This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.
What might have seemed an innocuous moment between two wealthy Russian women coming to Paris for the couture presentations swirled into a vortex of race, entitlement, homophobia, and astonishing cluelessness, considering how worldly and sophisticated the two women liked to project themselves as being. So hip, in fact, were they that they channeled their inner Kanye and Jay-Z, with one, Ulyana Sergeenko, sending the other, Miroslava Duma, flowers and a note with an affectionate message: “To my n*ggas in Paris.”
A delighted Mira wasted no time posting the flowers and note on Instagram, which she was forced to delete soon after criticism of her and her friend’s tone-deafness blew up on social media.
The usual apologies followed, professing deep sorrow and shame, promising to be more sensitive, claiming lesson learned, etc., accompanied by declarations along the lines of, “but I have black friends, too, hence I can’t be racist.”
Just when the ladies thought that was that—apology accepted—another scandal broke out. This time a video clip from 2012 revealing Mira Duma’s homophobia and transphobia, all the more surprising given the fact that she works in an industry dominated by homosexuals, most of them openly gay. And transgender models walk the runways and book major advertising campaigns.
Even in 2012, gays in fashion were neither rare nor transgressive. But when asked at a conference in Russia what she thought about the likes of BryanBoy, who is openly gay, wearing women’s clothing, and transgender model Andreja Pejic modeling women’s swimwear, she was unequivocal in her belief that they were dangerous aberrations who pose a risk to young boys by presenting confusing images of how boys should dress and act. It was a trend in fashion that she hoped would fizzle out quickly.
Clearly it didn’t fizzle out, and clearly Mira’s comments were shocking on many levels—she even called for a kind of censorship and a culture of refinement, implying that cross-dressing was crass and vulgar. But then again, it’s no secret that Russian society is homophobic; gay men and women are routinely persecuted and prosecuted. In that sense Mira Duma merely embodies the values of the country she was brought up in, illustrating the underlying parochial mentality lurking beneath the patina of designer glitz. Evidently, not only does money not buy class; it also doesn’t buy enlightenment and tolerance.
Again, the usual apologies were offered; Mira said she was not the same person she was six years ago, and the world has been changing rapidly since then, etc. “I have committed myself to a journey of personal growth,” she wrote on Instagram, “where ignorance has been replaced by acceptance, and discrimination by inclusion. I deeply respect people of all backgrounds: I believe in equality for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, or sexual orientation.”
It may sound like PR spin, but the world is indeed evolving at a dizzying pace, where binary assumptions about sex and gender no longer hold, and even the most open-minded people struggle, not with acceptance of transgender people, nor with the fact that gender identity does not dictate sexual preference, but perhaps on a concept that now seems more abstract than concrete. With more women transitioning into men, and more men transitioning into women, how are our definitions of womanhood and manhood impacted?
As Ann Valens, a transwoman struggling with gender dysphoria who is still contemplating that final cut, so to speak, that would slice off her penis and make her a woman in the physical sense at least, writes in Medium about her hesitation. For the moment, however, she’d like to keep all her appendages intact.
“And on some days, going under the knife sounds tempting. Like getting a vagina would fix a lot of my problems. But then I have to remind myself that surgery isn’t a magic bullet against dysphoria. Having a p*ssy doesn’t make someone more of a woman. Having a penis doesn’t make a girl any less of one either…
“Still, I feel programed to think about getting GRS [gender reassignment surgery].
“Maybe that’s because our society keeps regurgitating this belief that ‘womanhood’ means ‘vagina’ and ‘manhood’ means ‘penis.’”
Even mainstream media reinforces this belief: “The message is clear: P*ssies are female. Vaginas are womanhood. D*cks, c*cks, penises, members, those are all ‘male.’ And never shall these two streams cross.”
So what does define womanhood or manhood these days if our sexual organs do not quite suffice anymore? If the male-female binary no longer applies, and other genders rightfully deserve respect acknowledgement, what do we need gender for? When babies are born, why would they still need to be declared male or female based on the appearance of their genitals when they may, sooner or later in life, emotionally and mentally identify as the opposite sex? And, should they choose to transition into the opposite sex without undergoing GRS, shouldn’t that be a valid category on its own?
Is gender, then, a mental rather than biological state?
I honestly don’t know. But it would seem to me that the traditional definitions are being challenged every day, and if we truly want to be an inclusive society, we need to adjust and adapt our way of thinking to respond to these challenges.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
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