Elle UK is making history with its June issue, featuring its first-ever non-binary model on the cover, Olly Eley.
In the accompanying feature, Eley writes a powerful essay explaining their gender.
“After years of despising the body that I was born with, unable to relate in any way to the gender I was assigned at birth, I had at last found a way of existing in the world that made sense to me,” Eley writes. “I’ve never felt female, but then neither have I felt male. If there was a thin line that connected the two genders, I would be a dot floating somewhere between the two, but untethered to the line altogether. It’s the only way I can describe it.”
The Australian-British model also describes how they felt to hear someone referred to by the pronouns “they/them” for the first time.
“Before I moved to Sydney, I didn’t have the language or the role models to understand how I felt. I’d never really had the chance to consider that ‘gender’ could be something I could control if I wanted to. Once I moved to the city, that all changed. My mind opened and was flooded with light — there was this whole queer community that I had no idea existed. When someone first introduced themselves to me with their name and the pronouns ‘they/them’, it felt so safe to me. Whoa, that’s the answer to everything right now, I thought,” they write.
Eley also addresses their decision not to undergo a surgical transformation. “There are countless different surgeries that some trans people choose to have to feel more comfortable in their bodies; for me I feel so disconnected from any gender that no body will ever feel perfect. I chose not to have full ‘top surgery’ [a mastectomy], as that body wouldn’t have served me either. Instead, I wanted the option to bind [a method of compressing the chest to give a flatter appearance] and the size of my chest previously meant that I wasn’t able to do so effectively. So I had a reduction to give me that control over my appearance,” they write.
“I bind not because I’m ashamed of my body but because the autonomy of doing so makes me feel safe,” they continue. “I’m not ‘fluid’ where I shift between genders and pronouns. I am agender [devoid of gender altogether] and what I do with my body, whether I’m naked or in a full snowsuit, doesn’t change it. I’ve accepted that I’m a non-binary person living in a binary world (that I have every intention of disrupting!).”
Eley also ruminates on becoming a role model for trans and non-binary kids. “When someone is neither, both or all of the above in terms of their gender — like I am — people can be defensive and reluctant to accept that such a grey area exists,” they explain. “I wish I’d known that it was okay to exist in this ‘in-between’ place when I was growing up. I wish someone had told me that I could be whoever I wanted to be, do whatever I wanted to do and that I was so valid and important. Trans and non-binary kids need to hear that they are beautiful and worthy of love and a fulfilling life.’
The June issue of Elle UK is on sale starting May 6.