Written by Kayleigh Padar
While she was growing up, Teresa Morcho "didn't have the words" to describe the masculine parts of her identity. She just knew she hated wearing her white Confirmation dress so much that she showed up to prom in a suit.
"It was those little moments that I think about now," Morcho remembered. "I knew that femininity wasn't necessarily something for me. It was a constant battle."
Now, dubbed by her coworkers the "Fairy Stud Mother," Morcho helps to mentor and promote masculine-presenting people through the modeling organization she founded, the Stud Model Project.
The project aims to increase the visibility of people like her, who were assigned female at birth and have a masculine style. Morcho started the organization in 2012 after noticing it was difficult to find stock images of masculine women when she was working as a LGBTQ+ party promoter.
"The model project allows me to honor that masculine energy because I know that there are people out there who just can't do it," Morcho said. "I want to normalize seeing this kind of group of people."
Models who are in Morcho's 12-month program have access to monthly training videos about all things fashion, beauty, skincare and modeling. They also receive both a remote challenge designed to bring models out of their comfort zones and two themed photoshoots each month.
"It's not exactly a modeling agency; instead, we develop you," Morcho said. "We kind of try to connect all the dots and help people out."
Morcho explained models can choose to buy their photos to build their own portfolios or allow the organization to edit the photos and create profiles for them. On the other side of things, the organization sells the images to companies, with a focus on "normalizing" masculine-presenting people in everyday advertisements.
"Imagine if you're a transgender man and you're pregnant and you need to look for a OBGYN, wouldn't it be beautiful if you went on someone's website and you saw someone that looked like you?" Morcho said. "I want you to drive down the highway and see a photo of a queer woman on a huge billboard or the side of a truck."
For Morcho, the most rewarding part of her work is seeing the models bond with each other in an accepting space.
"It became a network of fellowship, a community, and you can see that when they come together—it's just so beautiful," Morcho said. "They meet each other for the first time, and before you know it, this brotherhood happens, and that's when my heart is like, 'Oh, my babies!'"
As a mentor, Morcho also advocates for people to take care of their mental health and seek resources from people who are familiar with the Black LGBTQ+ community.
In addition to the Stud Model Project, Morcho started her company Mopao, which helps businesses develop an online presence.
"Especially, in the Black community, they just lack the resources—or the knowledge, I should say—in the space of technology," Morcho said. "So, I try to fill that space in kind of a fun way."
Morcho explained activism is intertwined with each of her projects because she sees it as her duty.
She moved to the U.S. from Cameroon when she was 11, and said she's "almost embarrassed to say" it took her some time to understand the oppression Black people face in the United States. After doing her research, she started to better comprehend the racism she encountered, especially as a Black woman serving in the military and working in the tech industry.
Morcho said she "always volunteers to be in the room" to speak up for marginalized groups, since "there are so many boxes she checks" as a Black queer woman, an immigrant and a disabled veteran.
"Here I am, a girl from Africa living in America and getting to enjoy being an openly gay woman and not being killed for it," Morcho said. "How dare I live in this country, benefitting from what Black Americans went through so I could enjoy that privilege, knowing I have a strong voice and not using it to advocate?"