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the fall of homophobia in the modelling industry: a sign of our times

Marc Sebastian Faiella is a Parsons graduate and has been modelling for three years. He's also gay and has experienced first-hand, homophobia in the modelling industry as well as finding a place in it where there is no discrimination. With Gay Pride fast approaching, we ask him to tell his story...

After signing with my very first agency in New York I was summoned into a room by two agents, who doled out very clear instructions: I was to always carry around my skateboard, never wash my hair, and constantly talk about girls so I would appear "masculine and bad boy-ish." I was dumbfounded. But what was worse? In a pure lapse of judgment, I almost considered taking their advice. Instead I left the agency immediately and never looked back. One year later, I met my current Parisian agency. Not only did they introduce me to my other, extremely supportive agencies worldwide but it's because of their collaborative support and confidence in me that I now know the extent to which my first agency’s “words of wisdom” were more so just homophobia in disguise.

Bob Dylan probably wasn’t referring to a group of gay male models acting fearless in the face of homophobia, but just as the times back then, now too they are a changin’. It’s been three years since I started modelling and, since my very first casting up until today, I’ve witnessed a profound shift in my gay model peers.

"This is the fashion industry, where us gals often reign supreme. It's impossible to tell from an editorial or a runway show, how limp our wrists are or how high our voices may be. No one needs to know that."

I know I’ve only been in the industry for a relatively short period of time, and I know I can’t speak for generations of past male models. But I also know that many industry veterans can’t seem to recall any openly gay and proud male models of the past. Within the last three seasons, I know I’m not the only one who has noticed the flood of models who are most definitely a "friend of Dorothy." I can recall more than one occasion in which a boy was in heels - or two boys were holding hands at a casting -- and immediately I was rooting for them (mainly by throwing a snapping finger in the air and yelling any number of positives affirmations I've learned from the many seasons of RuPauls Drag Race). And, unlike the oppressive atmosphere of the past, industry people today find it tremendously easier to recall gay male models that are out, loud and proud.

So why is it so different now? Even in the past three years, the change has been palpable. I asked myself this question, along with many other gay models – “sisters,” as I shall henceforth refer to them, and their positive response – their lack of any negativity towards someone’s sexuality – was inspiring, yes, but not all that surprising. Now is a time when “being yourself” is not only revered, but really the only option there is. Being the kids who grew up refusing to be put down, these guys couldn't wrap their heads around the fact that just a short time ago gay models felt the need to "butch up" to attract the attention from casting directors, clients and even agencies.

Yet at the same time, in spite of their strength and solidarity, there is most definitely a small bit of homophobia still lingering in the air. When talking to my sisters, it seems that many still feel the same sense of judgment at castings that I felt during my first year of modelling.  "There is a paranoia in my head at certain castings: are they expecting me to look, to act, to be a certain way? Whether this expectation exists in the minds of casting directors too, I do not know," says Lewis Goodacre. And despite the influx of openly gay models, some agencies are still mercilessly archaic when it comes to freely expressing ourselves on social media. Jacob Mallinson Bird, also known under his drag name Dinah Lux, recalls a certain event, "I did my friend's drag make up while in New York for Fashion week. He put a picture up on Instagram and it got quite a few likes and comments. Next time I saw him he said he had to take it down because his agency said it wasn't the right image they wanted for him. I was a bit taken aback, and just felt so lucky to be with an agency that has pushed me to do it so much more."

"Brands like Jean Paul Gaultier, J.W. Anderson and Craig Green are changing the way we define gender. Models are silent actors, who are asked to portray a certain feeling, person or mood. As long as we can get this right, why should it make any difference if some us prefer to kiss other boys?"

I genuinely believe that my sisters are setting a really good example for not only the future of modelling, but also for young boys everywhere who are inspired by such acts of defiance in the face of discrimination. Each one of these boys has been given the opportunity to be exactly who they want to be without negative repercussion. Joel Mignott says, "I'd rather go into castings and get casted for being me rather than create a persona or illusion to better fit that job." It’s also worth noting that being open about yourself and your sexuality can lead to advancements and niche jobs in the industry. In the case of fellow sisters, Jack Taffel and Joe Brotherton, who were previously in a relationship, it did just that. Styled by Alister Mackie and shot by Alasdair McLellan, the two sisters opened up in a lengthy editorial for AnOther Man, showcasing their relationship in what was arguably one of the most iconic gay editorials I have seen thus far.

I don't want you to think I view this industry as a herd of pitchfork-wielding homophobes because that is not the case. The discrimination is more inadvertent if anything. In fact, one of the bookers who gave me those guidelines for masculinity was actually gay himself. Perhaps these individuals have just gotten so used to how it's always been and what the clients have always wanted that they don't even notice themselves doing it in the first place.

In a way, my decision to discuss this on such a public platform is almost laughable. After all, this is the fashion industry, where us gals often reign supreme. It's impossible to tell, from an editorial or a runway show, how limp our wrists are or how high our voices may be. No one needs to know that, in-between takes at my last shoot with fellow sister Harry Smart, we were talking about lace front wigs and varying heellengths while posing on top of an Aston Martin. Someone once told me that clients don't like a boy who is too feminine because "it ruins the idea of the brand’s masculinity." Well pardon me if I'm wrong, but since when does a fashion brand have any authority or say on gender tropes and masculinity? As far as I'm concerned, there will always be brands that constantly challenge the idea of what a man should wear. Brands like Jean Paul Gaultier, J.W. Anderson and Craig Green (among others) are changing the way we define gender and how we dress it. Models are silent actors, who are asked to portray a certain feeling, person or mood. As long as we can get this right, why should it make any difference if some us prefer to kiss other boys?

Thank you to all of my sisters for their stories and support in writing this article, my amazing agencies worldwide for never asking me once to change myself to better fit the industry, and to i-D for this platform to tell our story.