Agender Person Goes From Being Bullied In The Newark Projects To Gracing The Cover of French Vogue

by Andre J.

I’m Andre J., I’m from Newark, New Jersey. I remember this one particular time growing up in the projects that I was coming home from school and a 20-year-old looked at me and said, “You’re a sissy now and when you grow up you’re going to be a faggot and you’re going to take it in the–” I’m not going to say the graphic part. And it’s ironic because my Auntie overheard her and my aunt was just shocked that, how could someone say something as mean to a child, and my auntie committed an act of whoop-ass, that’s what we called it. She and my aunt actually started fighting and from that moment on, I was shocked. I had never experienced anything as severe or as critical as that. And that made me not like going outside, that made me stay in the house, and from staying in the house I found this passion for television. And on television I realized that there was a woman named Diana Ross and then there was Cher. And these ladies were beautiful, they were magical, they were captivating, they were sophisticated, they were classy. And that was my escape. It gave me this liberation of loving yourself. There was a poise and a grace that they had that inspired or ignited something in me that I just wasn’t aware of. I remember at 10 years old, I remember going into the bathroom one day and I saw my reflection in the mirror and I said, “Andre, I love you.” From that moment of really understanding that love to myself, I felt this huge relief. So years later, I decide, you know, I met a few friends, they were like, “Let’s go to L.A., it’s a new start, we don’t know anyone, we can master our artistry, it’s a whole new beginning.” It was wonderful. So when I got to L.A. they were fascinated by my style so I ended up doing three appearances on Jay Leno, I ended up being on this reality show called “Being Bobby Brown” with Whitney Houston, and I was like, “Oh my goodness” all of these things that people teased me about or called me names about. Those things that were supposed to be my flaws were really my strengths. And I was like, “I’m going back.” I’m like, “L.A., this is cute, this is great, but peace! I’m out of here, I’m going back.” So I went back to Newark and from Newark, on the airplane I saw something about Two-Spirits. Now Two-Spirits are Native Americans and the Two-Spirit basically represents the balance of the masculine and feminine spirit. But with Two-Spirits, they focus on gender and your gender is the focus of the role you play in your community. So when I saw that, I was like, “oh my goodness” so this is not just about gay or straight, this is about the spirit of people, this is about the way people feel about themselves. So when I returned back to New York City I had this new idea of life, this new energy, this spice. I decide I’m going to wear a wig and women’s clothes and heels and dresses. When I was doing this in 2005, no one looked like what I was doing. And I started working for Patricia Field and I became the PR Director for the boutique and I had a client by the name of Joe McKenna and ironically one day I’m walking down the street to have lunch and Joe yells to me and says, “Andre, I’m on the phone with Bruce Weber and he should shoot you.” And I’m like, “Okay, it’s New York, sure, let’s make it happen.” I get a phone call from Bruce’s assistant, her name is Gwen. I remember this day so vividly. Gwen says to me, “Andre, I want you to come to a casting to shoot with Bruce.” So I get there and it’s the most shocking experience you can imagine like, this is Bruce Weber who shoots for Abercrombie and Fitch, who shoots for Vogue, I mean he’s Bruce Weber, like the greatest. So I show up for this casting and to make a long story short I end up booking the job. And to make it even more fantastic is I am on the cover of French Vogue 2007 which makes me the only African American male–statistically male–but the only African American male, genderless, to grace the cover of French Vogue. It’s the most unbelievable experience that one can have. I think the overall vision of what it is that you see comes from the depth of me loving myself. It’s not just about the exterior. The exterior is what it is because the interior actually is in alignment with it. I love myself. The most important thing you can do regardless of what anyone is saying to you, find out who you are. Love yourself. You are going to experience adversities, you’re going to experience diversity, you’re going to experience all the things under the sun, that’s just part of life. But the real focus of you living your life is the importance of loving yourself. There’s nothing like it. You can conquer all when you love yourself.

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