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‘I’m still Ivan but I’m wearing high-heels.' - Meet Ivan Fahy, an androgynous model from Galway

The Irish model who’s breaking assumptions about gender.

799-img_0069 Ivan Fahy doing a photoshoot as part of the Thinkhouse X Series. Kevin Goss-Ross Kevin Goss-Ross

“SO MANY THINGS are gendered but in reality things are just things.”

A Galway activist who identifies as male and works as an androgynous model is challenging assumptions about gender and sexuality.

Ivan Fahy’s work may not be considered normal in his industry but he wouldn’t want it to be explaining that, when it comes to gender, there is no such thing as normal. Only people.

Much like a high-heel is just a shoe and not a female shoe, people are just people and who they are is made up by how they feel and their actions.

“I believe that’s how it is for everyone,” he says.

We all are a multitude of things and we as humans have labelled them as male or female and masculine or feminine where in reality they’re all just different behaviours.

The 23-year-old has been working as a model for a number of years but has also assumed a role as educator, travelling to schools and colleges around the country speaking to teenagers and students about these issues.

He often gets crazy questions thrown at him by students who are just glad not to be in maths class, but he adds that there is also a real interest and an increased understanding about gender and sexuality among Ireland’s young people.

He explains that they understand about being gay and straight and that gender is not always straightforward, but beyond that they’re not exactly sure what it means to be transgender.

The young people know that sexuality isn’t gendered, that it’s a lot more complicated. And people know that the way we live is not the full picture, it’s very much about conforming about how we’re supposed to be. So I think they’re excited to dig deeper on the issues.

Ivan isn’t transgender, he identifies as male and uses male pronouns but explains that he’s not going to let that dictate how he chooses to dress or act. It’s about being himself and allowing himself the freedom to do so. He says this allows him to be more creative, something that’s essential to his work.

“If you’re a guy who wears clothes that society accepts, then that’s great for you. But if you’re a guy and you want to be more expressive then it’s really hard and you have to deal with the shit that goes with it.”

That work is something that’s not altogether straightforward either. Ireland’s modelling industry is hard enough when your look is in demand, but when your look is as specific as Ivan’s it can be even more difficult.

He started off doing regular male modelling but that didn’t suit him and he stopped.

Now, he says he models mainly as female but that it depends on what the shoot is looking for and what he feels he can bring to it.

”In one picture I might want to show that I’m a guy who looks feminine or in another picture I might want to be completely unnoticeably feminine, very elegant. So it depends on the reason for the photoshoot.”

‘Asking is always a good thing.’

Asked whether he understands why people can be confused about gender issues, he says he can but that it’s about understanding that how other people feel about themselves is what’s important.

Despite this, his work as a public speaker often leads to him being asked how he identifies himself. He’s fine with this because most of the time the people mean well.

“I think asking is always a good thing,” he says.

I think the problem is when we assume and don’t ask. Yea, people do ask and I tell them that I do identify as a guy and I use male pronouns but that I’m not going to stay in the male box because there’s so much more to me.

For him, one of his most significant moments was when he graduated from university and decided to wear high-heels when doing so.

This decision was made not because he wanted to make any kind of public statement about his identity, but only because he wanted to feel true to himself at an important moment in his life.

Thinkhouse / YouTube

He tells a similar story about being on a recent holiday in Malta when he was “really expressing myself by wearing short shorts and bright colours”. On holiday with his mother, he got frustrated when people kept staring at him.

He mother put it to him that wearing those kind of clothes is always going to attract attention. He disagreed, saying that the reactions he got are in reality more about people’s expectations about what he should wear than his individual choices.

Like, a girl can get dressed up and put on a dress and make up and nobody would say, ‘Who are you know? What’s your pronoun? Are you trans?’But when I put on high-heels people would be like. ‘Are you in drag now? Are you trans? and I feel, ‘No, I’m still Ivan but I’m wearing high-heels.’

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