If you don’t already know Madelyn and Margo Whitley, let us introduce them to you. The 22-year-old Texan twins have had a big year, modeling for artists like Rodarte, Helmut Lang and Rochas, and going viral. Tik Tok with their videos about the transition. They both came out as transgender within a year of each other, defying a conservative community that did not support them before quickly moving to New York, where they later landed lucrative modeling contracts. We caught up with them to hear what their next big moves are…
Q: What was it like growing up as queer youth in an armed, Trump-voting state in the Bible Belt?
Madeline: We went to a private Catholic all-boys high school, so it was kind of terrible. There was a teacher there who publicly condemned us and told us that we were going to hell after our transition. There were many threats to our security. You just have to depersonalize yourself and move on, and surround yourself with positive people, no matter how difficult it may be.
Q: People often talk about synchronicity between twins, and they both came out as trans within a year of each other. Did you feel anything like that between you when you both came out as trans?
Margo: I know it would have been great to say we felt that way, but it’s such an individualized process that requires a lot of self-acceptance. Maddie came out before me, and if she had sensed it in me (which I think she had), she knew better than to shout it, because I wasn’t ready yet.
Q: How did you get into modeling?
Margo: We were first discovered at a music festival when we were very young. A guy gave us his card, but I told Maddie to throw it away because I thought, ‘that’s textbook sex trafficking… we’re underage at a festival, no thanks!’ Then after school we moved straight to New York and eventually they both signed.
Q: What was your first ‘pinch me’ moment as a model?
Madeline: Definitely our first major work with Marc Jacobs. We had spent an entire summer trying to make it as models in New York, but with no luck. We were broke, so we had to give up and go back to Texas. I’m not kidding, the *second* we got home, we got the call to return to New York for a Marc Jacobs concert, after moving all of our stuff across the country. Honestly, the money from that job kept us afloat for two or three years; It is the reason we were able to continue working as a model. Getting that call was one of the craziest moments of our lives.
Q: Do you feel that the fashion industry wants to promote trans talent?
Madeline: I assumed that because there is such a queer presence in fashion, being trans wasn’t going to be a big deal. But it was actually quite difficult for certain jobs and clients. New York and London have been the most welcoming with their incredible underground queer communities, but Milan and Paris have felt less welcoming at times. Sometimes the film crew gossips about our bodies in a different language, thinking we can’t understand them, so that’s difficult. But now I have great agents and a good community around me. My biggest role model in the industry is my sister; and to all the other trans models: we see you and we are proud of you.
Q: How important has personal style been to you in your travels?
Margo: The first time I tried on a dress, a huge wave of confidence washed over me and I felt like the most stunning woman on the planet. Looking back at the photos, it was actually a horrible look with bad makeup, but at that moment I felt untouchable. Fashion has been the most fun way to explore femininity; you can be a new woman every day.
Madeline: Being able to grow my hair and wear the clothes and makeup I wanted was something I had dreamed of since the day I knew I wanted to come out. I think how we present ourselves publicly is a very important part of our transition, and I didn’t feel like I could do that at an all-boys private school. It is very important to feel free.
Q: How can the fashion industry be more supportive of trans people?
Margo: There are great creative teams behind the scenes that make photo shoots happen, so hiring queer people for jobs is just as important as the model in front of the camera.
Madeline: I would love to see more trans people of all colors, shapes and abilities celebrated.
Q: Both have many TikTok fans: how is social media creating positive change in 2024?
Margo: It’s really helping to educate people about queer identities who might not have understood us before. The amount of DMs we’ve gotten saying, “Thank you so much for telling your story, you inspired me to come out or made me question something” is incredible. Our next goal is to appear on the cover of a magazine and make enough money to give back to the trans community.
A version of this article was published in the February/March 2024 issue of Cosmopolitan United Kingdom.