There’s always a current in water, even in a placid pond. Bodies of water have movement, a kind of a pulse, even if it’s not visible on the surface. Water people know this. Think back to the first time you floated in a pool as a kid, leaning back and closing your eyes, only to open them later to find you had unknowingly drifted away and were now touching the other edge or were suddenly in the deep end. That experience is a good metaphor for modern life.
There is always a current, and it’s going someplace. You can fight it and exhaust yourself going nowhere or you catch a ride and go where the current takes you, even if just for a little while.
That, in many ways, sums up the experience of model and adventurer Asianna Scott, who climbed through Arizona’s rugged and beautiful Tonto National Forest — the sixth largest national forest in the U.S. — down the Water Wheel Falls Hiking Trail. Scott had to hopscotch the East Verde River and Ellison Creek, alongside red rocks and granite boulders dotting a rustic path named for a historic wheel that borrowed the energy of running water. At the end of the trailhead is a gorgeous waterfall that pours eternally-ice-cold water into a deep natural pool. Scott, whom everyone calls Asi, jumped right in.
“I’m drawn to water,” Scott admits. “I’ve seen some spiritual guides and they tell me to stay close to water and constantly get in to cleanse myself of any bad energies that are clinging on to me. Even before I started being on a more spiritual path, the sound of water calmed me. I suffer from severe anxiety so a lot of times at night I play the sound of water streaming to help me relax and sleep. Something about the beach takes all of my worry away. When I hear the waves crashing and see how beautiful and vast the ocean is, it makes me feel safe and small.”
Scott, who you might remember from that famous “Gender Revolution” group cover of National Geographic magazine, is very much the model that America needs now. The androgynous lesbian is frequently mistaken for a man, and she’s fine with it.
“I think I prefer to be called ‘she’ because that’s what I’m so used to,” Scott says about her pronouns. “I never wanted to confuse my family or anyone. Believe it or not, I’m still getting used to my sexuality and myself. I’ve always just been ‘me.’ I definitely look like a handsome young man at first glance but when people get a little closer, they are like, ‘Oh you’re a pretty girl.’” She laughs. She kind of likes that ambiguity.
The heavily tattooed Asian-American may use she/her pronouns and identify as female, but she admits, “To be honest, I really don’t care [what people call me].”
Scott continues, “I never put too much thought into how or what I identify as. I’m just me. A lot of people would call me a stud, a dyke, a masculine woman. I just prefer Asi. My birth certificate says I’m a female, but I never really felt like a woman, truthfully.”
Scott adores shoes, food, and women, she says (not necessarily in that order), as well as the type of outdoor adventures that got her outside for our cover photoshoot in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains. Red Rock Canyon, near Topanga, California, has huge red sandstone canyons, purple and beige boulders, and slopes covered in sunflowers, sumac, and oak and sycamore trees. The farther you go the cooler it gets and the easier it is to feel like you’re in the more famous canyons of the American Southwest.
It’s here, and in front of the camera, where the six-foot-tall model comes alive. And it’s where she finally feels free of the anxiety that stalks her like intergenerational trauma. Her mother is from Cambodia.
“She was born there and unfortunately she was there during the Khmer Rouge,” Scott relates. “She had to endure slavery, abuse, and so much unspeakable trauma. She came to America when she was about 10 years old. Thankfully, she was sponsored by some people and that saved her life.”
Scott’s Cambodian mom is also Vietnamese, Chinese, and French. Her father is African-American.
“We definitely have a lot of Creole in our bloodline as well. My grandma is from Aniston, Alabama, so I just have all types of flavor,” she jokes.
But being raised by a deeply “Christian woman who thinks everything written in the Bible is correct and everything else is wrong,” didn’t make it easy to be queer or genderfluid, Scott acknowledges.
“I didn’t really have freedom to express like that. I was way too scared. I’ve worn men’s clothes since I was a kid. I always had on basketball shorts and a T-shirt.”
She says now “people call me a man every day and I’m not offended. People call me a woman all the time and I’m not offended. The hard part is always going to the bathroom because women always look at me like I don’t belong or double check if they are in the correct restroom.”
Scott adds, “with all the labels now, I feel a bit pressured to choose one but truthfully, I still don’t know exactly where I belong. I’m still figuring it all out. Maybe I should talk to someone.” She laughs.
Even her work — as a short-haired, heavily-tattooed, mixed-race model — defies labels. Does that help or hinder her?
“Do I think that if I had no tattoos I’d always be heavily booked? Yes. Do I regret getting tattoos? No. I would never change my authentic self to someone I didn’t know or enjoy to please another person.”
Scott has been modeling for six years now. From the beginning she says, “I’d always get sent on castings and I’d be the only tomboy there and you know what? A lot of times I’d get the job or I’d get the callback. People like authentic people who aren’t scared to be themselves.”
Scott was signed with a modeling agent early in her career and today “more doors are opening up for people who look like me and it’s exciting. I like working with any brand where I’m able to be myself and I feel like I’m seen and listened to. I also really enjoy jobs where I’m able to inspire others and it’s for a good cause. I’d really love to work with all the high fashion brands. I want to strut the runway in a men’s look and a woman’s look.”
