It was during Nashville Fashion Week that I first saw him, modelling in an emerging designer installation called Black By Maria Silver, a dramatic montage featuring an androgynous group of beautiful people gathered in a living room. He was extremely tall, perhaps 6’ 5” or so, towering over the rest of the cast. Wearing nothing but a pair of high-waisted wide-legged pants, platform boots with 5’ heels, and a black necklace around his neck, one might have thought at first glance that he was actually a she, except for his skinny frame and extremely flat chest.
Then suddenly, right before my eyes, he seemed to undergo a transformation. It seemed to me that he was no longer a man, but a woman. Was he the world’s most flat-chested woman ever, I found myself wondering, or the world’s most beautiful man. I really could not tell, so I just stared, looking for a clue to his sexual identity. And he, or she, stared right back, looking me straight in the eye, but not moving, not giving anything away. I could tell he knew what I was thinking, and I could tell he enjoyed every minute of my rapt attention.
But what really captured my attention was his face, serene, with limpid eyes turned down ever so slightly at the corners, an aquiline nose, and perfect ruby red lips. His dark black hair, perfectly coiffed to fit the occasion, framed his face to perfection.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was staring at an Androgyne, a person who does not fit clearly into the typical gender roles of their society. According to Wikipedia, Androgyny does not imply any specific form of sexual orientation. Androgynes may identify themselves as beyond gender, between genders, moving across genders, entirely genderless, or any or all of these, exhibiting a variety of male, female, and other characteristics. Androgyne identities may include pangender, ambigender, non-gendered, agender, gender fluid or intergender. Androgyny can be either physical or psychological, and it does not depend on birth sex.
There is nothing new about androgyny; cross-dressing, or “gender bending” as it was called at one time, has always existed. It was already known in Ancient Greece and in Rome, and has existed through the ages.
However, for reasons that this writer cannot explain, it seems the phenomenon of androgyny has been growing, especially in the last 40 years. Particularly in the arts, and especially in the fields of music and fashion, androgynous persons have become, not exactly common, but not very rare either. Perhaps it’s because they are “out” of the closet now, or perhaps it’s because the times have changed so much, with the dominant restrictions of society, fashion and religion less onerous for those who are “different” than most, and vast numbers of people, especially young people are more accepting of an individual’s unique differences.
Think Lou Reed, and “Walk on the Wild Side” a record known and admired world-wide. Think Boy George and Culture Club, Rod Stewart in his flowing garb, Alice Cooper’s blackened eyes, Elton John, Prince, and the undisputed leader of the pack, David Bowie. One of the earliest examples of Bowie's androgyny is depicted on the cover of his third album "The Man Who Sold the World," released in 1970. Bowie also created the androgynous, space-alien alter ego Ziggy Stardust during that period.
It was several days later that I encountered the intriguing he-she once again. He was chatting with famed New York fashion designer Randi Rahm after her brilliant Nashville Fashion Week runway show, which featured glittering, sexy, bejeweled dresses and gowns, the kind often spotted on beautiful women and famous women at fancy events. I sidled over to join the conversation, and very soon Randi, deluged by fans and admirers, was hustled away. And I was left alone with the awesome Dylan Stephens. I asked him for his phone number, and he did not hesitate in giving it to me. He wrote “Tall Boy Man” and his number in my little Gustav Klimt notebook. Quite fitting, I thought.
So thus began a journey, to where or what I’m not quite sure, but interviewing Dylan Stephens for this article was the first baby step I took in getting to know this oh-so interesting person. And now I’m going to share that experience with you!
Dylan Stephens Interview May, 2012
RR: How old are you?
DS: I’m 21.
RR: 21 years old. That’s a little baby.
DS: I feel so old because I go out and compete with all these girls who are like, 16 and 15.
RR: I wanted to start by asking you about your childhood. Do you have brothers and sisters?
DS: I have one sister and one step-sister.
RR: And are they girly girls?
DS: They’re half and half. They like to get down and get dirty, but they like to get dressed up, too. Kind of like me.
RR: So how old are they now?
DS: 15 and 16.
RR: The age you’re jealous of!
