‘I became very good at ducttaping so you couldn’t see anything’
Her father’s family was from the South. She was his rst-born, ‘and I was born a male’. Her sister would later blame Tracey for their parents’ separation, which happened when Tracey was ve. ‘They were arguing over me because I was an e eminate child,’ Tracey says. ‘My father did everything he could to break it out of me. In the beginning, he was saying it was OK: “All boys go through that. He’ll grow out of it.” But of course I never did.’
Her friends were all girls, as were her closest family members. ‘I mimicked and studied how women moved through the world, how they sat and talked,’ she says.
She con ded in her mother that she wanted to be a woman on her graduation day, clutching her diploma. Her mother said she had been ‘waiting for me to come forward because she was afraid I would go back into my shell and not experience the life I should be living’.
Tracey started going to a club in New York called Third World, where people directed her to an elderly doctor, who took payments in cash in return for hormone shots. He must have been making a fortune, because ‘all the girls in New York were going, and then the girls from New Jersey caught on’.
As a model, you spend a lot of time half-naked, I say. Practically speaking, how did you manage it? ‘Duct tape,’ she replies. ‘I became very good at ducttaping so you couldn’t see anything, plus you have a thong on and a thong goes up your butt because designers don’t want to see a panty line.’ Didn’t you have surgery? ‘I don’t want to discuss that,’ she says.
Her friend Tommy Garrett, also a model, told her to maintain a certain distance from photographers. He thought the size of her hands or her feet might betray her. Shaking hands with someone, ‘she would use just the front of her hands, the ngertips’.
While people in New Jersey knew about Tracey’s secret, it was a di erent story in New York. In a gossipy city, people started asking questions and somehow, her secret got out.
The work dried up. She faced a backlash, she says, from rivals who blamed her for taking up part of the small allocation of jobs available to African-American models.
She left New York for Paris, where she was hired to work in the Balenciaga showroom, modelling the clothes and striding the catwalk twice daily.
Sometimes she wishes she had stayed in Europe. When she came back to New York, she found a new agency, and some more work. ‘But then once my face started appearing in magazines, models and photographers recognised me.’
Word got back to the new agency and once again the phone stopped ringing. She then worked for a while at a peep show, doing stripteases, and found her way into New York’s drag and gay community.
The decline in modelling work led Tracey to move back in with her mother. She now lives on social security, sharing a at in Newark with a puppy. She is 3. She looks great. She had seen her father only a few times, but when he fell ill with cancer in the early 90s, she went to his bedside.
‘My mother said to him, “Do you know who you’re talking to?” He said, “Yeah, my oldest daughter.”’
LEFT TO RIGHT A beauty shot for Tracey’s portfolio in 1993; on the catwalk; as the face of Clairol in 1975; modelling for fashion label Privilege BELOW Tracey’s 1991 Grace Del Marco agency model card