Look at this woman; she is beautiful. Her voice is sticky sweet and butter soft. Her orgasms, by her admission, are deep and ecstatic. She drinks coconut water. She has a particular affinity for Kiehl's products. The first thing she does after climbing out of bed is brush her teeth.
"In some cases the body into which we are born does not reflect the gender we are." At 24, she is still developing and refining her worldview, her interests, the type of man she's looking for. Her name is Ines.
At eight years old she knew she was fe-male. This instinct came before her first palpable crush on a boy, before the spring of puberty, before the trembling joys of sex. As she came of age, this awareness remained distinct from her sexual orientation. It was a matter of who she was—and who she was did not fit along the confines of gender roles ascribed by Western culture.
Ines began her transition from male to female (MTF) at the age of 14. By the time she was 16, her anatomy reflected her gender identity. The sex-reassignment surgeries (SRS) took place in the vibrant city of Montreal. She had the support of her family. Her greatest fear in going through the transition was of being misunderstood.
The beautiful thing about this fear: It's one that every single human being on Earth can identify with.
Gender is not a new construct. It is a classification of identity, refracted and interpreted through the lens of societal norms. In France, where our heroine resides, it is called genre, a term we might more quickly identify with cinema. In cinema there are subgenres: the spaghetti Western. The road movie. The romantic comedy. In gender, subgenres also exist.
The term transgender has been murky for some time but has increasingly come to represent the third gender: a gender that does not fit within the binary of male/female and instead umbrellas the myriad subgenres of gender fluidity. The array is dizzying—transsexual, transvestite, cross-dresser, genderqueer, androgyne, bi-gender, pan-gender, agender, gender fluid, to reference a fraction. The distinctions between them are important.
"The primary instinct in my experience and, I believe, for many is simply the desire to rectify a mistake of nature at birth." Ines is not an activist or a performance artist. She is not a drug addict. She is not a prostitute. (Before she drew the attention of Vogue Italia, she was a student at the Sorbonne.) Until this moment, she has remained stealth, concealing from those beyond her most intimate circle that she was born into the body of a male.
Ines is asked on more dates than your average wallflower and fewer than Taylor Swift. To dispel any possible confusion: She is not a gay man with female anatomy; she is a woman. She is attracted to straight men. Unsurprisingly, straight men are attracted to her. "It all depends on the man, his story, his vision of the world. Religion, everything."
She's talking about his reaction to her truth.
There are two worlds: the tangible world we experience through personal journey and present context, and the one that unfolded long before our birth and will continue long after our existence. The first is a rolling tide that gathers us in its current, a world in which we choose what we believe, what we feel, how we act, how we respond to the external. In this world we are propelled by the oars of fear and desire.
The other is the primary world, in which wars have been lost and won and lost again, territories conquered, acquired, colonized and abdicated in the wake of surrender. A world in which past would mirror present, would we consult it. But we freak at the thought; we have come so far, or perhaps because we feel so close to the future.
The third gender belongs to the primary world. It was present in prehistoric times and resurfaced in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, in ancient Greece and in the Galli of ancient Rome. It was integral to Vedic culture and early Mayan and Incan civilizations. The Sworn Virgins of the Balkans. The two spirits of Native American tribes. The hijraof India. The Thai phet thi sam. The ashtime of the Maale. Mashoga of Mombasa. Mangaiko of the Congo. Muxe of Mexico. The bissu of the Bugis of Indonesia. Fa'afafine.Mukhannathun.Xanith.Mahu. The third gender has been both celebrated and persecuted, sacred and taboo. What's undeniable is that it exists and will continue to evolve in tandem with medical, sociological and scientific advances.
SRS, long considered an extreme measure, becomes less easily stigmatized when placed in the context of the booming industry of face-lifts, botox, labiaplasty, hair plugs, rhinoplasty, liposuction, breast augmentation, cheek implants, chin implants, penis implants, knee lifts, abdominoplasty, buttock lifts, otoplasty, acid peels and self-sculpting procedures we haven't invented yet.
Past being prologue, "homosexuality" was classified as a mental disorder in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,a.k.a. the Bible of Psychiatry) until it was finally reclassified and withdrawn in 1987. Twenty-six years later the Supreme Court overturned DOMA, effectively passing the landmark ruling that paves the path for gays to be legally married. That's one generation between mental illness and equal rights. The precursor to this revolution is a long legacy of civil rights movements: equal rights for blacks, equal rights for women. History would suggest that—at least in the free world—equal rights for all is inevitable.
Let's posit this: If Andy Warhol rose from his permanent slumber to throw an exclusive party for the third gender, he would find himself quietly observing cardiologists, video game designers, a professional golfer, politicians, sociologists, computer scientists, a World War II fighter pilot, a Grand Prix motorcyclist, classical musicians, a Thai boxer, a Cuban politician and a few nervous economists. Fashion models and pop singers. Ghosts of the Civil War. A professional tennis player. A Tokyo municipal official. A senior vice president at Prudential Financial. A neurobiologist, a Navy Seal, playwrights, the co-director of The Matrix, schoolteachers, lawyers, philanthropists and a double-bass musician. Warhol would stand immersed in a brave new world (which he might even be right to take some credit for).
Unlike Warhol's thriving fringe community—a reflection of his time and context—Ines does not live in the margins; for the past eight years she has architected her body and gender in a way that has enabled her to blend into the mainstream.
"[SRS] is very intimate, and in my case it was a family decision that took place when I was very young. I have often not felt obligated to give this very personal information to people I've just met. It's not to be deceptive; it's because I have been a woman for so long that it didn't feel relevant. This is the beauty of being. What I have suffered from is the fear of being rejected by someone who cannot process the information. I don't like to hurt people. It is a lot of pressure. That's why I'm coming out. I want to be accepted the way I am without the fear of being judged."
Look at this woman.