Mr ‘Thing’: Pejic and his Prophet

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.

Marilyn, 1980s

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 1984pro­mot­ing 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.”


4 thoughts on “Mr ‘Thing’: Pejic and his Prophet”

  1. How many fem­in­ists does it take to change a lightbulb?


    Mark, a semantic point: the Feminist move­ment began as a fat­wah against ladies. The enemy was ladies like phil­an­throp­ist Brooke Astor in one of her trade­mark Channel suits — which she wore to a home­less shel­ter when she served Thanksgiving Dinner at the age of 90. “They’d wear their best clothes if they came to my house. Why shouldn’t I where mine when I come to theirs?” But then “class” has been expunged from the fem­in­ist lex­icon, as well as philANTHROpy.

    There was time when a lady never left the house without a hat and gloves. And gen­tle­men wore hats. I wish those times would return. It was as if gen­til­ity was an insult to ‘gender’.

    I won­der what Mlle. Platell thinks of Marlene Dietrich in a tux?

    She’s just jeal­ous she couldn’t pull it off her­self: the fash­ion industry exists because women dress for other women. I don’t see gay men as being any­thing more than facil­it­at­ors. The meas­ure is one cre­ated by women: they long to be Pejic not because he is a man but because he car­ries cou­ture so well.

    Before Marilyn, there was the “Boys Keep Swinging” video.

  2. I think Pejic looks won­der­ful in that pic­ture. It appeals to me not on a ‘sexual’ level but an aes­thetic one: it’s Veronica Lake meets John Galliano. It’s not “tranny”. Marilyn most def­in­itely paved the way, which is why he was heli­coptered back to Harpenden straight after his appear­ance on Top of the Pops. And leav­ing Boy George to “panto”…

  3. I always felt uncom­fort­able about the way Boy George and his hangers-on were hailed as the great proph­ets of the new gender revolu­tion when they talked con­stantly about image, shock, etc, whilst Marilyn seemed to be doing it for real. This feel­ing only increased when I went to see Boy George’s musical ‘Taboo’, which was sick­en­ingly self-indulgent and seemed to leave no room for authen­tic­ally queer people who didn’t fit into some con­veni­ently mar­ket­able nar­rat­ive. Of course one never wants to get into the non­sensical (and very bor­ing) ‘queerer than thou’ argu­ment, but it still strikes me that Marilyn, alone out of that set, was doing some­thing truly revolu­tion­ary just by being him­self. Arguably, it’s the act of being one­self, regard­less of the gendered con­text of that act, that is the most socially power­ful and disruptive.

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