When It Comes To Gender, Oslo Grace Is A Runway Shapeshifter

Photo: Yanshan Zhang/Getty Images.
When transgender models began walking the runways — back in the '80s, mind you — they walked with confidence, like any other model, but they walked in stealth mode. The fashion industry had not yet embraced the reckoning we're witnessing today, which meant that transgender models who revealed their gender identity, or were "outed," did so at the risk of losing their careers. Thanks to a new wave of transgender pioneers, however, the modeling industry is changing. But the gender conversation is vast, and genders themselves are more polysyllabic than ever — so what about all the others?
Enter: Oslo Grace, the 21-year old, Californian model who happens to be non-binary transgender. Fun fact: After a bad rugby accident in school derailed athletic ambitions, Grace took up modeling as a hobby. Today, they straddle both the male and female boards of their agency and walk both men's and women's runways. In their own words, being transgender and non-binary means they consider themselves "the ultimate mix of a boy and a girl." Grace's big break was the fall 2018 Gucci show where they carried a baby dragon down the runway (yes, you read that right). And, after last Fashion Month, which saw them walk every show from Armani to Courrèges and more, their star continues to rise.
But the industry remains ill-equipped to confront other genders on the spectrum. Grace, along with many others, frequently experiences misgendering on set and off (which is easy to avoid, if industry makes the effort to brush up on gender terminology) and has to do most of the legwork when it comes to educating those around them. In the interview below, Grace opens up about fashion's gender renaissance, why they aren't hard-pressed to settle on one gender, and how the industry can cater to models who don't always see themselves in a designer's vision. Oh, and they had something to say about that Victoria's Secret interview, too.
Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images.
Photo: Francois Durand/Getty Images.
In your own words, what does being transgender non-binary mean?
OG: "Transgender is the big umbrella that I'd consider myself under. And that's where my gender identity doesn't match up perfectly with my sex assigned at birth. Ultimately, how that manifests is ... a childhood that was incredible but also filled with a lot of clear examples of what I now can point out as blatant gender dysphoria that I just didn't have the vocabulary to describe when I was that young.
"Non-binary is sort of an umbrella term underneath transgender that means I'm somewhere in between the binary of a girl and a boy. I feel like I am a mix of the two, which makes me non-binary."
How is it decided which castings you go to and which runways you walk?
OG: "Within each agency I belong to, I'm signed to both their men's and women's boards. For each men's and women's board in an agency, there are men's and women's bookers. So, let's say, around 12pm my women's booker will email me so I know that I have to wear the women's casting attire, and then I'll get an email from my men's booker at 1pm saying that I have to show up for a men's casting, so that's sort of how that manifests into an actual job.
"But yes, I usually present very binary on the runway because runways aren't usually non-binary. But I present more masculine in my day-to-day."
Does that ever make you feel dysphoric?
OG: "Yes. In the beginning, I had incredible amounts of crippling dysphoria every time I had to wear a dress at a shoot or on a runway, but I did it knowing that, eventually, I'd be able to choose my jobs (which would end up being more masculine). But along the way, I was actually able to get more comfortable with my femininity and that's why it's not as much of an issue anymore. Through this, I'm still exploring and experiencing my genders."
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How do you feel about male and female boards at agencies in terms of labels?
OG: "I actually find it sort of gratifying that I'm able to disturb both boards because it shows me that kids like me have the opportunity to somehow disrupt the system even though we're subscribed to the system. So, even though I'm modeling and it's a binary world, it's just almost funny to me how that translates into mixing that up to where the fashion industry maybe isn't comfortable with it or used to it yet."
What's your experience like off the runway?
OG: "You really have to develop thick skin. I'm constantly misgendered in the workplace and it is still something that I really have to learn how to deal with. But other models are usually very kind. It's moreso the older people in the technical jobs. I've worked with some incredible makeup artists and hair stylists but those are usually the people that give me the hardest time, or quiz me on my gender, or say, 'Hey, didn't you walk a men's show this morning? Why are you a woman now?' It's a lot of misgendering — point blank."
So, how can the fashion industry do better?
OG: "It can happen in a bunch of different ways. Most recently, I've been trying to figure out my own way of confronting people about my pronouns that's in a gentle, affirming, and encouraging way instead of in an abrasive way. We could have call sheets that have gender neutral pronouns on them and how to do it, models with name tags and their pronouns, not hiring transgender model just because they're transgender and hiring them more than once (and not for diversity points) — just stuff like that."
What are your thoughts on the recent comments made by Victoria's Secret's chief marketing officer of L Brands, its parent company, Ed Razek?
OG: "The use of 'transsexual' shows how outdated and uneducated the vocabulary of some people can be. But honestly, I wasn't surprised. I hate to say that but Victoria's Secret has been one thing for a very long time and I don't know if it's gonna change. I sort of think the avenue to that, though, is education. It's the only avenue I've seen to push someone who isn't with it, who isn't aware of us, or doesn't know we aren't something to be fetishized or put to the side.
"We are people like everyone else. It's a shame that this person thinks we can't be seen in that light because we definitely can. But ultimately, we're going to have to go at this from the ground up. That's why people like me and others in the industry are trying to infiltrate it and then talk about our identities so we can change these bigger corporations."
Do you find it's easier to model without bringing up your gender identity, i.e. in stealth, at the start of your career and then start to spread that message later?
OG: "That is how I've done it, from the beginning but it's more a comfort thing for me. I don't think you can be more or less successful when you talk about your identity or don't. I do sit in my cis-passing privilege for both genders quite comfortably. I'm not, and never have been, completely comfortable voicing my gender identity online or in interviews because everyone has a different level of comfort with that.
"But when you do speak out, you are quickly put into a box, as ironic as that is. You become a niche model and I have been trying to avoid that just so I can infiltrate the cis, binary fashion industry as much as I can."
To that point, what do you say to those people who might ask why you want to be a part of that space anyway, as opposed to creating a new one? Especially since cis and binary people haven't been accepting of non-binary people until recent?
OG: "We don't want to normalize being transgender, but we want to normalize our existence. And to do that, we have to learn to build bridges with the cis community. Trying to branch off is a beautiful thing but I think trying to burn bridges with them and face them in a way that is defiant, I agree with, too, but ultimately: if we want to make a change within our everyday society, we need some warriors to go in there and try and fuck shit up."
So, what's next?
OG: "I'm going to continue my work as a high-fashion model. That's a level that I've wanted to put myself on since the beginning and I've been fortunate so far that it's worked out. I'm going to take a few months to continue working, but also to prioritize my physical transition — which is very exciting to me but also daunting, as every trans person can relate to — and just staying true to myself. That's what I try to tell every trans and non-binary person when they're starting a platform or business: You have to be yourself because you can't let anyone dictate your voice. That's not going to get you anywhere and you're eventually going to sell yourself out."
Welcome to MyIdentity. The road to owning your identity is rarely easy. In this yearlong program, we will celebrate that journey and explore how the choices we make on the outside reflect what we're feeling on the inside — and the important role fashion and beauty play in helping people find and express who they are.

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