When required to fill out most official documents, there is inevitably a section that pertains to sex. Usually somewhere before your date of birth and after your name, you will be required to state your sex for the record and, nine times out of ten, you can rest assured there will be two options there for you and two options alone. Male or female: you pick one and you stick to it; totally black and white, right? The only problem with this is that it is completely and unequivocally wrong. The truth still largely unrecognised is that many people around the world are actually born intersexed. This means they are born with ambiguous genitalia, which medical institutions will usually attempt to 'correct' by labelling the newborn either one sex or the other. This is in total disregard to which gender the person may later identify with in life and usually results in parents consenting to an operation that will assign their child's gender for them. Understandably, a lot of intersex individuals grow up confused as a result of this process and often harbour feelings of not belonging to the sex they have been assigned. Similar feelings can also develop, too, in people whose biological sex is not ambiguous at birth, but who still identify with a sex other than their own. Increasingly, we hear about more and more transgender people sharing their stories or undergoing sex reassignment surgery (SRS).
Most recently, this issue was thrust into the limelight by Diane Sawyer's landmark ABC interview with Bruce Jenner last Friday night. A former Olympic athlete, Jenner once represented a shining beacon of unadulterated masculinity. Little did any of us know until recently though that the reality television star and stepfather to the ridiculously famous Kardashian sisters has long identified as a woman. In the 2-hour long interview Jenner revealed that he is now making the transition into his true, female self and wants us to share in his journey with him. In the interview, Jenner disclosed that he has been trying on women's dresses since he was as young as nine-years-old and has long identified as female. Importantly, the compelling interview flagged the distinction between cross-dressing and being trans though, as well as exploring other significant areas like the fact that being trans and being homosexual do not necessarily go hand in hand. "Sexuality is who turns you on. But gender identity has to do with your soul," Jenner told Sawyer.
Image: Bruce Jenner's prime time interview for ABC News,
Time Magazine recently proclaimed that we have reached a trans tipping point and the sheer visibility of someone like Bruce Jenner makes him uniquely capable of pushing the issue even farther into the public eye. It is thanks to the bravery and candour of people like Jenner that this issue is increasingly being brought to the fore. In the realm of fashion in particular, it has been a slow and steady road to acceptance for trans people. An industry founded upon strict notions of the female ideal, it is extremely difficult for transgender people to gain recognition in this space. But things are definitely improving.
One person whose own brave honesty has proved invaluable within this field is Andreja Pejic (formerly Andrej Pejic). After coming out as trans last July and speaking candidly about her own sex reassignment surgery, Pejic made a triumphant return to the runway for Giles' Fall 15 presentation in London. The fashion industry as a whole has been very supportive of Pejic's journey so far and she is now listed as a female model by all of her agencies worldwide. "I'm taking that step because I'm a little older - I'm 22 - and I think my story can help people," Pejic told Vogue magazine earlier this year. "My goal is to give a human face to this struggle, and I feel like I have a responsibility."
Pejic has also spoken, however, about the even greater challenge of being accepted by the beauty industry. Even more rooted in outmoded ideals of female beauty, this multi-billion dollar industry is one that has until recently remained pretty stuck in its ways. While Pejic may have successfully captured the hearts of many key fashion players years ago, she has told Fairfax Media that the beauty and cosmetics industry can sometimes lack this sort of vision. "There are a lot of roadblocks, particularly when working with cosmetic brands or perfumes or those sort of commercial, corporate things," she said. "It's been more difficult to break into that world than 'fashion' because it hasn't been done before. They don't have any market research, and people in that world aren't risk-takers," she said. "You have to prove to them over and over that you are liked by people, you have a skill, and you can sell a product." And prove it she has.
Image: Andreja Pejic pre-surgery as a dramatic bride for Jean Paul Gaultier's Haute Couture Spring 2011 collection.
Last week it was announced that Andreja Pejic would become the new face of LVMH-owned cosmetics brand Make Up For Ever. The news broke, no less, in a groundbreaking Vogue interview that also happened to be the first the magazine has ever run with a transgender model. Long considered the Holy Grail for models, landing a major beauty campaign of this nature is a huge step for both Pejic and the trans community alike. It makes her the second trans woman to land a big beauty campaign in the last six months, with Brazilian model Lea T announced as the face of American hair care brand Redken last November. In the Vogue interview, Pejic says she believes the fashion industry's attitude towards trans models is finally changing. "There are just more categories now," she says. "It's good. We're finally figuring out that gender and sexuality are more complicated." Though a wonderful achievement for Pejic, it is a little sad to note that a spokesperson from the brand confirmed she will be the face of the brand for North America, but not Europe. Clearly, we are making steps, but not everyone is on board.
Image: Lea T lands a global hair care campaign for Redken.
As the efforts of trans models like Pejic and Lea T instigate much-needed change in the realm of fashion, so actress Laverne Cox continues to speak up in her own unique way. Recently posing naked for a shoot with Allure magazine, the Orange is the New Black actress said she was initially very reluctant to take part in the shoot. 'I said no initially, thought about it, and said no again,' she told Allure. 'But I'm a black transgender woman. I felt this could be really powerful for the communities that I represent. Black women are not often told that we're beautiful unless we align with certain standards. Trans women certainly are not told we're beautiful."
Image: Laverne Cox's nude portrait for Allure Magazine.
Cox's powerful statement is a testament to the fact that more trans people are speaking out all the time, but it is relieving to see that publications and members of the fashion industry are finally giving these individuals a voice. Even Bruce Jenner exists on the periphery of the fashion spectrum and most importantly, with celebrity comes both opportunity and responsibility. While it may be easy for people to reduce Jenner's trans plight as yet another cog in the wheel of the great Kardashian marketing machine, there is clearly a much greater issue at play here. Like Pejic and perhaps even more so, Jenner's celebrity status puts him in a unique position to finally propel this matter further and, as he told the ABC on Friday night, "hopefully save some lives". As Andreja Pejic has sagely pointed out: "What's in between anyone's legs is not who they are."
Editorial note: Bruce Jenner has not yet expressed a wish to be referred to using the female pronouns. For the time being, we will follow his lead and refer to him using male pronouns.
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