RR: What was it like growing up in a house with two sisters? Were you a typical boy or were you kind of an unusual boy right from the start?
DS: I was always unusual. I was always different. But I was always allowed to be myself. My parents bought me the toys that I wanted to get instead of the toys they thought I should have. So, I would play Barbie’s with my sisters, or I would play Barbie’s but then I would take them on the 4-wheeler. But I’ve always had that kind of ambiguous side of me. I would take my Barbie’s and then I would go play Power Rangers or I would play Mortal Kombat or a fighting game or something. I’ve always been ambiguous but I never accepted it until recently.
RR: When you say “ambiguous” what exactly does that mean to you?
DS: I’m in between male and female and I can play either/or. I don’t feel specifically drawn to either, but I relate to both poles, to both sides of the spectrum. And I’m a happy medium with how I feel.
RR: What happened when you got to school?
DS: It was all right until middle school/high school but then, of course, I was bullied because I was different. I grew up in a small town in Tennessee, in Winchester. It’s a little speck of a town. Of course, I was shunned and all that kind of typical high school stuff that you hear about.
RR: How were you shunned?
DS: Everyone feels some kind of bullying or picking on, but I found refuge in my art classes and my education and my history. Stuff like that, I really was drawn to. I was just in school for the school. I wasn’t trying to be friends with everybody. I was just trying to get in and get out.
RR: Were you friends with anybody?
DS: Yeah, I had friends. Of course, everyone has a couple of friends. I wasn’t like, popular. I was always like, the “art kid.” I graduated with honors. I was a little nerd. I was just really into art. I was into designing clothes; I put on fashion shows when I was in high school. It’s just when I started becoming myself and being who I really wanted to be that’s when people started respecting me.
RR: You’re describing a transition, but what did you transition from first?
DS: I’ve always been the way I am, but I put on this façade that I was something else or somebody else, that I was normal. I would wear normal clothes and stuff.
RR: What were you thinking about yourself at the time? Were you the only person that you knew that was like yourself? Did you feel very lonely?
DS: Yea, I was like, “Why am I this way? Out of everybody in the world, why am I this way?” Because you know everyone thinks that when they’re a teenager and it’s all self-doubt, and they go through all these depressing phases, and they’re like, “This transition is so hard.” I would just say my transition was like everyone else’s; it was just a different kind of transition. I just discovered who I really was.
RR: What does that mean, though? How did you start out thinking, and how did you end up thinking?
DS: I started out thinking that it was a self-imposed pressure to be normal. No one else put it on me but myself. I thought everyone wanted me to be normal.
RR: What did you mean when you say “normal”?
DS: I would go to football games, I would go to the movies, I would hang out with friends. I would wanna do what everyone else was doing, just to fit in, I guess. But then I realized that inside I knew that I really didn’t want to do that. It was just self-imposed that I did that because that’s the way... because I’m from a small town, it’s hard standing out there.
RR: So did you know what it was you did want to do? You knew what you didn’t want to do.
DS: From sixth grade I knew I wanted to design clothes. I knew I wanted to do something creative with myself, get all my ideas out and show them off to people. So, that was always my outlet, was drawing and sketching and making clothes, listening to music, just to get my creativity out. I didn’t even recognize my androgyny or my female side until after high school, until I was 18-ish. And then I started realizing it because I just let it be instead of fighting it.
RR: Did you realize that there was something inside but you didn’t know what it was?
DS: Yeah, it was confusing. It’s confusing enough to be just one, but it’s even more confusing… But I’ve learned to just let it go and let it be instead of trying to fight everything and try to be in control of everything and it’s just not worth it.
RR: Would you say that you are two separate entities, or would you say that you are one conglomerate?
DS: I feel like I’m a happy mash-up of both. I feel like I’m not, I don’t feel like I’m two people, I don’t feel like I’m one or the other. I feel like I’m just smack in the middle and I can play off either one I want.
RR: In a moment’s notice?
DS: It’s very odd how easy I change. One minute I’ll be dressed like this in five inch heels and skin-tight clothes and then the next minute I’m in jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers so, it’s just how I feel that day. It’s very free. I have the freedom to do what I want.
RR: How did this work with dating?
