Revamping the Runway

JJ Smith, Staff Writer

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Ariel Nicholson Murtagh, former resident of Warwick, is a 16 year old high school student with an impressive resume and many aspirations. Having made appearances in Vogue and the
New York Times Ariel is familiar with the spolight. She is also a transgender advocate and made her transition at roughly 11 years old, a decision that positively impacted her life.

How did you know that you wanted to pursue a career as a model? “It actually started when- it’s so weird because I started with Vogue… I volunteer at this organization in New York City called the Gender and Family Project. I’ve volunteered there all of 9th grade and it’s basically this organization that works with transgender kids and their families, it’s kind of like a support group. So, I worked there and Vogue actually reached out to the director of the project and asked if he knew of any transgender kids or teens who’d be interested in doing a story and a shoot for Vogue. I’ve always loved fashion and photography and art and I’ve always been really interested in that. So he recommended me and then Vogue contacted my mom and yeah, that’s kind of how it all really started. And after, you know, being interviewed and after the photo shoot, which was, like, really amazing, that’s when I really just decided that I wanted to become a model and to like, really pursue it.”

Could you see yourself pursuing the same aspirations if you had not chosen to transition? “Modeling is totally separate from me being trans and my transition. I’m not modeling because I’m trans, I’m just sort of modeling because people just told me I could model and I’m 6’1” so I said I’ll give it a try. I’m just starting so it’s all really new and everything. But I definitely think that modeling has given me a platform for activism and I think it will continue to give me that platform because I feel like it just kind of propels you into that world of media and journalism. And to have a voice in that is just I think really important and influential, especially if you’re an activist.”

What has been your favorite modeling gig and why did you like this one so much? “Okay, well, I’ve only- I literally just started but I guess my favorite so far has been the Calvin Klein because that was like, my first ever gig and yeah, it was unreal. I couldn’t believe, like, that this, it was actually happening. Yeah, it was crazy. And also, that was the same day that I was interviewed for the New York Times article so everything sort of just happened at once and it was kind of insane.”

If it’s not too personal, why did you move out of Warwick, New York to Park Ridge, New Jersey? “Oh okay, no, this isn’t too personal! So, I went to Warwick from kindergarten through 5th grade and by that time, I was going by my first name and I used male pronouns. Then, after 5th grade, my parents had gotten a divorce and my mom was working far away and the commute was a lot for her. So after my parents got divorced, we obviously couldn’t stay in the same house, so we decided to move. So now I live in Jersey and I go to a private school in New York… And then once I moved to New Jersey and I started going to a new school, that’s when I transitioned. So, I started using the name Ariel and using female pronouns when I was going to my new school. And yeah, that’s sort of how it all happened.”

How do you think that staying in Warwick, rather than moving, would have affected you now? “Well, I mean, yeah I sometimes think about that a lot. That’s a really great question. I think that staying in Warwick would’ve been amazing because I feel like I would’ve just been that much closer to my friends that are still there and it was definitely hard leaving because I missed my friends a lot. I feel like I had a lot of really strong friendships there and relationships. But I think that it would’ve been a lot different because now I live closer to New York. Especially with modeling and everything, I think it would’ve been a lot harder if I was living in Warwick because it’s farther from the city. Yeah, I don’t know! It’s kind of hard to visualize what it would’ve been like.” 

Do you visit Warwick often? Do you still keep in touch with students in the high school that you used to go to elementary school with? “Yeah, I do! There was a period of time, like as soon as I left, that I sort of fell out of touch because at that time, I really didn’t have social media and I didn’t really have a way to connect with my old friends. Warwick was also forty-five minutes away so it was definitely a long drive and everything. But I think that once I got social media, I sort of felt like it gave me kind of a space where I could connect with some of my old friends. I totally still keep in touch with them. Emma Jakubik, who’s one of my best friends, I just went to her birthday party, which I met you at! So yeah, I still definitely have a lot of connections in Warwick and I still keep in touch with everyone there. It’s really nice to still have that connection. I don’t visit Warwick often and I don’t see my old friends often, but it’s really nice to see what they’re up to and stay in touch to talk once in a while.”

How old were you when you transitioned? “So I was eleven years old about- eleven or twelve- when I socially transitioned. But before then, I guess you could say I was a girl at home. At home, my mom was calling me Ariel and she was using she/her pronouns in the house because I just sort of felt really comfortable, but then in school, I wasn’t fully transitioned and I wasn’t fully out. And the reason I didn’t really transition in school when I was in Warwick I was in this program called PIE, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, in Sanfordville and PIE was just this really great program. I felt that I could just sort of live comfortably and just be myself. I didn’t even really care that I was still being called by my birth name and I was using masculine pronouns because I was just surrounded by people that really accepted me and sort of always knew that I was feminine and sort of accepted that… I felt comfortable and happy with myself but once I moved, I sort of knew that I had to transition and that was when I was around 11 or 12.”

