The visibility of gender-diverse models is improving – but the ignorance of some they interact with professionally remains a stumbling point
At a time when trans rights are more under threat than ever, the spring 2019 issue of Dazed takes a stand for the global creativity of the LGBTQIA+ communities and infinite forms of identity. You can pre-order a copy of our latest issue here, and see the whole Infinite Identities campaign here.
“The times when I encounter the most strife are definitely during shows,” admits Oslo Grace over the phone from NYC, where the model is preparing for fashion week. Although they’ve racked up runway walks for mega brands including Moschino, Gucci, and Balenciaga in the last year alone, as transgender non-binary, their experiences backstage unfortunately aren’t always ideal. They’ve faced everything from misgendering to invasive questioning and being told they’re in the wrong dressing room, proof that while trans and non-binary models are being represented in fashion more than ever before, it’s clear there’s still work to be done to allow them to actually get on with their jobs. Alongside a shoot from our spring 2019 Infinite Identities issue, Grace shares their thoughts on the simple steps people can take to make working environments better for gender diverse models – and why pronouns need to be normalised, industry-wide.
ACCEPT IT WHEN SOMEONE TELLS YOU THEIR GENDER IDENTITY...
“I have a particular anecdote of something that happened to me in a fitting last season,” Grace recalls. “This woman came up to me and asked whether I was a boy or a girl, and I said that I was a mix, and then she said, ‘Okay, but what happened first?’ – like the chicken and the egg, are you female or male?” The model says they were so taken aback they ended up telling her – which only resulted in the woman going on to verbalise a series of stereotypical assumptions about them. The moral of the story is simple: “When someone tells you that they’re a mix, you just accept it.”
...BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW SOMEONE’S BIRTH SEX
“A lot of people, when I started my social media, would message me with support of my non-binary identity but then at the end of the message stick in a little blurb that’s like, ‘but I know that you were really born male/female’” Grace says. “I also found out that the number one Google search for me was ‘Oslo Grace male or female.’ It’s like people will openly follow me and look like they support me but privately, they really wish to know what I was.” This information is simply no-one’s business, and to Grace, shows a lack of acceptance “that a non-binary identity is legit.” “People are always trying to find out your birth sex so that they can minimise you down to that and it’s really damaging. Even if you do know the birth sex of someone, that doesn’t mean that they are not non-binary and it doesn’t give you the right to expose them in that sense.”
“Even if you do know the birth sex of someone, that doesn’t mean that they are not non-binary and it doesn’t give you the right to expose them in that sense” – Oslo Grace
MAKE TEAMS AWARE OF GENDER DIVERSITY
As someone who models both menswear and womenswear, a big problem for Grace arises when they’re getting ready for a show and members of the team backstage haven’t been informed there’s someone with a gender diversity in the cast. “I have sat down with a make-up artist and she’ll put the women’s make-up on me and I’ll tell her I’m supposed to get the men’s make-up and she’ll think it’s a joke or she’ll make fun of it,” they say. “Or she’ll have seen me as a woman in another show and so she’ll sort of treat me as a child, as if I don’t really know what I’m there to do. This has happened multiple times.” Ultimately, the brand has a responsibility to inform the behind the scenes teams – from the hair and make-up to styling and production – that gender diverse models are walking.
LET MODELS GET DRESSED IN THE ROOM THEY WANT TO
While Grace says that for them, private changing areas in the chaotic mess that is a backstage aren’t a priority, they do want to be free to dress in the room of their choosing. “All I care about in dressing rooms is us being able to be in the one we want to be in. So a lot of times I’ll have women’s look for the show and I’ll go into the women’s room and I’ll automatically get stopped by production and they tell me, ‘You’re in the wrong dressing room, get out!’ That happens constantly.”
NORMALISE THE USE OF PRONOUNS
Grace, who uses they/them pronouns, says the “majority” of their problems come from “constant misgendering”. “Number one is that people don’t understand how to use ‘they, them’ pronouns, and number two is that they just won’t be informed that I use ‘they, them’ pronouns.” There are simple things that can be done to avoid this – like highlighting pronouns below a model’s name on the board in their changing area that displays their outfit. “Just putting the personal pronouns under the name so that the hair and make-up teams can see, it can really minimise the strife that happens.” And beyond backstage, “the normalisation of pronouns needs to spread infinitely” – call sheets for photoshoots and model packs sent out from agencies are other places where they could be easily incorporated and become more of an industry-wide standard.
DON’T FORCE GENDERED UNDERWEAR ON ANYONE
Backstage, models are often provided with simple (gendered) underwear to wear beneath their looks. But being told – even forced – to put on specific gendered underwear can be triggering: “That has happened to me many times and it has made me extremely dysphoric and I wish that we could avoid it,” Grace says, adding that they were once almost dropped from a show because they refused to wear the women’s underwear. “I want to just push out to the fashion community, that even though you think you know what someone with a gender diversity was born with, body parts wise, a lot of times through hormones those can shift. I think you should give a person two options – here’s the men’s underwear, here’s the women’s underwear, go ahead and put on whatever you are more comfortable with.”
IT’S OKAY TO ASK A MODEL WHAT THEY’RE COMFORTABLE WITH
Being given options is important – and it doesn’t just apply to dressing rooms or underwear. For example: “People will ask guys at castings to take their shirts off and I would love to participate in that but they don’t exactly know how to ask me,” Grace explains. “I think just asking outright if it applies to me – or if I’d rather do it with my shirt on – is best.”
DON’T ASSUME EVERY GENDER DIVERSE PERSON IS AN ACTIVIST
As visibility in fashion grows, there’s a tendency for every gender diverse or LGBTQIA+ person to be labelled an ‘activist’, simply for existing. “I’m not an activist,” surmises Grace, “and I get so annoyed when people call LGBT people activists when all they do is talk about themselves. I know that sounds harsh, but if your activism is only rooted in talking about yourself, then it’s not activism.” While positive steps are being made, to move beyond tokenism, Grace asserts that brands must not cast people “just for diversity points”, but “and continually hire people with gender diversity over and over, not just for one LGBT themed show.” So, fashion: take note.