DS: It doesn’t. I’ve never dated anybody. I’ve never been on a date in my life. I scare people. I’m eight feet tall.
RR: I think you’re definitely going to get over that.
DS: It’s another thing of being in Tennessee. I’m intimidating to people, I’m different. I’m not an easy access goal; I can’t just be won over. You can’t just take me out in public … everywhere I go, everyone stares at me, whether I’m in jeans and a t-shirt or whether I’m in what I’m wearing now.
RR: Why do you think that happens?
DS: Because I’m not afraid to be myself. I love when people stare. I love attention, and if you don’t like attention, you probably shouldn’t hang out with me. Because it’s going to happen. If I’m in a hoodie, then people are staring, I might as well just wear what I want to wear, and let them stare harder because I’m not worried about it.
RR: On a daily basis do you have like, “Oh, I think I’ll wear this dress today?” Or “I’ll wear these jeans today?”
DS: I never wear a dress on a daily basis, it’s more of like, in shoots. Dresses aren’t really my style, even though I relate to females and everything that they do. I haven’t gotten to that phase where I feel like I want to wear a dress every day yet. I wear skin-tight jeans, I wear short shorts. What I like is a masculine take on femininity and I like a feminine take on masculinity. I like mixing it up and making it interesting.
RR: It must be very confusing because it’s confusing to be 21.
DS: I was born this way and I was born just the way I am now; I just recently came to terms with it.
RR: Do you have friends that are like you?
RR: Do you know people that are like you?
DS: Not in person, no.
RR: But you have role models?
DS: I have people that I relate to. I have people that I look up to. It’s just, I’d like a friend like me but it’s very strange and very odd to find someone like me. It’s rare.
RR: So, who do you look up to?
DS: First, my mom, of course, because she’s a strong, independent woman. She taught me how to take no prisoners and go after what you want to do. There’s a model named Andrej Pejic and he really inspired me, too. He’s gorgeous. He really inspired me to not be afraid and just go for it. Since I’ve been like him, modeling as a boy and a girl, I’ve actually gotten tons more recognition and work than ever. He’s one of my inspirations, who I look up to because he changed the game. He made it okay to be both. Girls have been doing it for a long time; girls have been modeling as boys for a long time. I think it’s finally fine for the boys to step in.
RR: Is there anyone else?
DS: Just family, because they never said “no” to me. We don’t really talk about things, but they don’t ever stop me. I’m grateful for that. My mom just wants it to be easy for me. She wants me to have a good life and be happy, but I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else than being creative, being different.
RR: Anything else?
DS: I couldn’t do like, a 9 to 5 job. That would kill me more than just sitting at home.
RR: How would you describe yourself?
DS: Like myself, a happy medium. I wear big, baggy tops and then short shorts. Or skin-tight tops and big pants, or usually I always live in 5-inch shoes. Wherever I’m going, I really don’t care that I’m 8 feet tall already.
RR: Don’t tell me you’re still growing.
DS: I don’t need to grow anymore. I’m tall enough. With these, I can control that. I’m like 6’2½” without them so I don’t really want to get much taller because then I won’t be able to model at all, because then I’ll be a giant. But my style is very…. I like basics. I live in basics, like jeans, t-shirts, skinny jeans, shorts, denim, gray, navy, black. I don’t own a lot of color. It’s like, typical model-off-duty look, casual, but you can still dress it up and go out in it. That’s usually how I work. If I can go to work in it and then go to an event after, I just have to make a couple changes. I try to always look presentable.
RR: Do you wear makeup?
DS: I wear concealer on a daily basis. It’s just to cover my 5 o’clock shadow. I’m in the process of getting laser hair removal right now on my face, so once that’s over, hopefully it will all be gone and I won’t have to wear concealer anymore. But, what’s a little concealer? It’s a little nothin’. No one can ever tell unless I tell them.
RR: What about real makeup? Do you wear lipstick and eyeshadow?
DS: Not on a daily basis.
RR: Do you wear it at all?
DS: I feel comfortable in it. I wear it for shoots or when someone wants to dress me up. It’s just a hassle. I like being easy, getting out of the shower and going. I’ll do it, I wear it, I feel comfortable in it, but it’s just too much of a hassle. I’ll just throw on some concealer and walk out the door.
