Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Designer's Choice: Transsexual Models

Recently, the Huffington Post and many other news outlets  made a huge deal of Lea T., a transsexual model, posing in a swim suit for Blue Man Swimwear in Brazil. Lea T. has been interviewed on Oprah and featured in People Magazine's style news. Currently undergoing hormone treatment in advance of her sex reassignment surgery, Lea T. is the 'muse' of Givenchy's creative director, Riccardo Tisci.  Well, Lea T. admirers, what about Serbia/Australian male model Andrej Pejic? He was voted #98 in laddy magazine FHM's top 100 sexist women, that's right behind Bar Rafaeli at #97 and in front of Lady Gaga, #99! The 19 year-old first appeared on the runway in Jean Paul Gaulthier's Spring show in October, 2010 and was a smash this Spring in London. While still 'all boy,' he says he would consider an 'alteration' if Victoria Secret came calling. Then there is Nina Poon, a transsexual featured here in a Kenneth Cole advertisement.

Well, this is fashion, high-end fashion at that. A niche, elite, commercial enterprise. One must have something (or someone) new to keep the brand fresh. My question is, why is this so newsworthy? Is it because a transsexual is seen as beautiful and desirable by straight people? Many communities have accepted, in fact do accept, transgendered people, or individuals in alternative or third gender roles (see my posts, Third Gender Legalized in Pakistan and Third Gender Citizens Recognized in Nepal) but often in very specific social or occupational roles. The hijras in India, xanith's in Oman, kathoey's in Thailand, sworn virgins in the Balkans (you can find information in Serena Nanda's Gender Diversity, cross cultural variations) and many more. In fact, in Thailand there are an estimated 500,000 male transsexuals and the annual Miss Tiffany Beauty Pageant just crowned its 14th 'ladyboy' winner. Is highlighting transsexual models in fashion a real step forward for transsexual people or a media/ratings/sales ploy by corporate brand names? Or does it even matter as long as the conversation is started?

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