When Lauren Foster was outed as transgender in tabloid magazines in the 1980s, the Vogue model thought her career was over. Rather than slink into the shadows, though, the striking South African blonde mustered the courage to own her gender identity at a time when the Zeitgeist wasn't nearly as tolerant. Foster eventually found acceptance and continued to grace the glossy pages of the industry's top fashion magazines.
Nearly 30 years later, Lauren Foster now resides in Miami, where she has become one of the city's loudest advocates for the LGBTQ community. At a time when Caitlyn Jenner's transformation makes the cover of Vanity Fair but conservative lawmakers try to ban folks from using the bathroom of their gender, Foster has become more relevant than ever.
"I'm not a fetish. I'm not a sideshow. I'm not a trend. I'm none of those things," Foster says. "I feel like I have a target on my head now. But I don't reside in my trans-ness; I don't live there. I'm just another woman."
Born and raised in Durban, South Africa, Lauren was 4 years old when she knew she was living in the wrong gender. As a child, she was diagnosed with Klinefelter's syndrome, where instead of having XX or XY chromosomes, she was genetically XXY. Blessed with a supportive family, Lauren transitioned in her teens. Because people recognized her as female, she wasn't bullied by classmates. She began receiving hormone therapy at 17. When she was 18, Foster underwent gender affirmation surgery.
"I could finally be the woman I was meant to be and always was," Foster says.
With angular cheek bones and piercing blue eyes, Lauren Foster became a successful model with an international career that took her across Paris and to North America. Her first breakthrough came when she appeared in a Vogue Mexico fashion spread. But then a tabloid journalist published a story headlined "Revealed: Vogue Model Was a Man!"
Foster survived her own journey through hate and ignorance. Today she worries about the growing number of transgender people who are murdered over their identities.
"People who date trans people should be open about it," she says. "The more people who come out and say it doesn't bother them will help the trans community a lot."
When Foster isn't rubbing elbows with the cast of The Real Housewives of Miami, she works full-time as the LGBTQ coordinator at University of Miami Hospital, where she guides transgender people through the stages of their gender affirmation surgeries.
"Never in a million years would I have ever imagined myself working at a hospital," Foster says, as she clacks through the hospital's halls with her blazer draped fashionably around her shoulders. "It's been the most rewarding job helping these patients through their chrysalis so they can become beautiful butterflies and fly."