RR: That’s because you’re 21.
DS: I might wear some lipstick after some time.
RR: I’m not putting any ideas in your mind. Growing older is a daily thing. You don’t have to ponder what you’re going to do ten years from now.
DS: Exactly. Every time I look in the mirror I’m like, ‘I should try some anti-wrinkle cream under my eyes or something. My eyes are like, so puffy.’ But it’s just those times when you stare at yourself in the mirror. Everyone has that.
RR: I can just imagine the most beautiful actress in the world, like Marilyn Monroe looking in the mirror and saying, “Oh my God, I look like shit.”
DS: Because you look at yourself every day and you start seeing things that no one else sees or you see things that you think everyone else sees but they can’t see it at a glance, or just first meeting you.
RR: We’re planning to do this story on androgyny, which I told you, you’re gonna be the poster boy for that. But it’s interesting because I feel like one of the reasons that we’re interested in that is I’m starting to find more and more examples of androgynous people. It’s more and more common these days to be aware that this person and this person and that person and this person are not specifically female or male. It seems like it’s more prevalent than ever.
DS: It is.
RR: Would you say that it’s more prevalent than ever or that more people are allowing themselves to “come out,” so to speak?
DS: The glam rock era was a very androgynous, rock star type of era. Like all the hair bands in the 80’s. David Bowie, of course, was a pioneer for androgyny. So, of course, he’s another inspiration for me, I guess. Without me even knowing much about him, I just know that he was a pioneer, and that’s enough to inspire me. If you can do anything I believe in, I love it. If a rock star can do it, it makes it pretty cool.
RR: Do you think the day is coming where androgynous people are going to shun straight people thinking that they’re boring? ‘They only have one sex, I can’t stand being around them!’
DS: No, I love straight people. I need that normalcy; I need that kind of everyday people to balance me out. Because if I get too crazy, then I just get too crazy. And I mean, I like it. Why would we oppress people when we’ve been oppressed for so long? It just doesn’t seem like it would work because it’s just not right, to base your opinions of stuff on things people can’t help.
RR: Which art do you like the most?
DS: I love Warhol’s pop-art, of course. I love performance art. I love seeing people put themselves through insane stuff to get a point across.
RR: Is there an example of a play or a performance you’ve seen that’s like that?
DS: Not that I can think of recently. I saw this thing on the Internet- this lady was dancing in butter. She just put butter on the floor and started dancing on it. It was about, if you struggle, don’t quit… because she kept falling and falling. It was hilarious, but it had a point to it. It was like, ‘Don’t give up, don’t give up.’ Because she kept on getting up and she slipped and fell again, and she kept on getting up and she fell again and again and again. It went on for thirty minutes. She was beating herself up, but it was like, ‘Just keep on going.’ That’s what I got from it.
RR: What do you think is going to happen when you go to New York and there are many people like you? Have you thought about what that will be like?
DS: It will be a culture shock, but I’m not going to be like, ‘I have to be the only one. I’m the only one.’ I’m not worried about it. I think they’ll be good friends because they’re people who will understand who I am and where I come from, and I’ll understand what they’re doing. I’m not trying to make enemies with anybody or seclude myself. I just want to be accepted, I guess.
RR: When you think about love or even marriage do you see yourself being with a man? Do you see yourself being with a woman?
DS: A man. I love women, women are beautiful, women are gorgeous, I love everything they stand for, what they emulate. But I just don’t see myself filling that kind of role in a relationship with a woman. I see myself more with a man, more with someone just to come home to and take care of me.
RR: Do you think that man is going to be like you, or do you think he’s gonna be a manly man?
DS: I think I’m enough me for one relationship. I think I’m enough of everything I am for one relationship. I like normal guys. I like All-American, the opposite of me.
RR: More competition for girls…..
DS: More competition for the girls. Watch out girls.
RR: Let’s continue later. That was awesome, though. Don’t you think it was?
DS: I like it. I’m so nervous; I’ve never been interviewed before.
RR: Really? Then this is definitely good practice!