrity and compassion for others, to be now in this position — that makes me proud. To be able to represent trans people in my role and to show them that this is all possible and a beautiful life is possible — that you can date, have great relationships, romantic and otherwise. It’s all possible.
I am living proof that the good life can happen to a trans person. And I’m not the only trans person this is happening to. We can all be proud — out and proud — of being trans. That is great in this world that we are able to do that.