“I feel 100 percent complete,” says Andreja Pejic. “It’s about proving my position in the industry and speaking out for equal rights and gaining respect in fashion for transgender models, because it doesn’t exist right now.”
It’s a socially charged mission statement that you wouldn’t typically expect to hear from a model. However, there’s nothing typical about Andreja Pejic.
Her white blonde hair, full lips, luminous complexion and high cheekbones all exemplify the checklist of model attributes. But it’s the fact that she has just undergone male-to-female sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and spoken out about it that makes Pejic unique among her peers. Read our moving story about a Metro staffer who recently started her life as a female.
“I have a level of social responsibility, and that’s one of the reasons for coming out and facing everything that is going to come afterwards,” she explains.
It’s an incredibly brave decision to take considering that there is still a high level of antipathy targeted at the transgendered community, not to mention the effect it can have on personal relationships – something Pejic calls the “social transition.”
Then there’s the matter of her very successful career as an androgynous male model for fashion houses such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs.
Her agents warned that transitioning would destroy her career. That, however, didn’t sway Pejic’s decision. “I’m very proud of my career as an androgynous model, but it got to a point where I needed to complete my dream and feel comfortable in my body. There was no way I was going to hide this,” she says.
Those are the forthright words of a woman who as a child had to deal with the daily emotional stress of “fighting everything that comes naturally 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.
At age 13, Pejic, whose family moved from the Balkans to Australia, searched the internet to find out why the so-called “passing phase” of wearing skirts and wanting long hair wasn’t going away. At 14, she even went to a doctor who explained that she was too young to begin the transitioning process.
For the time being, Pejic, who is signed to Storm Model Management, was forced to escape reality and the occasional childish taunt of “poofter” through her imagination: “I would dream about going to the store with my mum or dating the cutest boy at school – quite mundane things actually but for me they were the biggest dreams.”
Pejic says that she was “lucky to have an early intervention” from both professionals and an understanding mother but admits that had this not been the case, she, like many of the trans community, might have suffered from depression and contemplated suicide.
Indeed, it’s a group of society that often suffers in silence due to social ignorance and social distrust. “I don’t think that we’re at a level where the media completely understands it: they need to focus more on the emotional aspects of transition rather than the physical. At least now transgender people can talk back to the media, which before they have been denied.”
The 23-year-old continues: “You should perceive people as they say they are and feel, instead of judging them on their body. We don’t look down at our body to determine who we are.”
The sense of misunderstanding amongst the public also permeates into the fashion world. It’s an institution that has been slow to embrace diversity, in any sense of the word. “The problem is that it’s very conservative, market-driven and there’s discrimination, too,” says the model.
Fashion, or more specifically, its commercial side such as cosmetics isn’t ready to take the perceived risk of a trans model to front a potentially multi-billion dollar campaign.
But there are signs now that the industry is beginning to awaken to the transgender spectrum with the rise of Givenchy muse Lea T, while May Simon and Stav Strashko are doing the rounds at the ongoing fashion weeks. “I think society is ready but fashion needs to get with it – it’s happening,” argues Pejic.
They’re the words of an activist who is spreading awareness through an autobiographical book, which will be published through Penguin in Australia early next year, and a documentary of her sex reassignment surgery.
Although Pejic was originally unsure about filming her transition, her filmmaker friend Eric Miclette encouraged her, saying, “You need to capture this, you’ll regret it if you don’t. It’s a unique story and it can help a lot of young people.” The film, entitled “Andrej(a)", is looking to raise $200,000 on crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter.
Pejic is proud of what she has achieved to-date and is keen to stress that the SRS is part of “an evolution and not a transformation”. It’s a process that she now feels is complete. “I feel 100 percent confident,” she chirps.
On the question of whether her love life is better as a woman, she coyly giggles, “I’m single at the moment but it’s definitely more fun when you’re comfortable with yourself.” Pejic adds: “I’ve been off the dating scene for a while but I’m open to love. I used to think that love wasn’t something I was deserving of, but now I have enough pride to say that it’s exactly what I deserve.”