How Getting Out Of An Abusive Relationship, Helped Isis King Transition
I didn't think I would transition. I didn't think I would have the courage to do that. And then once I did, I was like, 'I'm on "Top Model" this is a show I watched my whole life--not my whole life, it came out when I was in 12th grade. It's like 'What?! I'm on "Top Model!" Number one, I'm short. I'm 5'7.5 and I'm trans! I would have never thought that. So it's like, 'Wow, you can really manifest things let me start thinking bigger.'
NSNC: You said that you didn't think you would have the courage to transition, what eventually gave you the courage to do so?
Isis: Girrrrlll, okay. So I went to college in Philly and I was in a relationship with an older guy. And I remember seeing the documentary Paris is Burning and I saw Octavia St. Laurent and when I saw her, I was just like, 'Oh my gosh she's so beautiful.' And it just re-sparked that feeling that I always had but I never saw it. I only saw "It's a Man" on Jerry Springer or "Man or Woman" on Maury. So I was like 'Oh wow, she's just like me and she's beautiful and she's confident.' I just held on to it and I told a few friends, 'How would you feel if I dressed as...' just to see how people would feel.
And I remember telling that boyfriend and he made a big deal out of it, 'I wouldn't be with you.' It was a very abusive situation that I was in.
At one point, I went back home for a funeral for my cousin and me and him got into it over the phone and I think being around my family gave me the strength to say, 'This is it.' So my mom, her husband at the time, and my grandfather took me back to Philly. And because I knew he was away for the weekend, we got all my stuff-- it was probably one of the scariest moments of my life because I thought he would come back and I was terrified of him.
So we went back to Maryland and they allowed me to go to domestic violence therapy. And since I didn't transition yet, they never allowed a guy to do that. But the courts allowed it because it was a very special situation. And in domestic therapy, not my family--who always got on me for being feminine my whole life. Not my ex-boyfriend, who, at the time I grew my hair out and he would force me to keep my hair braided up to kind of keep my femininity at bay. Which, that didn't make a difference. So basically, she helped me to realize that I have to be strong in who I am and I can't let other people dictate how I'm going to live my life. And in that moment in therapy I basically came out and said, 'I'm trans and I have the courage. I'm going to live my life.'
In that moment, her eyes opened up and she was like, 'Huh?' It was just that aha moment when I realized I've been living my life for other people and I finally got the courage to say, 'Not anymore.'
So literally, I remember seeing Paris is Burning, then I found some people on MySpace at the time, I ran into one person who was in the ballroom scene, it actually was Amiyah Scott from "STAR" and it's funny because years later, we were up for that role together. So we were in the room going back and forth. But I've known Amiyah since, that was 2006. I've known her for a really long time. So I went on her page and I was like, 'You're so pretty. What do you do? Are you a celebrity down there?' And she said, 'I'm in the ballroom scene.' I was like, gasps, 'The ballroom scene!' So from her Top 8 [on MySpace] I ended up making friends in New York, who were in the ballroom scene and I said, 'This is how I'm going to transition.' Because I knew Octavia transitioned in the ballroom scene.
So I saved up. I moved back home from college and I think I was there from February- November, just for like ten months. And I moved to New York, got into the ballroom scene, transitioned like that. That's how it happened. A fascinating little story.
NSNC: It is! Especially the way it came out, in therapy.
Isis: I always knew from a little kid but I would have never thought me? I'm so skittish. I would have never thought the way I held my family up and people's opinions, I would have never thought that I would have the courage to do something like that. What?! No. Even watching "Man or Woman" on Maury I would think, 'Wow, she's so pretty. I wonder how she did that. I wish I had that courage.' I mean, I didn't like the way they were being humiliated, put on there like animals but still, I was like, 'I wish I had her courage.' And then I found the courage. It was a really intense situation for me to get but I would have never been here if I didn't and if I would have stayed [in that relationship] longer, I wouldn't be here [at all].
NSNC: Did you ever see that abusive ex after you transitioned?
Isis: No. I don't know what happened to him. One time, right after "Top Model," I ended up getting a gig in Philly. And I was in the ballroom scene so my house father was managing me a little bit, so we went down to Philly and that was my first time back. Because I ended up going to court with him. He took my identity and ran up all his credit. And I found all this out when I was in a shelter and that's what made it worse because I didn't have anything. That was just one of the things.
Years later, I transitioned, I'm becoming this big thing. And so I went there for this stage play and I remember right when it was time to get out of the car, I started having an anxiety attack and I was shaking. It's literally like how Whitney Houston was in The Bodyguard right before that big performance. Because the last thing he said to me in court was, 'I'm going to put you six feet..' The last thing he said to me was a threat. I was just so scared. But I remember being in the car, crying. And my house father was like, 'C'mon he's not going to be here.' And I was just scared he was going to hurt me. I don't know if he knew I transitioned or not but my story on "Top Model," it was a big deal at the time.
And it happened shortly after because I left him at the beginning of 2006 and I was on "Top Model" in 2008 so it happened very quickly.
When I was on stage, I just kept looking around the audience, 'Please, don't let him be here.' It was scary. And even every time I go back to Philly, it's not like that but it's still a little part of me.
NSNC: It's like PTSD.
Isis: Oh yeah. Because I seen my mom stay through two abusive marriages. And I had to realize the own pattern that I had to also break because I thought love was staying and I realize that that's not love.