Articles

Modeling the Post-Gender Body

by Alexander Cavaluzzo on October 18, 2011

Andrej Pejic Covers "Dossier Journal"

Yesterday, top model Andrej Pejic met the Queen of England wearing a pencil skirt. Why is that a statement worthy of reporting, you ask? Because hiding underneath that pencil skirt was a piece of male anatomy.

Pejic is one of the few models who has mastered the art of androgyny; with small, symmetrical features, delicate coloring and cheekbones that can cut glass, he has successfully walked in both men and womenswear runway shows, blurring the demarcation between male and female bodies. While not new in the history of art, his presence may lead us to more of an embracement of a post-gendered body.

Hailing from Australia and boggling the minds of many, Pejic was discovered in a McDonald’s by a scout, but he wasn’t sure if said scout realized he was a man. Nevertheless, he soon became immensely popular, rounding the menswear show circuit and modeling for several high-profile designers, as well as starring in several editorials.

His feminine aura did not go unnoticed for long, and he soon began booking womenswear shows, notably causing a great stir when he walked for Jean Paul Gaultier’s S/S 11 Haute Couture show in a slinky, segmented wedding gown that hugged every feminine curve on the young boy.

Andrej Pejic for Jean-Paul Gaultier S/S 2011 Haute Couture (via style.com)

Pejic’s androgyny has not been entirely accepted, however. His presence half-nude on the cover of the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Dossier Journal induced controversy with mainstream book chains such as Barnes & Noble and the dead-and-buried Borders. Though inches away stood covers of Men’s Health with bare-chested male bodybuilders, Andrej’s shirtless cover was too much to handle for the “family-friendly” stores, prompting them to sell the issue in an opaque plastic slipcase (a la Playboy) at Dossier’s expense.

Pejic’s play on gender, while representing stages of a post-gendered body not yet reached, hardly appears new or novel in the art world. Blurred gender and sexuality has been a common subject of art, harking back to Hellenic works and even eras prior. Representations of Hermaphroditus, the bi-genitaled child of Aphrodite and Hermes, in particular abounded in ancient Greek art. Arguably the most famous example is the Borghese Hermaphroditus, a kind of sculpture rendered in marble depicting the God(dess) as a female nude with male genitalia reclining on a couch.

A view of the front of the antique Roman sculpture known as the Borghese Hermaphroditus at Louvre Museum (via Wikipedia), and right, a Claude Cahun Self-Portrait (via all-art.org) (click to enlarge)

Other examples abound, such as twentieth-century French artist Claude Cahun, whose self-portraits regularly depicted her in non-gendered drag: bald, gaunt and pasty. Pejic’s relationship to these works and artists not only establishes him in an art historical narrative, but also illustrates his revolutionary status in a world that is largely restricted to normative gender binaries created in culture.

The galvanization of both genders into a single body in pursuit of aestheticization becomes more desirable and less seditionary with its proliferating use, especially in mainstream culture like fashion. Hopefully Pejic’s presence will spark a new trend of androgyny and won’t fizzle out as an outré cult figure. Remember Grace Jones.

Homepage image caption: Andrej Pejic for Oyster Magazine (February 28, 2011)

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  • Den Hickey

    “a world that is largely restricted to normative gender binaries created in culture.”

    You are confusing gender, which while not quite binary and not quite immutable is still not something created in culture but created by genetics with gender roles and norms which are a cultural construct.

    Not all of us are (almost universally) young, thin, hairless androgynes.  Most of us are actually quite happy with our gender and while we might like to see at least a little if not a lot more breathing room in gender roles and norms being widely accepted, the idea of “post-gender” can seem quite threatening both for what we find attractive in others as well as the possibility of negative or discriminatory treatment for anyone conforming too much in look or behavior to “traditional” gender norms and roles.

    • http://twitter.com/moustacheheap Theresa Dawn

      They are speaking in Anthropological terms: Gender as the roles associated with sex, and Sex referring the actual physical status of the body.

