I first met Siobhan Atwell in late 2014, when we were shooting a story about the rise of androgyny at fashion week. At the time, Siobhan went by the name Seth, and identified as a gender-fluid male model. It was one of those days when the crew got a little giddy, excited by how beautifully the Nova Scotia–born stunner photographed—all this on her first magazine shoot. Siobhan now lives and works in New York, and, this February, came out as transgender, earning Vogue’s proclamation that she’s the next it-model. Over a year since her covetable cheekbones first wooed me, I called Siobhan up to chat about her decision to transition, gender norms and what it was like to tell her dad what she was doing.
What have you been up to since our shoot?
I finally got settled in New York. It took a while in a bigger market, but I’m signed with [model agency] State Management now. They’re up and coming, and I was actually the first model that they signed. I also travelled to Korea in January, but I was still on the men’s board there, so I felt kind of confused and trapped. But then I came back to New York and came out as transgender. All the press have been great, so that’s been exciting.
What helped you make the decision to come out?
When I did my shoot with FLARE back in 2014, I was still an androgynous model. I didn’t really have any plans to transition further, then in the past year it was really on my mind. I was never friends with a trans girl before last year, and then I started meeting more [trans women] and it made me feel like this is who I am. But I wanted to make sure it was something I really wanted. So over the past year I went to a few doctors and did research. It took me a year to make the final decision and tell everyone.
How did you go about sharing this news with people?
I first came out to my mother-agent Peggi [Lepage] because she was the one who started it off for me. Then I came out to my mom the same day, and then my dad and then the rest of my family. Then I told my [Toronto] agency Plutino. Then I went further with my agency State, here in New York. I wasn’t sure how my agencies were going to take it, because they signed me as a gender-fluid model. Everyone was super supportive and happy, though. They kind of saw it coming anyway so it wasn’t a huge shock.
Who had the most memorable reaction?
I guess my dad, because we never really even talked about me being gay or me being gender fluid before. It just wasn’t really a topic of discussion. I was always trying to avoid that conversation as a teenager, and I think he knew that, too. But I had to tell him now that I was transitioning. He took it well. He was a bit silent at first but then kind of laughed about it and it was easy to talk about it from there. That was the most memorable, because he was the person I was most nervous to tell.
When did you start going by Siobhan instead of Seth, and how did you fall upon that name?
I was going by different names for the last year, trying to find the right one. I tried Felena and London, but they were too stage-y for me. Then, when I suddenly wanted to make it public, I was looking up names online. I wanted to keep my first initial and I wanted something cute and classy. Siobhan is cute and classy, and I liked the way it’s spelled.
By now, it’s been a few months that you’ve been going by Siobhan and identifying with pronouns like she and her. How does it feel?
It feels normal, like how I wanted to be perceived and called over the last year. I think everyone is still getting used to it, especially family, but I’ve had a lot of support from friends and family and my agents. It feels normal now even though it’s only been a couple of months; it just feels like how it’s supposed to be.
That’s great. It sounds like you were so deliberate in the process of really thinking it through.
I really wanted to make sure that it was healthy, and where my career was taking me. I told myself, “OK, I’ll see where I am in a year from now and if it’s not where I want to be then I’m going to do it,” and look what happened.
I love that. Has the fashion world been supportive?
They have been. I feel like it’s such a trending topic right now, so it was the prefect timing.
And what about the non-fashion world?
I’ve seen some comments online that are really transphobic, but then I’ve seen comments that are really supportive, defending me. There are a lot of different views, so there’s always going to be someone disagreeing, but I always know that there is the other side that’s super strong and supportive of me.
Is there a particular role model who inspires you?
I was looking at this YouTuber Gigi [Gorgeous]. She is trans as well and from Toronto, too. I was following her for the past year, watching her videos. She inspired me to do it, to come out: I saw how much happier and more successful she became, and how she was feeling better in her own skin and being her true self. That’s what I wanted for me.
Do you have any medical plans for your transition?
I’m lucky that I don’t have to get too many crazy things done. I’m not planning to get facial feminization. I’m just focusing on little minor ones like my Adam’s apple. It’s the first thing I notice on myself that’s masculine, so I’m going to be getting my tracheal shave done in a couple of months. I haven’t even done hormones yet. I’ll wait till after my first little surgeries are done.
One step at a time.
Yeah. I’ll do hormone replacement therapy and see how that changes me in the next year. Then maybe get bigger breasts or something. And then who knows? I’ve thought about maybe getting SRS [sex reassignment surgery, also known as gender confirmation surgery] some day. But it’s not something I’ll be thinking about for a while. I’ll just see how happy I am a year from now, and then see how much further I want to go.
It’s the same one-year approach you took before deciding to come out. Is that your method across different categories of your life?
Yeah, I think it’s always best to plan things out yearly instead of over five years or something. You never know where you’re going to be.
What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding about transgender individuals?
In my experience, people don’t understand that we are women, even if we decide not to get the surgery done. We need to be respected and looked at as women, or, as with trans men too, however we want to be perceived. I’m really honest about what I want to do, but I know a lot of other transgender people who don’t talk about surgeries at all. We’d like to get across to people that we are humans too. That’s not all we talk about and do in life, you know? I feel like there’s no gender; there’s just humans.
Where do you hope the conversation around gender will be in 10 years’ time?
I hope that it won’t even be a topic of discussion. I hope that we can all be ahead of this by then, to not really think of gender as a huge deal.
What advice would you share with others—models or not—who may find themselves in your shoes?
Truly take your time with it. There’s no rush. Make sure you have a great support system, and then just do it whenever you’re ready.