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.

POSTSCRIPT 14/09/11

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?

    THAT’S NOT FUNNY!

    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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