Updated May 7, 2017, for clarity.
Supermodel Jenny Shimizu broke barriers as a masculine woman, a lesbian, and an Asian-American in the fashion industry. Discovered as a mechanic, Shimizu became the face of Calvin Klein’s CK1 and was the first Asian and first person of color to walk in (and open) the Prada catwalk at Fashion Week. She’s our lesbian Steve McQueen — effortlessly cool, the embodiment of female masculinity at its best.
Shimuzi, who starred in Foxfire, Itty Bitty Titty Committee, and Dante’s Cove (from Here TV, The Advocate's parent company), is still hot as hell with that wrench tattoo down her arm that made her famous (modeled after a Snap-On Tool, but the logo is spelled Strap-On). During the ‘90s and 2000s, she was romantically linked to a number of Hollywood a-listers, and though the media often portrayed Shimizu as Lesbianville's most eligible bachelor, she refuses that kind of typecasting.
For her, she was merely searching for love, and in her world now, there is only "before Michelle" and her blissful life now.
This story is not about the past. It’s about the love of Shimizu’s life, Michelle Harper, her wife of three years — as well as marriage equality and the rich symbolism of having such a visible lesbian icon settle down in marital bliss (kind of when George Clooney did the same). But that’s the rub about marriage. Many of us don’t know we want it until we know we really can have it. Thinking it’s just a formality, merely a piece of paper that protects our rights as LGBT people to marry, many queer folks are surprised to discover that things do change when you marry legally, in ways we may never have known in generations past.
Shimizu, who also appeared as an expert on America’s Next Top Model and Make Me a Supermodel, married luxury entrepreneur and brand consultant Harper in 2014. Harper is a legend, a fashion bon vivant who is famous for, among other things, her exhaustive collection of clothing, wigs, and shoes (which, The New York Times once wrote, cover one whole wall of her living room, floor to ceiling, and rotate on a quarterly basis). The couple remain feminine and masculine, respectively, even in matching suits (which is how they were featured in Italian Vogue).
Their wedding outfits, too, looked like a post-modern queer fairy tale. It was marriage equality that made it all happen for Shimizu. “I truly believe marriage equality gave me a new sense of freedom, confidence, and love — and opened me up to finding my wife, Michelle. We are forever grateful to New York City and this beautiful, unequivocally wondrous, crazy train that we call love.”
Both beautiful, smart, and stylish, they could be poster women of modern equality, but for them it's started like most marriages: pure love.
"Jenny and I have been so fortunate to find each other, the moment we met we clicked, and shortly after we were sitting down and we suddenly held hands and as strange as it sounds, without a word we both knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together," Harper recalls. "It was truly surreal. That moment then manifested itself in our marriage. It has been such a gift to share our lives and civil rights, in a marriage that is so loving, fun, open, honest, and giving on every level."
Harper, a business and brand consultant working in investment banking and strategic advising for over a decade, says that “being a businesswoman in a predominately straight male world, which always presents challenges, it also presents opportunities to learn and excel beyond what is expected of a gay woman.”
Today, Harper says philanthropy, not that famous closet, is where her real passion lies. "My mother always taught me to be of service, to give what you have been given," she says. One could argue her same-sex marriage, with images of the duo splashed on the pages of fashion mags and celebrity sites, is symbolic of that "service" through being reflective of what other queer women experience in love and marriage. But that pales in comparison to Harper's true calling.
"I have made it my mission to help the grossly impoverished children along the coast of my native country, Colombia, by providing them with clean water, food, clothes, education, and medical attention via a network of individuals and organizations that I work with and whom I must say have all made such a huge difference, even though there is much more work to be done," she says.
Still, the enormity of being part of the first generation to marry after marriage equality became the law of the land, isn't lost on either woman.
Shimizu, too, feels the weight. “I will always remember when marriage equality passed in New York,” Shimizu recalls. “The effect it had on me was something I could have never predicted. I’m pretty sure I grew three inches taller and broke the glass ceiling in my heart simultaneously, because it was life-changing to know that the government and the state lawmakers had finally become my government and my state lawmakers. To feel represented is way different than to know you are represented.”
Harper agrees, but doesn't stop there.
"When marriage equality became a reality I had a deep sense of joy that finally everyone was represented and had earned the same right to express their love through marriage if they chose to do so," says Harper. "I had the freedom to marry Jenny, the person I had chosen to spend my life with, just like anyone else. I wasn’t a second-class citizen. It was exhilarating for us to have that special moment we felt so strongly about. Being married to Jenny reminds me about the incredible victory of equality and choice for the LGBT community. It is one victory however with many more needed, and that is something I always remember. We won the right to marry and now we need to keep up the fight to protects all LGBT civil rights, and keep those victories in place."