Who Is Laith Ashley? The Transgender Model Stars In Taylor Swift’s “Lavender Haze” Video

With her new music video, Taylor Swift has proven her allyship. The Grammy winner cast Laith Ashley, a transgender model, actor, singer, and activist, in her “Lavender Haze” video, which premiered on Jan. 27. Many fans have praised Swift for casting a transgender man as her romantic lead at a time when trans people’s rights and protections are being threatened and revoked in several U.S. states. For Ashley, he thinks this simple yet significant representation can go a long way.

As Ashley tells Bustle, the increasing threat against trans communities is what makes his casting in Swift’s video so significant, especially given the clip’s pure and wholesome portrayal of love. “Having me be Taylor Swift’s love interest in this video, it seems so simple, but it’s two people loving each other and one of the people happens to be trans, and it doesn’t matter,” he explains. “Because at the end, I always say, ‘Love always wins.’ And why does it concern folks to that extent? That our existence becomes something that’s so threatening to yours when it’s not.”

Swift praised her onscreen love interest on Twitter, calling him “an incredible costar who I absolutely adored working with.” Ashley reciprocated the love on Instagram, describing his filming experience as “truly magical” and calling her an ally. “Your storytelling abilities through your music and visuals continues to leave me in awe, inspired, and hopeful,” he wrote. “Thank you for being an ally. Representation matters. AND LOVE WILL ALWAYS WIN!”

Below, Ashley opens up about working with Swift as a director, what led to his casting, and how he hopes it will change how many others view transgender people.

Laith Ashley On Working With Taylor Swift

Ashley tells Bustle that when he first heard about Swift’s offer, he thought it was a prank. “My manager reached out and told me that Taylor wanted me in her music video and I thought it was a joke,” he recalls. “I kind of sat with that for a minute and I was just like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing.’ I didn’t know that someone that big would even know who I am. Eventually, we had fittings and the shoot dates down, and next thing I know, I’m shooting a music video in bed with Taylor Swift.”

In typical Swiftian fashion, she kept everything secretive. Ashley first thought the video would be for a “Taylor’s Version” re-recording, and he didn’t hear a single note of Midnights before anyone else, as Swift wore a device in her ear on set, meaning, like all Swifties, he had to do some detective work. “When she started day-by-day putting out the song names, I was trying to piece everything together,” he recalls. “I saw ‘Lavender Haze’ and I saw ‘Midnight Rain’ and I was just like, going off of what we shot, it’s either one of those two songs. Because there’s a weatherman and it’s raining and the cloud over her head, but then there’s also all the lavender haze that’s everywhere.”

Despite not getting the sneak peek fans may expect, Ashley said being directed by Swift was an “incredible” experience. “I had to put 100% of my trust in her,” he says. “She was so kind and so open and welcoming. She made me feel so comfortable. I was just kind of a nervous wreck, trying to play it off cool, but I definitely was not.” Ashley was even nervous about things like lifting her up at the end of the video, but Swift gave him strong reassurance. “She was absolutely gorgeous and I was trying not to stare,” he admits. “Literally, I was so afraid to touch her. I didn’t want her to feel disrespected… Even in that party scene where I carry her, I was like, ‘Hey, is it okay if I carry you in this?’ And she jumped up and was like, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Laith Ashley’s Modeling History

In 2015, Ashley’s modeling career and subsequent success came after his first Instagram modeling photos were shared by Laverne Cox. Since then, he’s posed in campaigns for brands like Guess, Diesel, Calvin Klein, and Barneys, and appeared in magazines like British GQ and Vogue France. He’s also branched out into the acting world, appearing on Pose, becoming the first transgender pit crew member on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and even starring in his first feature film, the upcoming indie comedy My Divorce Party.

Vivien Killilea/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

However, as he tells Bustle, Ashley actually wanted to wear many hats growing up, studying business, psychology, and sociology in college and working at an LGBTQ+ health center after graduating. It was only after a photographer discovered him on Instagram that he ventured into the modeling and entertainment worlds. “I had been working on my body, I didn’t have a lot of money, and I’m getting these photos taken for free,” he says. “I was like, ‘You know what? Let me take advantage of this opportunity.’ I bought myself a pair of white Calvin Klein underwear, and I asked him like, ‘Would you mind taking some more photos? … And those were the photos that went viral.”

Laith Ashley On Trans Rights & Representation

Since he started modeling, Ashley has been a steadfast advocate for trans rights and representation across all media. Going into 2023, his goal is to become even more vocal, especially about transgender issues. In January 2023 alone, over 150 anti-trans bills have been introduced across 25 states. Additionally, at least 37 transgender people were killed by violent means in 2022.

Jemal Countess/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

“I think that we need to be more vocal now about pushing back against this language,” Ashley says. “They’re not seeing the real-world consequences that it has for us. People are dying, people are arming themselves and going into clear safe spaces, quote unquote… Anyone that hates LGBT people can just show up and decide that they want to cause harm, and that’s just not right, and that’s not what America is about.”

If you or someone you know is seeking help for LGBTQ+ mental health or safety concerns, call The Trevor Project‘s 24/7 Lifeline at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386). You can also reach out for instant message or text message support via TrevorChat and TrevorText, respectively. For additional resources for trans people, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. In an emergency, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988, or call 911.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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