‘All truly beautiful things are a mixture of masculine and feminine.’ So said the late Susan Sontag. And she would know.
I’ve only just read a recent profile of the transexy Serbian model Andrej Pejic in The New Yorker called, with only a soupçon of hyperbole, ‘The Prettiest Boy in the World’.
Pejic, who sometimes models women’s fashion, sometimes men’s (though guess which gets more attention), is the chap memorably described by US FHM in a widely-reported hissy fit as a ‘thing’ that prompts them to ‘pass the sick bucket’ — despite his popularity with their own readers. And more recently as a ‘creature’ and ‘a fake’ and symbol of ‘abject misogyny’ by outraged female columnists citing him as the ‘final proof’ that they were right all along, that high fashion is run by an evil gay paedo conspiracy against women that wants to do away with ladies altogether and replace them with ‘young boys’.
Though perhaps the outraged feminists of both left and right should welcome Pejic with garlands since he means that women can finally opt out of the fatal gay embrace of high fashion altogether and leave the gays and their Ganymedes to it….
Whatever Pejic does or doesn’t symbolise about the world of high fashion it seems to me that he and the scandale surrounding him definitely, dramatically personifies something that is going on in the wider culture that feminists, along with everyone else, are often far less keen to notice.
The way that in the last couple of decades the male body has become ‘objectified’ in mainstream media as much as the female variety. The way that ‘beauty’ and ‘prettiness’ is no longer the sole preserve of women. The way that glossy magazines with men’s airbrushed tits on the cover have become the most popular kind — with men. (Which lends a special irony to the banning of a mag that featured a topless Pejic on the cover by Barnes & Noble – they knew Pejic is male, and don’t ban topless males, only females, but were worried the image ‘might confuse their customers’.)
And the way that colours, clothes, accessories, products, practises and desires previously thought ‘feminine’ have been greedily taken up by men — and often re-labelled ‘manly’ in a way that only succeeds in unwittingly satirising the very concept of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, ‘man’ and ‘woman’.
The way, in other words, that gender is undressing itself. Or at least, teasing us with an elbow-length glove or two and an unhooked bra-strap.
In the NYT profile ‘It’, alias Pejic says he’s largely indifferent to gender. For him, it isn’t about being a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’ it’s about being true to his own tastes, to himself. Though he seems to have few illusions about how he is being used and possibly exploited by the fashion industry:
“It’s not like, ‘Okay, today I want to look like a man, or today I want to look like a woman,’?” he says. “I want to look like me. It just so happens that some of the things I like are feminine.”
“I know people want me to sort of defend myself, to sit here and be like, ‘I’m a boy, but I wear makeup sometimes.’ But, you know, to me, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t really have that sort of strong gender identity—I identify as what I am. The fact that people are using it for creative or marketing purposes, it’s just kind of like having a skill and using it to earn money.”
I identify as what I am.
How very dare he! No wonder people rush to call him ‘it’ and ‘thing’….
Pejic has been described, usually derisively, as a ‘gender bender’. Which is interesting because, while I’ve not seen it pointed out, there does seem to be some visual and and philosophical parallels with the ‘gender bender’ of my youth, the preternaturally pretty Brit popster Marilyn, alias Peter Robinson. Who was, for a few moments in the early 80s the most beautiful boy — or girl — in the world.
A Bowie fan with an obsession with a dead blonde American actress, Marilyn became the king-queen of the Blitz Set, famously describing himself as “Tarzan and Jane rolled into one” — in addition to the 1960s Hollywood starlet (dread-locked) glamour, he sported impressive shoulders which would have made it rather difficult for him to model women’s fashion, or most men’s high fashion for that matter.
Marilyn denied wanting to change sex, or being a transvestite, he just knew what he liked — and used words that sound very similar to Pejic’s today:
“I’ve never taken much notice of gender. How you can take the same bit of cloth and cut it one way and it’s ‘for men’ and another way and it’s ‘for women’? If it looks nice I’m gonna wear it!”
A favourite target of the Brit tabloids, who seemed to get sexually aroused by the phrase ‘gender bender’, using it repeatedly, his pop career was a perfect, orgasmic explosion that was over before it began — after an infamously sultry appearance on Top of The Pops in 1984, promoting his second single ‘Cry and be Free’. Giving good pouty face and flashing his muscular arms in a glittery top Madonna would have hesitated to wear, a nation gasped and the single sank without a trace.
The 1980s hastily decided it wasn’t ready for Marilyn or real gender bending, or indeed sex — Marilyn’s whole persona shouted SEX!!!! — and instead opted for the safe, Mumsy charm of his Blitz Club chum and kabuki pale imitator Boy George, who didn’t really bend gender so much as tickle its tummy a bit. And make it a nice cup of tea.
Nearly thirty years on, despite Pejic’s unpopularity with some feminists and the closet-cases who write for US FHM, 1980s Marilyn and his shameless, shining desire to be desired looks more like a glamorous prophet, preparing the way for the metrosexy 21st Century.
Justin Bieber likes to wear women’s jeans:
“I’ve worn women’s jeans before because they fit me. It’s not a trend; it’s just, whatever works, works.”…
Bieber was responding to a question about Kanye West’s decision to wear a women’s sweater. “It wasn’t (so he’d) look like a woman in a sweater; it was just a regular sweater that happened to be a woman’s.”