Raising My Androgynous Son Andrej Pejic
Blurring the boundaries between men and women has brought Andrej Pejic international celebrity as a model, writes Caroline Overington, who talks to the 21-year-old and his mother about his career and family life.
ASK any mother what they want for their children, they’ll probably say they want them to be happy. Drill down a little, and here is what they mean:
They’d like their children not be bullied at school. They’d like them to have friends. Also, ultimately, if their children fall in love, they hope that it will be with somebody who will love them right back for being exactly as they are.
It’s probably fair to say that Melbourne mum, Jadranka Pejic, worried a little more than might be normal about her son, the now-21-year-old Andrej.
“Of course I could see that he was different,” she tells the Weekly. “I was thinking, what kind of life will he have? Will the world accept him?”
Yes, it would accept him. In certain circles, Andrej Pejic is now the man most-wanted, a model who has strutted catwalks in London, Paris and New York, posed for French Vogue, and appeared on towering billboards in Times Square, all of which means that he’s near the pinnacle of his profession, an amazing achievement, more so when you understand that he has done all this — strutted and pouted and posed - dressed not as a man but as a fine-boned woman.
It’s an extraordinary story , not just because Andrej is so unusual — indeed, beautiful — to look at, nor because he’s making it as a man in a woman’s world.
The background is fascinating, too: Andrej came to Australia with his mother when he was just eight, speaking not a word of English. They were fleeing the war in Bosnia. Jadranka was university educated, but took a series of low-paid, cleaning jobs to put Andrej and his brother, Igor, through school, while trying to find her own feet in Melbourne.
From the earliest age, she could see that Andrej was different from other boys.
“He wanted to play with Barbie dolls and Barbie cars,” Jadranka tells the Weekly. “I would try to hide these things from people but because it was my son and it made him happy I would slip his Barbie doll to him under the table and say, here, go and play with it, and bring it back to me when you are finished.”
He wanted to grow his hair and wear girl’s clothes. She wondered whether she could, or even should try to change him. She was terrified that he’d be bullied. Then he gained entry to University High, a school with students from 55 different nations, who present in all kinds of ways (it’s got goths, and Geeks, and kids with Mohawks.)
The school’s motto is “individuality, diversity and excellence” - all of which Andrej had in spades.
“It was a sophisticated, liberal school,” Andrej says. “They encouraged me to just be me.”
Andrej was academically brilliant, cruising through his classes, and he proved popular at University High, where his long hair and make-up was just part of who he was.
Friends told him he was pretty enough to be a model but he was also keen on university. Then one night, he was working late, trying to earn a bit of extra money, when he was discovered by a modelling agency while working the counter at McDonald’s in Melbourne’s Swanston Street.
It was New Year’s Eve, and his life was about to change forever.
Read more of this story in the April issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly.
THE WORLD’S TOP MODEL: ANDREJ PEJIC
Your gender bending within the fashion world is truly astounding and groundbreaking. When did you start modeling as both “male” and female”? Do you prefer to model as one gender more than the other?
I actually started out mainly in menswear. It wasn’t until my first few high end editorials for women’s magazines like Vogue Paris and my first couture show, that my career in womenswear truly began, and it has been a happy union ever since. Womenswear is I guess more natural for me, but I think the fact that I serve both is what has made my career quite unique so far.
We read about your amazing story regarding how you started your life to where you are now. How does it feel looking back on your past while currently living such a glamorous life?
It feels like that one in a million rags to riches story. Sadly, I don’t believe that we live in a world where if you simply work hard you can achieve anything. I think first and foremost I was lucky to been gifted with certain physical traits and lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to be able to transcend my socio-economic conditions. I think my personality and hard work also helped greatly so it does feel like an achievement too, but I definitely don’t feel entitled.
While being featured in David Bowie’s “The Stars Are Out Tonight”, you’re presented as a super glamazon type. What was it like acting out a role rather than just modeling and what helped you get into that character?
Its very different. With acting you have to let go completely, you cant give a shit. With modeling, you have to be in control head to toe, always aware of the camera. My character as well as being glamorous was quiet dark, and I’ve always thought that the perfect role for me would be as a witch or a hooker, so it helped that I was intrigued by the character. My preparation included me sitting in front of the mirror screaming “Christina!…Why can’t you give me the respect that I’m entitled to? Why can’t you treat me like I would be treated by any stranger on the street?” while pulling at my hair. Why? Because there is nothing like imitating Joan Crawford to get you in the mood.