The model, who dreams of one day being a motivational speaker, admits that modeling and adventuring have been a salve for struggles with depression and anxiety.
“I was pretty much stuck in this dark place my entire life,” Scott says. “I didn’t have any guidance and I lacked love from a lot of people who were supposed to love and protect me. Those people did the opposite. I didn’t even know what ‘healing’ was until a year ago. If someone told me they were healing I’d think they were talking about a cut. But I’m talking about healing deep-rooted traumas, generational trauma, my soul.”
Scott admits that she went through a number of bad breakups, “but even in those relationships I still felt broken and empty because I never looked inward. I realized that I have to fill my own cup and I have to be there for myself. I was always trying to help and heal others when I needed healing.”
Her last relationship, she says, opened her eyes. “Whether I was alone or with someone, I still wasn’t happy, so I figured that it was time to get my shit together. To be honest, I just got tired of doing the same thing. I wanted to feel good. I wanted change so I had to do the work. I decided that I wanted to be a healthier person. I started going to therapy, journaling, exercising.”
Through movement, Scott says, “I started to find myself again and remembering the things I love to do as an individual,” which led to more success at work and home. Traveling has always been a part of that.
“I didn’t travel at all before I started modeling,” Scott admits. “I wasn’t blessed with the luxury of being able to see the world. My mother and grandma never really had the money to take me anywhere.”
But modeling has opened doors in New York, Germany, France, “so many places I had never seen before and I’m forever grateful for it.”
Even during the pandemic, she continued to travel by car with her safe bubble of friends. First to Rosarito, a small resort area in Mexico’s Baja region just 10 miles south of the American border. Then to Joshua Tree in the California desert, and Big Bear, a mountain lake town about 100 miles from Los Angeles, where she lives. Then on to Arizona, where she made that leap at Wagon Train Falls, before hitting the road again in search of more outdoor adventures, which feel safe and restorative in these difficult times.
“Natural pools of water have the power to cleanse and renew,” she notes, remembering her jump from the falls. “I love being outdoors and I’m not afraid of being on the edge of cliffs. I’m kind of an adventure junkie. That specific spot wasn’t scary though because I knew that it wasn’t very deep. The water must’ve been like 40 degrees though, so I was more afraid of freezing. I hate being cold, but something told me to jump, renew, refresh — so I set my intentions, did a prayer, and jumped.”
An Instagram post followed, for her 65,000 followers who keep up on both her career and personal life. Recently, in-between fashion shots with Celine, runway shots with EPTM streetwear, and travel images from around the country, Scott posted about her mother, the war survivor whose PTSD led to her emotional unavailability. Scott recognizes that trauma can trigger epigenetic changes in people, that the biological factors that impact how our genes are expressed can be passed down from one traumatized generation to the next.
“Cambodians were forced into camps where they were forced into labor, human experimentation, ethnic cleansing, torture,” Scott wrote on IG about her mom’s life during the Khmer Rouge. “Nearly 2 million Cambodian people were killed. She struggled to live, to eat, to survive. She watched loved ones starve and die in front of her. I couldn’t possibly imagine how that feels.” With the hashtag “forgiveness,” Scott added, “I love you mom. I will meet you right where you’re at.”
Born in the city made famous by Disneyland (Anaheim) and raised in nearby Long Beach (a waterfront port where the container shipping docks are the second busiest in the U.S. today), Scott is an L.A. girl at heart.
“I love the culture in L.A.,” Scott says. “I love that you really have to be on your hustle to survive [here]. You have to have the right mindset and surround yourself with the right people. If you don’t, it will chew you up and spit you out. Los Angeles is pretty cutthroat. I love the real and the raw.”
Whether she’s hiking L.A.’s canyonlands, tubing down a snowy resort mountain, or sitting in a private jacuzzi underneath the stars (“My god, it’s breathtaking. I could stay there forever.”), Scott is still a beach girl.
“My favorite beach ever is literally any beach in Laguna. The water and the beach are extremely clean.” Cleansing and shedding, metaphorically at least, are important to her. “I believe that you have to constantly let go of who you used to be to become who you want to be,” Scott explains. “We have to let go of bad habits, people that are holding us back.”
For her there’s a constant need to “connect and reconnect with things, people, ourselves. Life is a cycle of beginning and ending, over and over again. Once we are at peace with that, life will become a lot simpler. I had to shed my skin to become this person I am now.”
Two years of pandemic life has helped her “learn the importance of waking up with gratitude. I’m excited for every new day. I’ve been doing so much unpacking and digging deep inside my soul that I’ve been able to discover so many beautiful things about myself. I’m ready to explore and unleash my full potential.”
When we are sidelined someplace, when we’re eager to travel elsewhere but are stuck in a current that pulls us along, Scott says, “We can look inward. A lot of people are running away for work, for leisure, to go be with that new boy or new girl because they don’t want to look inward. If you’re traveling, make sure you’re not running. After you do the inner work don’t just imagine that place you want to go, make it happen. Explore that new job, new love, new business venture — but first make sure your heart is full.”
Initially titled Like Water Carves Rock, this cover feature originally ran in the Winter 2022 issue of Out Traveler, which is available on newsstands now.