Do you think that your transition would have received different reactions and feedback if you had decided to go through the process when you were older? Or do you think that it was a perfect age? “Well, I think I’m actually late for some people. It really depends – there are a lot of people who transitioned later than I did or earlier than I did. I feel like for me, my age was almost essential to transition because I didn’t really want to go through male puberty at all, I was just like ‘Not an option!’ So I went on hormone blockers and I’m taking estrogen now. That’s really nice because I feel like I was able to transition before I went through puberty and everything. But there isn’t really a right age to transition, I don’t think, I feel like that’s just sort of happened naturally for me. It just sort of happened when I moved and when I felt comfortable. It was just my own personal process and journey.”

When did you know that you would be more comfortable as a female? “I always sort of knew from a very young age, it’s not really just about being comfortable, I just sort of always knew that I was a girl. I never considered myself, like I never even connected with anything masculine. I was such a feminine person and I always said, from a very young age, that I was a girl. I was insistent when I was younger that I was a girl, I didn’t want to dress in boys’ clothes, I didn’t want to use male pronouns. So I always sort of knew, like, deep down, that I was a girl and I always communicated that with my family. And I’ve had a very supportive family since a very young age, which has been really helpful and amazing throughout this entire journey.”

Before you knew that your family was supportive of your decision, were you worried about their reactions or were you too young to really understand? “Yeah, so I was too young to really think, it wasn’t for me, a coming-out process at all. I was two years old. I said, ‘First off, I’m a girl!’ My family was like, ‘What is going on here?’ But yeah, I was just always really insistent about it and it wasn’t really just a coming-out process for me at all. And I know that a lot of trans people have to go through this whole process of coming-out and communicating with their family but for me, I was so young that it didn’t really matter.”

What was the most supportive piece of advice that you were given both before and after your transition? How did this help you? “I think that I’ve always just had a really supportive family system and it’s been really incredible. I think my mom has just been, like, one of the biggest role models in my life. And even my friends in Warwick were so amazing throughout my entire process, throughout my entire transition, because they sort of knew I was different. They sort of knew that I was feminine and I think that their support from an early age made me realize that I was going to be accepted. I’ve just always had constant support and I’m so privileged and lucky to have had that support from friends and family.”

Do you have any advice for people who are in a situation similar to yours but are hesitant? “Yeah, I get this question a lot, and you know, it’s really hard because people come from all different kinds of backgrounds and situations. I think that if someone has a supportive family but is just kind of timid to come out, my advice is to just be brave and to just kind of take that plunge. I know it can be so hard for a lot of people- the coming-out process. And of course, I was always insistent about my gender from a very young age so I never really had to go through that process, but I know that if I hadn’t come out until later, I feel like I would’ve just had to have found that strength in myself to really go forward and be brave and kind of talk about it. One thing I want to tell a lot of transgender youth and even LGBTQ youth is that they aren’t alone so even if they don’t have a supportive environment in school or if they don’t have a supportive environment at home, there’s always a community for them. Either online, there are also tons of support groups, so I think it’s just really important for people to know that they have that support system and they can tap into that whenever they need to.”

Looking back now, if you had the choice, would you do anything differently regarding either your modeling career or your transition? “No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t change anything because I feel like my entire life so far, from Warwick, to now, I just feel like it’s been a really great ride. It’s been a lot of fun and I know that my modeling career is just starting so right now, I’m just kind of happy to be and to sort of move forward into this next phase of my life. I’m not really concerned about anything and I don’t want to really change anything about my process so far because I feel like if anything had changed, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today.”

Where do you hope to see yourself in the future regarding your modeling career and role as a transgender advocate? “Well, in the future, I just hope that I’ll be able to keep fighting and advocating for marginalized groups and transgender youth. I think just to keep fighting for their rights and to elevate the voices of people that don’t get to speak a lot right now with our current political climate. I feel like a lot of voices are being silenced and reminding people and empowering them and telling them that they have a voice I think is really important. As for my modeling career, I don’t know! I don’t really have any specific goals for my modeling career. I mean, being on the cover of Vogue was nice! Yeah, I think that I just kind of want to go with it and see where it takes me I sort of just started and it’s all really new, really exciting. I’m just really excited to move forward with it and to make some progress and meet new people.”



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