You’re clearly a fabulous example and aspirational figure within this idea of being “genderless” – do you ever think of yourself as an inspiration and role model to those around you who are having a hard time becoming comfortable in their own skin?
I think the message that comes with me is pretty universal and that’s always how I’ve wanted it to be. I think it can apply to everyone from transgender people, to that kid in school that just wants to have fun with androgyny. Of course I understand that my success doesn’t necessarily improve society’s backwardness when it comes to the treatment of such issues. That will only happen when all people unite and fight for change, but me sharing my story definitely wont hurt that cause.
Andrej Pejic - Bettina Rheims’ Gender Studies (2012)
In her current show at Camera Work Berlin, Gender Studies (she talks about the project at length here), Bettina Rheims displays the portraits of 25 androgynous and/or transgender beauties that defy the usual gender categorizations. All the protagonists are taken frontally and enter into direct eye contact with the viewer. A mull-like fabric features in almost every photograph and serves to conceal relevant parts of the body and surgery scars. In a way, it underlines the fragility of identity in the transitionary state the protagonists find themselves in.
Go baby, go! [x]
Well you know I have a male name, and I’m on the men’s board (at the modeling agency) so ‘he’ is fine. But it’s not that big of a deal to me.
obviously andrej doesn’t give a f*ck about gender pronouns [x]
he’s more than just a pretty face [x]
I don’t think you’re defined by gender, there is no difference between women and men. I mean, we are all human. [x]
El modelo Andrej Pejic, imagen de sujetadores
did the reporter say ‘victoria’s secret’? ohh yes please! lol
Andrej Pejic, a male model known for his gender-bending work on runways, is the star of Dutch fashion company Hema’s newest lingerie ad campaign. (abcnews.go.com)
Andrej Pejic: Before & After
Catching Up With Andrej Pejic
By William Van Meter
A conversation with Out100 honoree Andrej Pejic on his philosophy of modeling and why he won’t get a boner for a photoshoot.
Out: The press highlights you as an intersection of many things, including a man who can walk in women’s shows (and is super comfortable with it) and Croat/Serb or Australian. How do you define yourself? Is it even along this spectrum?
Pejic: Define, refine, constrict, package, and sell… No thank you. I would like to live in a world where your gender, nationality, sexual orientation, and, above all, financial status didn’t affect the opportunities you are given in life, the way you’re treated by others, and your overall freedom. In a world like that, I wouldn’t be given such a complex definition.
Most people would think that the world of male modeling would be populated by a huge number of gay guys, which in reality is not true. What is it like for you backstage working at a men’s show?
The male modeling industry is like the army, very straight but very gay. Most male models have girlfriends, but backstage, when no one is looking, they like to pinch me. Working with them is fun—I have a lot of male model friends.
Advertising is such a barometer of what the mass market deems acceptable, and you’ve made a major stab into the mainstream with advertisements for Marc by Marc Jacobs and Gaultier. Do you think it’s harder for you to book advertisements as opposed to other male models?
Well, the media has definitely jumped on the bandwagon. The people, it seems, are coming on fast, now we’re just waiting for the clients to catch up. The truth is I have to work twice as hard to be taken as seriously as the top girls. I understand that it will take time for me to prove that I’m actually a good model once you look past the media hype and the uniqueness of my looks. But hey, I’m not the first that has had to fight.
You seem pretty fearless in your career, easily doing men’s and women’s and—to be a bit crude—having the balls to wear a skirt or dress (and wear it well). Is there anything that has been demanded of you at a shoot that you’ve said no to?
My philosophy is “take it and work it!” No matter what! Although, I have been asked to get aroused for a shot. I declined. I like to serve beauty, not porn.
Everyone is going nuts about you meeting the queen and wearing a Versace skirt to do it. How’d you pick your outfit?
I was tempted to wear a suit, like a nice fitted tuxedo, but it didn’t work out in the end. So I went for a ’90s Sharon Stone-inspired look. And the hair added some youth to the situation. The palace was beautiful—I felt right at home. And let’s face it, we all love a good Queen.