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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — “I remember waking up. Out of anesthesia. Of course, I was heavily bandaged and I reached down between my legs and I could feel what wasn’t there and I started crying. A lot. But good crying, happy crying,” shared Lauren Foster.
It was a post-operative experience and awakening that many people could not imagine and few speak about.
But transgender icon Lauren Foster sat down with CBS4’s Chief Investigative Reporter Michele Gillen for an intimate talk at a time when, Foster says, a new chapter is being written in the transgender world. A critical time, she agreed, to look at the good, the bad and the still unknown.
She reflected on what she calls a ‘life changing surgery’ which she underwent at just age 18. Decades later, Foster still radiates a sense of joy as recalls that day and that decision.
“You had no doubts?” asked Gillen.
“None. I felt complete. From then on I never looked back. It was great. It was an amazing feeling,” shared Foster.
She was welcomed into the world in a Durban, South Africa hospital as a baby boy. She grew into a cherubic-faced child, sporting a halo of blonde curls with crystal blue eyes. She grew up with the nickname “Blue.”
By age 18, she had made the decision to surgically transition into being a woman. A decision she says was life-affirming and life-saving.
“That was all I wanted in my life was to have that surgery,” said Foster.
The first transgender model featured in Vogue magazine, the Miami-based Foster is embraced globally as a pioneer. Shuttling between Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, Europe and South Africa, she is one of the most-recognized transgender women in the world. But years after her secret was revealed, she says she is facing a day and a time she never thought would happen.
It’s a seismic cultural shift in a world Foster knows better than most, thanks to the evolution of “Bruce into Caitlyn,” she said.
“Caitlyn Jenner is a champion for sure. She is probably the most famous transgender person alive now. And it happened within 3 months,” she continued.
“The spotlight has changed the geography of the whole trans community. Some for good. Some for bad. Let’s hope it’s all going to go in the right direction. And that’s up,” Foster said.
Gillen asked, how does Foster feel, with seemingly, so many eyes on her?
“I think that people look at me differently now. Because they think ‘oh, she’s trans’ you know? Before they never did that. First, we had a difficult time having relationships with men, now the spot light is on us even more. So I don’t know how that is going to work. It’s a tough time, we are under a lot of scrutiny. I feel like a big spotlight (on me).”
She is no stranger to the public eye or adversity. In her early 20’s, as her modeling career skyrocketed, the cameramen who photographed her and the fans who admired her photos, thought she was ‘just another girl’. But then, she says, a photographer revealed and sold her secret. Tabloids ran her picture with headlines, “Model Was A Man.”
Grateful, she says that it was the age before the internet, when headlines faded quickly, Foster powered on. She recently sat down with Gillen to analyze the headlines of today.
On Caitlyn Jenner’s evolution:
“You know there are a lot of people that feel because of her privilege that she doesn’t speak for them and that because she hasn’t fully medically transitioned, she doesn’t speak for them. But you know, it’s such ‘gender fluid’ now. She doesn’t speak for me, for instance, because I am fully medically transitioned. I have a commitment to my gender. I committed to being a woman and being a woman means fully being a woman.”
Questions remain among some in the Trans community on whether Jenner will surgically transition, as Foster did. Foster says for some in the Trans world, like herself, it is an important distinction. To others in the community, she readily admits, it is not.
Foster takes pause at the media spotlight surrounding Jenner that is often focused on Jenner’s looks, wardrobe and makeup.
“You know all that gloss and fabulousness kind of disguises the struggle of the Trans community, especially transwomen of color who make up a majority of this community and it kind of glosses over it and I think that’s where the anger comes from. It’s not all Versace gowns and Annie Leibowitz shoots and things like that. We want to get away from glamorizing it. We want to get down to the nitty-gritty of the Trans community. You know that just yesterday a Trans woman was murdered in Philadelphia. That has got to stop,” she says.
Foster has recently launched what she calls an informational website entitled, “Just Another Girl“, which is how she refers to herself. The goal of the site is to help others navigate a world she describes as fraught with vulnerabilities, stigma, bullying and promise.
Through it, she says, she is connecting to many young people, male and female, who have entered a complicated path, and too often on their own. Some are afraid or even ashamed to ask basic questions.
“I’m mentoring a lot of Trans youth right now and I find that so rewarding, I really do. It’s amazing.”
Foster says she grew up with unconditional love and acceptance from her parents. She says she cannot imagine what her path would have been life without it or them.
They were unconditionally supportive of her from when she was a child of just 4 years old, when she recalls sensing something was different.
“When I was about 4 years old I felt like I was wired differently,” she said smiling as she embraced the thought of her loving parents, who were always by her side with a hug and encouragement.
“I have been lucky. I realize that not everybody is fortunate like that, I do understand that,” she says, and adds that the love her parents shared with each other and with her, triggered her appreciation of a life filled with love and indeed, the joy of falling in love. She says she is grateful for having experienced some amazing long-term relationships. And yes, there were times she thought about her desire for wanting to have a child.
Gillen asked, “Did you ever have feelings of wanting to have a baby?
“I did. I did,” she says. “Myself and my brother are adopted and so I thought maybe I will adopt a child.”
An art aficionado with a preference for modern art, Foster, who is currently writing her memoir, spends a lot of time visiting Miami galleries, including Wynnewood’s Galleria Ca D’oro, which opened its door for her TV interview.
With the help of art curator, Alan Ibaldo, she decided on a seemingly perfect spot for the taping in front of a piece emblazoned with the words, ‘The Pursuit of Happiness.’
As the fall season arrives, Foster has been busy bringing together the world of art and fashion to raise funds for vulnerable youth, all youth, she says, not just Trans youth. At one recent October gathering, she congratulated and cheered efforts by Christophe Moore, a passionate young man driven to help LBGTQ homeless youth find hope and housing, as he did. Moore has been featured in a series of CBS4 News reports on his efforts to bring attention and help to homeless youth. Moore said he sees Foster as a symbol of encouragement to anyone, straight or gay, in overcoming obstacles and says he found her personal strength to be herself, inspiring.
At her invitation, they attended one of a handful of fund-raisers Foster fronts to raise money for the LBGTQ community. This night, in behalf of the Trevor Foundation, a New York-based non-profit committed in particular to suicide prevention, joined forces with the design house, Burberry.
Brian Winterfeldt, a longtime supporter of the Trevor Project and co-host of the Miami event, applauded Foster’s efforts.
“I’m inspired by her. Someone who has really blazed a trail for the Trans movement. We all know there is a lot of attention because of Caitlin Jenner. But Lauren’s been fighting for the cause for decades. I think she is amazing,” said Winterfeldt.
Giving back and helping others be comfortable in not just their shoes, but their skin, is Foster’s mission as she looks to a future she hopes will be better than ever, for all.
“We are all going through a transition of one sort or another, aren’t we?” she asks with a smile.
“I think it’s a good time. A good time. It is the pursuit of happiness.”