Amanda Lepore is a transgender model and performance artist. On Wednesday, she revealed that she was originally featured on the artwork for Travis Scott’s upcoming album Astroworld, but was removed at the last minute.
“It was great being part of David LaChappelle’s incredible photograph of Travis Scott’s album cover,” she wrote on Instagram. “But I’m curious why I’m not on the picture.”
The revelation has caused many fans to question whether Scott’s actions were transphobic, or whether there were other reasons for excluding Lepore from the final album cover.
“The original picture photographed by David Lachapelle featured the transgender legend Amanda Lepore,” wrote one Twitter user. “But when Travis got a hold to it.. he had her edited out and literally nothing else.. is this… transphobia?”
Here’s what you need to know about Lepore:
1. She Underwent Gender Reassignment Surgery At Age 17
Born Armand Lepore, Amanda recalls seeing a television program about gender reassignment surgery at age 10. “I thought I was a girl,” she wrote in her memoir Doll Parts. At 15, she became friends with Bambi, a transsexual stripper, who began to give her hormones and encouraged her to dress like a woman. It was during this time that she changed her name to Amanda. “I was always Amanda,” she said. “Even when I went by a different name.”
At 16, Lepore met a man named Michael and began dating him. After Michael discovered that Amanda was really a boy, his father helped pay for her sex change. She underwent gender reassignment surgery in Yonkers, New York. She was 17. She married Michael a year later, but his controlling nature, coupled with the death of her mother, caused her to run away and move to New York City.
Lepore recounted how hard it was to live by herself to The Creative Independent. “It was hard, because I had just left my husband and was basically supported by him. Everything was a lot of money,” she said. “That was really hard to figure out where I was gonna get money to survive. But then there was fun too. There were parties. It was exciting to go to dinners, and there was always something going on. It wasn’t like New Jersey.”
2. She Is a Muse of Photographer David LaChappelle
Things turned around for Lepore when she met photographer David LaChappelle. She was working as a dominatrix at an S&M club at the time, and LaChappelle asked her to come and model for him. “It was ridiculous,” she told the Observer. “It’s really acting. I became really good at it. So for David LaChapelle, I was able to model for him better because he’s so demanding and direct so I could get right into it. I think that’s why I was a really good model.”
LaChappelle, a protegé of Andy Warhol, is one of the most renown artists currently working. In addition to his photography, he is a film and music video director. He’s featured Lepore in several of his works, with many calling her the Marilyn Monroe to LaChappelle’s Warhol.
She participated in his Artists and Prostitutes 1985-2005 exhibit in New York where she “lived” on a life-sized set. “Amanda had to really fight to get her surgery and become her,” he told the Guardian. “I mean, I went through an androgynous period when I was 11 or 12 and I’m glad the option wasn’t out there for me to get hormone blockers.”
In a 2017 interview, Lepore cited LaChapelle as the most important person in her career. “He made me famous and he’s an incredible artist. He just does everything himself. It’s amazing to work with him,” she said. “I just shot with him last week. We always have a great time, and even if we don’t see each other, it goes right back to where we left off. We love each other a lot. We have a special connection, not only working but also as friends. Love him very much.”
3. She Released Her Debut Album ‘Introducing Amanda Lepore’ In 2005
In addition to her modeling career, Lepore has released several albums as a singer. Her 2005 debut, Introducing… Amanda Lepore, was blend of various different genres, including dance and pop music. She followed it up with 2007’s Fierce P**sy: The Remix Album, 2010’s Cazwell and Amanda, which she recorded with rapper Cazwell, and 2011’s I… Amanda Lepore.
Her latest release, Lepore, is a collection of dance music and club-friendly tracks. “I work and perform in clubs all of the time, so naturally it’s an influence for me,” she told Billboard. She also covers a song by David Bowie, whom she cites as a major inspiration. “I think that he was way ahead of his time, especially in terms of genderf**king,” she explained. “His whole androgynous style, I think it was really a moment when he started doing it.”
4. She’s a Vocal Supporter of Transgender Rights
In 2007, Lepore participated in the True Colors Tour, which was hosted by comedian Margaret Cho and featured LGBT supporters like Debbie Harry, Rufus Wainright, Rosie O’Donnell, and the Indigo Girls. According to LGBT Wikia, the profits from the tour helped to benefit the Human Rights Campaign and The Matthew Shepard Foundation.
In March, RuPaul sparked controversy when she said she wouldn’t allow trans drag queens to compete on her popular Drag Race show. Lepore responded to her comments, telling Gay Star News: “Well, I respect RuPaul. And it’s her show, you know, so, you can do that. But I do think there should be a spin-off or something, for trans girls.”
Denise Norris, a trans activist who founded the Association for Transgender Professionals, told the New York Times that Lepore deserves credit for breaking cultural ground. Norris says that she “fearlessly expressed” herself decades before transgender politics entered the mainstream.
While there have been some criticisms thrown Lepore’s way, particularly for the way she affirms transgender stereotypes through her persona, Norris maintains that her positive effects have outweighed her negative ones. “The only way we can judge Amanda is through the eyes of 1987,” Norris said. “Doing that, she becomes a bookmark to how much we’ve changed in 30 years.”
5. LaChappelle Insists That the Album Controversy Was Not Motivated by Transphobia
After Lepore revealed that she was no longer on the Astroworld album cover, fans flocked to the comment section of both Travis Scott and David LaChappelle’s Instagram pages to defend her. “The fact Lepore is edited out of Travis’ final version goes to show he is not comfortable with the core ideas that the LaChappelle world celebrates and embodies,” wrote one user.
The photographer replied to this particular comment, writing back: “No Amanda was taken out because she just upstaged every one lol she is in my books and heart.” Lepore wrote back: “Love it!” before LaChappelle added a second comment:
Everybody wants to explain everything with some phobia or whatever this is just a case of something else she can’t just can’t seem to control lol ain’t nothing to do with hating…”