  • http://twitter.com/eriksalgstrom Erik Peterson

    Nice hetero-normative double talk Den. I say that as a “straight”, masculine presenting, biological male.

    • Den Hickey

      You mean unlike the emphasis on bowie-esque young males as being the “post-gender body” while leaving out masculine women and actual hermaphrodites?  These ideas have been around and around in physical form for a long time… only now does it get art theory treatment by being part of fashion… nice and safe.

      • http://twitter.com/eriksalgstrom Erik Peterson

        No, it’s nice and safe to say that this kind of stuff is “safe” because it “threatens” what you “find attractive”. I agree that any idea of a post-gender world has to be inclusive of people who present in traditionally male/female masculine/feminine ways, but the way you phrase your argument privileges those categories. We still live in a very gendered society and media culture, outside of the world of the internet and art. Many people may feel more comfortable expressing eclectic forms of identity if they weren’t constantly bombarded with dualistic ideas about sex, gender, race, and sexuality by television, advertising, religion, and political figures.

        • Den Hickey

          Yeah, you are right… its privileging the categories of the clearly male and female to suggest the inclusion of actual hermaphrodites and women who look manish rather than just waiflike androgynous young males.

          • http://twitter.com/eriksalgstrom Erik Peterson

            Sorry bud, that’s not what you said: ” Most of us are actually quite happy with our gender and while we might like to see at least a little if not a lot more breathing room in gender roles and norms being widely accepted, the idea of “post-gender” can seem quite threatening both for what we find attractive in others as well as the possibility of negative or discriminatory treatment for anyone conforming too much in look or behavior to “traditional” gender norms and roles.” While obviously it would be horrific for people with “queered” identities to discriminate against people with “normal” identities, that’s not the case and the opposite is often true. You are privileging the right of the dominant group not to be threatened by a minority group. The idea of Bowie-esque androgynes in pop culture threatens the existence/legitimacy of other sexual and gender identifications the way gay marriage threatens straight marriage (that is to say, not at all). Everyone in fashion modeling is thin, waifish, and “feminine”; that has nothing to do with the “post gender body”. The explicit subversion of the male/female dichotomy in costume and gender coding does. 

          • http://twitter.com/eriksalgstrom Erik Peterson

            Also, in assuming that “hermaphrodites” (not to be the pc police but that is an inaccurate and anachronistic term for people with a variety of intersexed geno/phenotypes) should implicitly be included in the category of “post-gender” bodies or people is essentialist. The entire idea of a post-gender world, as suggested by Alexander below, is a culture wherein identity is freely expressed and chosen without being intrinsically tied to physical categories like sex or race.

  • http://twitter.com/AleksandrJohn Alexander Cavaluzzo

    “Gender” is the same thing as gender roles; “sex” is the biological formulation of a body.

    Anyway, I’m not convinced of this “othering of cisgender bodies” because we are no where near that place at all. Besides, it’s not a question about being “happy” with our prescribed gender roles, it’s about being happy and identifying any way you choose without repercussions. Gender becomes irrelevant. 

    • http://twitter.com/AleksandrJohn Alexander Cavaluzzo

      (Also keep in mind my responses reflect my own personal opinions on the matter.)

  • http://twitter.com/lostinthesonora Amelia

    Kudos to Pejic for  finding success, within the fashion world, and foregrounding a version of androgyny. Needless to say it doesn’t seem surprising that fashion favors his body type; emaciated, hairless bodies with glorious cheek bones have been the norm for quite sometime but that shouldn’t take away from Pejic’s success. He’s still an exception that proves the rule.

    Which brings me to what I’d say is the bigger problem:  the apparent horror that much of society still takes with any kind of transgender/transvestism or androgyny. A plastic sleeve on Dossier? How about a plastic sleeve on Maxim?? Disgusting.

  • Artistic Revolution

    I really love this article!

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