Trans Pinay Dominique Castelano models for Marc Jacobs’ ‘Heaven’ collection

Published September 24, 2020, 11:38 AM

by John Legaspi

The NY-based model is leading the way for Southeast Asian trans representation in fashion 

If there is one good thing that happened in 2020, it is the rise of Filipino trans visibility. From restroom debacles to the pardoning of Pemberton, let’s not even talk about “she who must not be named,” people from the community are coming out amid all the adversity, taking charge of their stories and how they want the stories to be told. One of them is raising the trans Pinay flag high in the international fashion scene.

Dominique Castelano, a New York-based Filipino model, was among the faces of Marc Jacobs’ latest collection. Entitled “Heaven,” the collection features polysexual clothing inspired by the Millennial teenage dream embedded in statement hoodies, skirts in acid daisies, and a two-headed teddy bear bag. 

This is not the first time Dominique modeled for a major brand or fashion house (more of that later). Her life in the Big Apple and her appearances prove that there is more to trans people than what many assume. For her, there is no more closet to hide in now. She believes that it is about time the world recognized the beauty and talent of the Filipino trans community.

In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, Dominique looks back on the challenges she faced as an Asian trans woman model in America and details the importance of trans visibility to encourage her fellow brothers and sisters to continue telling their “once upon a times” and create their own happy endings.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in modeling, and how is it working as a Filipina trans woman model in New York? 

I started modeling in 2017 a little after I finished college. I never really knew it would be possible for me, a Southeast Asian trans woman, to have a career in modeling. Even after I signed with a top agency in New York, I knew I had to have a job other than modeling in order to sustain a living. Before I decided to pursue modeling full-time, I was working as a visual artist. Although it seemed like it would be relatively easy to juggle both jobs, something had to give. As I am a model, I am also a business person, and I needed to be able to have more time to keep up with accounting, castings, social media, organizing my schedule, maintaining body requirements, all while trying to steadily improve my mental health to be able to do my job as best as I could.  

As a Filipina trans person of experience, I definitely don’t see enough trans and queer models represented in the industry. I am definitely more than likely always the only Asian on set and most likely the only trans-Southeast Asian person in the entire building.

When was the last time you were in the Philippines?

I went back a few holidays ago to spend a few months at home. It was the best holiday so far and what made it even more special was that my younger sister had decided to come out as transgender.

It was a very special time between me and my sister, Aiz Castelano, because it made our relationship stronger. We were there for each other and I was able to share plenty of support during her transition.

Now, she is able to revolve her work around empowering other youth around the world to advocate for their sexual and reproductive health rights through IYAFP. She is also an active ambassador working as a project officer for Love Yourself, an organization providing HIV counseling, testing, and treatment as well as providing assistance for other transgender folks in the Philippines.

‘People who decide not to speak up against these issues are participating in that same system of oppression that has harmed those who came before us.’

How did you make it to Marc Jacobs’ “Heaven” shoot?

I had a chance to meet Marc at L’Hommage, a fundraiser I was hosting last year alongside some of the most talented LGBTQIA+ folks of color, as we paid homage to the icons of our community. We raised over $95,000 for nonprofit organization FIERCE NYC @fiercenyc (Fabulous, Independent, Educated, Radicals for Community Empowerment). It was hosted by André Leon Talley and Naomi Campbell closed the show. But it was photographer Ryan McGinley who I have to thank for making this campaign happen. Ryan is an icon in the queer community. He has photographed the likes of Beyonce, Troye Sivan, Harry Styles, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus. I think we both knew when we were shooting the campaign that this would be a very special moment for all queer people in our community and a much needed representation for Southeast Asian and Filipino folks.

Why is it important to have trans visibility, not just in the fashion industry, but in other fields as well?

It is important for me to stand up and speak up about trans and gender non-conforming (GNC) issues because I believe that silence is violence. People who decide not to speak up against these issues are participating in that same system of oppression that has harmed those who came before us, as we have seen with how Jennifer Laude’s story has unfolded recently. It breaks my heart, but this is a wake up call for us all that just because it doesn’t affect you directly doesn’t mean that you should remain silent about these issues.

What’s the best lesson you have learned in your journey?

Your character is equally as important as your physical appearance—both will define your success in the industry. Having anchored my career in modeling with my advocacies has been the pillar of my achievements.

Along with Marc Jacobs, I’ve appeared in campaigns for Thom Browne, Milly, and recently became the first openly Transpinay person to appear in an advertisement for Maybelline. It has been an incredible honor, and a major step in the right direction for the LGBTQIA+ youth that, like me, have been able to explore their gender identity through the medium of makeup. Having also done commercial work with brands such as Bare Minerals, Nars, Clairol, Glossier, Girlfriend, Nike, R&Co, and Oribe is a true testament that living in your truth and aligning your passion with your purpose is the key to success. It is the best lesson I have learned in my journey so far.