Mimi Tao is making history on the 17th season of Project Runway as the first transgender model on the hit Bravo show. This talented model from Thailand was featured on Project Runway mentor Christian Siriano's "People Are People" perfume campaign and was highly sought after for New York's Fashion Week.
Project Runway continues to expand diversity over the years by featuring transgender designer Ari South and recently held an All Stars challenge to create gender-neutral looks for a non-binary guest judge Asia Kate Dillon.
Windy City Times: Talk about growing up in Thailand and how being transgender affected you there.
Mimi Tao: Wowgreat question. My growing up in Thailand was very rare. I studied in a Catholic school when I was younger and I heard many times that gays or transgender people are sinners.
I was born in the age that they had a law, that I didn't agree with, that said, "Transgender people can't show up in the public television but straight actors can play ... transgender."
WCT: Do you feel the transgender community is being treated better or worse in Thailand these days?
MT: I think it's going to be better nowadays, but transgender people still hardly have a life and get a lot of discrimination because there are no laws to protect us. We can't get in to some restaurants or certain places. They still called me, "Mister" and we can't change our title name, can't get married, etc.
They always say Thailand is the paradise for LGBTQI+, maybe a paradise for the tourists, not for Thai. I think it will get better, though.
WCT: You trained to be a Buddhist monk. How does that help you today?
MT: My life six years as a monk made me who I am today. Life as a monk wasn't easy, I have learned how to be with myself, be patient and understand the truth of life and be positive.
WCT: Describe your experience during New York Fashion Week.
MT: It was really amazing experience and great opportunity for me! I walked 24 shows in a week running up and down town, four to six different places every day, but I never felt tired at all. [Laughs] I went to every casting I heard about; somewhere I went was a fake casting, but it was fun, too.
WCT: What was your journey to Project Runway like and what have you learned from being on the show?
MT: It was not the first time I auditioned for Project Runway. I've been rejected before, but I kept auditioning again and again. Last time, a friend of mine told me not to audition because I kept getting rejected. But I didn't care if they wanted a transgender model or not, I just wanna go for audition.
It was another great experience for me. Some days I needed to be at the studio at four a.m. and sometimes we shoot until midnight. We shot a few days per episode and it was a lot of fun behind the scenes.
WCT: What would you like to tell other young models that are transgender?
MT: Dear all my sisters and brothers, I know it's never been easy. We need to work hard and harder to show them how great and professional you are. Step away from the shadowno more hiding, never give up and don't look down [on] yourself. You're not different; you're special.
WCT: How is your relationship with your family these days?
MT: My relationship with family is very, very good. Long ago, my mom said to me, "If you choose that way, you no longer be my son." Right now, she is really proud of me.
WCT: I read that you want to act. Have you auditioned for roles and where do you see yourself in this career?
MT: Of course! I would love to. I've done a couple of movies when I was 17 but that was long, long ago. [Laughs] I haven't been to an audition because my English is not very good but I am practicing. I would like to be in Pose! I hope they will open auditions for it soon.
WCT: How was working with Christian Siriano and his perfume [campaign]?
MT: I love the meaning of the perfume very much. It was [an] amazing experience to work with Christian, and I met many people in the campaign. It's not only perfumeit's about human beings, no matter what color, no matter what sex, what nation, what religion. We are people!
WCT: Do you have plans to visit Chicago?
MT: No plans yet but I have heard a lot about Chicago. I'd love to visit someday.
See Tao wear the new designs of the various competitors on Bravo's Project Runway every Thursday at 7 p.m. CT.