At a time when gender is more and more openly discussed, to the point of becoming a trend: genderfluid, genderless clothing… we might forget what it is like to actually question it. Model and actor Maxim Anselin has never been comfortable being categorised as a boy or a girl, a long time before this way of thinking was considered “trendy” by many.
Accompanied by a beautiful and bold story by his friend and photographer Robin Lempire, Maxim talks to us about the meaning of gender nowadays, transforming and revealing his different facets through Lempire’s lens.
Can you tell us about yourself and your own experience with gender ?
As far as I can remember I never had to question my sexuality, it’s something I’ve always been sure about. But I always questionned my gender, even as a young child. I was surrounded by women, I would do « girls activities»… And I remember really clearly being really young and wondering why I wasn’t born a girl, and once I said that if I had to do it again I’ll probably choose to be a girl. I was lucky enough to grow up in a really open minded family, I mean my dad would buy me Barbies when my little brother would only play with cars and trucks… My mom would apply nailpolish on me when I asked her to. But when I went to school I understood I had to keep a low profile and that I had to look like all the other boys if I didn’t want to be even more bullied. So I went through all my school years looking like a boy because truly inside I’ve always been the same, that’s why I would be mocked: I looked like a boy but acted more feminine than others, and I didn’t understand why people had a problem with that because at home I would never be genderized.
How did your modelling career start, and how did it feel being categorised as a male model ?
A few years later, in Paris, I started modelling after being scouted by Fanny Latour-Lambert. So I was considered a male model, but it seemed great because for the first time in my life I felt special. Me, who was mocked and insulted everyday in high school, who didn’t have loads of friends, I was a model, working for magazines, walking for fashion week… During that time I was kinda torn apart because on one hand I felt weird being categorized as a man model, I felt incredibly weird when I was with other male models backstage, like I wasn’t at the right place; but on the other hand I was so proud of working thanks to my look. I never worked for huge brands, but I was happy, and trying my best to make a name for myself.
Suddenly I was asked to be the main character in Rita Ora’s ‘Poison’ music video. It was huge for me who always wanted to be an actor, I didn’t believe something so huge could be real. It was an amazing experience, and since it was huge I was for the first time of my life «exposed» to a huge audience. I don’t have millions of Instagram followers but I went from something like 200 followers to 5000 at the time. People, mostly girls, would comments my pictures telling me I was «so hot», I was their «dream boy». And that’s when I started really questioning my gender again, I wasn’t comfortable with them sexualizing and genderizing me. Around the same time I did a shooting with my friend and photographer Robin Lempire, I was styled with women clothing, didn’t say anything but I felt amazing. I had to explore that part of me.
Why did you decide to move to London, and what was the process like exploring further your feminine side ?
Right after Rita’s video my career stopped, I didn’t get any jobs, I would just work with my friend Robin, that’s all. So I decided it was time for me to try to be, who I thought was, my true self. I started wearing make up, like I would do my brows, wear foundation. I decided to move to London to start a new life. I had a few friends there and I knew they would understand what I thought was going to be my transition. I was working in a gay nightclub, surrounded every week by amazing people living their life the way they wanted to, without giving a fuck about what others would think. I would wear a full face of make up, lashes, lipstick, everything, I would also wear extensions, and wear «women’s» clothes. I know the way I describe it, it seems like I think questioning your gender is all about the clothes and the make up, but as I said: inside I was always the same, I would only lie about who I was from the outside.
But after a while, I felt weird about who I was, when applying my make up, doing my hair or hearing people refer to me using she/her, I would feel fake, like it was wrong. My eating disorders were worse than ever, I was really lonely… I had a lot of questions: would I go all the way in my transition? What about my acting career? I decided to go back to my parents for a while to take a break and think about who I was. I realised while being there, that I had to go through that, I had to explore myself to exorcise that part of me. Now I know I’m not a woman but I couldn’t live my life just wondering. I had to know. I don’t have any regrets and I’m not ashamed. Now I feel better, I don’t really have any eating disorders for the first time in 6 years, I feel beautiful, I feel like myself and like I don’t have to lie to anyone anymore, specially to myself. And if I felt like I had to explain what happened to me on my social media, it’s not because I thought I owed anything to anyone, I just wanted people to understand what happened, I didn’t want to discredit the Trans community and make it feel like I was surfing on some kind of trend. I wanted people to understand that it’s ok to challenge yourself, to try to discover who you are to finally become a better person. And that even if at one point in your life you’re wandering, it does not mean you’ll always be lost. It might be for the best.
What do you think gender means in 2017?
So, to me gender in 2017 still means the same as like 20 years ago, even though we’re now talking about gender fluidity when we weren’t a few years ago, it’s just that our vision and relationship with it that has changed. The thing is that gender issues are way more talked about today thanks to people like Hari Nef, Laverne Cox, Gigi Gorgeous, and the most talked about these past few years Caitlyn Jenner or even Miley Cyrus that came out as gender fluid. Seeing these people talking about gender issues led us to wonder about who we are and about our gender identity or helped us understand that it’s ok to feel different. Also I believe that there is no more subculture, our generation suffers from a lack of identity, I mean we’re all posting the same things on Instagram, watching the same shows on Netflix, wearing the same things, listening to the same tracks – and at one point it forces us to question ourselves about who we truly are, about our very own opinions, at least some of us, and obviously discovering your sexuality and questioning your gender might be one of the most difficult things to go through at a young age but also one of the first one.
So of course mentalities are now evolving towards the LGBTQ community and at first I thought that at least we, young people, millenials, were at peace with those kind of things, with dealing with others choices of life. But we’re far from being there yet, there are still too many people who struggle to accept it. For instance on social media, I realized how my Instagram followers were unsubscribing when I started wearing make up, etc… I received messages saying «you’re a man not a woman» «do you think you’re Caitlyn Jenner?!» «God made you a man», or when I was working in that gay club in London, I could see some people looking at me weird, or talking about me. And the thing I realized the most is the sexualisation of transwomen, you don’t even know how many straight guys wanted to have sex with me but didn’t even want to have a drink because they didn’t want to be seen in public with a transwoman. Obviously everybody’s not thinking the same, but we still have a looooong way to go wether it is for the gay community, or the trans community. I hope that one day it will be accepted as a social norm, I still don’t understand how in 2016 someone like Gigi Gorgeous was denied entry to Dubaï, just because she’s a trans woman.
Do you see this awareness of gender as a trend or the beginning of something that will last?
I think we can talk of a trend right now, not in a bad way, but there’s all these shows like RuPaul redefining gender today, and as I said we can see more and more transgender actor/actress, singer, model,… But I think over the long term it will last, we needed that “trend” to be aware of gender issues and make a change.
Who do you think is truly changing the way gender is seen, breaking the binary view of it?
First of all, even though I don’t agree with her political positions, I think Caitlyn Jenner helped highlighting gender issues because she was so exposed. Is she the best candidate to be the trans spokeperson? I’m not quite sure. Hari Nef is also really changing the game because she’s a transwoman but she’s not trying to be a fantasy, I think she’s redefining trans beauty by being herself, even though I have nothing against transwoman having facial surgeries and everything, but I think that’s amazing that Hari is showing people that you don’t have to change everything about you to be and to feel woman, I thing a lot of young trans woman can see themselves through her.