Interview by Ralph Edelstein.
Jody Rouwenhorst is a model. She started her transition three years ago and during the Amsterdam Fashion Week 2017 she was the first transgender model in the Netherlands to walk the runway topless.
Transgenders got a much bigger say in the political debate the past few years. What does this mean to you?
I see this as something really positive, as this broadens the acceptance of transgenders overall. For me personally this means I get more modelling jobs, and I’m very happy with that. But on the other hand, there is still a lot of work needed. In the everyday life it’s still not easy. I don’t live in a big city, like Amsterdam, and that is something I notice in my daily life. To give an example, I was assaulted in the local supermarket a while ago by my across-the-street neighbor. So, on the one hand I get my shine as transgender, but on the other hand I get beaten up.
Do you find it important to have a voice in that public debate?
When I started my transition this wasn’t the goal, but along the way I automatically rolled into it. I naturally started to become an activist. You can’t raise awareness solely through modelling – I need my voice to be heard. For now, I’m carefully investigating and shaping the message that I want to share with the world. And it’s much needed. If there are still people that assault me in a f-* supermarket, it just shows how much it is needed to get my message across.
Time for action?
Well, it’s mainly about drawing boundaries. People do not have to applaud me or even accept me, but just tolerating me for who I am would be a good start.
Does your appearance in the media have a positive impact?
Definitely for my own career, but also for the acceptance of transgenders overall. I was part of the documentary series « He is a She » on Dutch television. This show had a major positive impact on the normalization of transgenders in society.
Which taboos do you break?
It may sound odd, but I think that you are a physical taboo as a transgender, or non-binary person. People might find you weird or are scared by who you are, and don’t understand why you would undergo a sex-changing surgery, or why not.
Isn’t that mainly due to the lack of knowledge? That people do not understand what a transgender is and why you feel this way?
The taboo is partly maintained because people cannot imagine feeling this way. « Well, then you change your gender. » But it’s not that simple. It’s more about becoming more and more the person who you really are. It’s about bringing your gender and your sex closer to one another, and ideally, they become one. Although this might not be true for everyone off course.
In 2017 you ran a fashion show topless. Did you want to do this for yourself? Or also to help other transgenders forward?
Absolutely the latter. In the beginning I thought that they just booked me for the opening show of the Fashion Week, I went in quite blank. But eventually they told me that I would only be wearing white undies, while holding a piece of plexiglass in front of me. This was really a big deal for me. And it turned out is was a big deal for the whole country. The morning of the show they wrote a 2-paged piece in the Metro (a Dutch free, daily newspaper). Ever since, my career has taken flight. By then, I didn’t even have my breasts done and was only taking hormones since a year. I though, how much of a woman are you at that point? So, it really was a big statement to walk that show.
What you do with your body is private but walking such a show is very much out in the open. Was this your main
Definitely. And it was only the beginning, so I really hit the ground running
What do you ultimately strive for?
I don’t have an outlined plan, but I always dreamt of going international as a model. And this dream already came true! Last January I walked shows during the Berlin and London Fashion Week. The sky is the limit. This can feel very overwhelming, but it also feels very good at the same time.
What do you think about feminism?
It’s not something that I’m paying much attention to. To me, diversity and equality are much more important, then specific equality for women to men. If a person that is biologically defined female feels equal to a person that is biologically defined male, that feels good for them, but I do not fit in either one of those boxes and can therefore not enjoy this acquired equality. My goal is much bigger: equality for everyone.
Want to know more about Yoni? Read our story.