Tim Gunn says he feels "conflicted" about transgender models

Gunn's comments -- ostensibly about diversity in fashion -- were actually just ignorant and transphobic

By Katie McDonough

Published February 24, 2014 10:31PM (EST)

Tim Gunn on "Project Runway"
Tim Gunn on "Project Runway"

In an interview with the Huffington Post that ran Monday, "Project Runway" mentor Tim Gunn said he feels "conflicted" about gender nonconforming and transgender models in the industry. Gunn framed his comments as being in support of positive body images and diverse representation in modeling, but he actually just reinforced destructive (and false) body norms and revealed his own ignorance about trans people, both in fashion and outside the industry.

Discussing Andrej Pejic, who self-identifies as gender fluid and prefers to use feminine pronouns, Gunn said, "The fact that fashion designers would put basically adolescent-shaped boys or men in women's clothes is head-scratching for me because, anatomically, women and men have different shapes. So, to be looking at women's fashion on a tall, skinny guy with no hips, there's no way you can project yourself into those clothes.

"It underscores all of those body issues that we know women have," Gunn continued. "It's the world telling us that there's something wrong with us and that we'd look better in our clothes and the world would think us more beautiful if we looked like this. I think it's horrible."

When asked about his thoughts on out transgender models in the industry, Gunn called it a "dicey issue."

"On one hand, I don't want to say that because you were a man and now you're a woman, you can't be in a women's fashion show. But I feel it's a dicey issue. The fact of the matter is, when you are transgender -- if you go, say, male to female -- you're not having your pelvis broken and having it expanded surgically. You still have the anatomical bone structure of a man."

Pejic summed up the ignorance of Gunn's comments pretty concisely when she tweeted (with some necessary sarcasm) that Gunn was "attacking the little diversity there is in fashion in support of diversity."

"Don't you think @TimGunn that when a designer uses a transgender model they could be exploring an idea that's deeper than just 'this is how you need to look,'" she continued in another tweet. "Perhaps they are exploring acceptance, expanding the idea of beauty and challenging the gender binary!"

Gunn's comments also assume that there is just one trans body "type," Mara Keisling, the founding executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, tells Salon. "Tim Gunn is talking about a topic that I don't think he knows anything about," says Keisling. "I don't think he understands who trans people are, or about the diversity among trans people. He clearly didn't really look at the Barneys campaign [featuring 17 transgender models], or the diversity of trans models who are already working in the industry."

This was a sentiment echoed by trans model and actress Jamie Clayton, who tweeted simply, "@TimGunn, your generalized remarks on Trans women's bodies are ignorant & hurtful. You don't know ALL OF US."

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Fashion Lgbtq Rights Modeling Tim Gunn Transgender Rights Transphobia