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My Brother’s a Better Woman than I

LIVING MY GAP YEAR

My Brother’s a Better Woman than I

Zuzu Tadeushuk

My first byline, this piece was published this month in Issue 6 of Unconditional, the magazine perhaps I admire most, and it was accompanied by a shoot of Nicolai and me. 

My brother’s a better woman than I. There’s no question about it, at least where traditionally feminine qualities are concerned: Nicolai wears make up many days and paints his nails while I quail at the very thought. He wears belly shirts; I’m loath to expose the merest wisp of midriff. My brother styles his hair every morning while I haven't run a comb through mine in months; he knows the follicle-enriching properties  of various hair products while I never used conditioner until last year, when a month walking the Spring/Summer runway shows of the ready-to-wear circuit put dread locks on the back of my head. I never would have worked through them had it not been for my brother’s compendium of haircare hacks, and Aveda Damage Relief. 

But these are all superficial features. What I as a woman most lament not possessing are the more inborn of Nicolai’s ephemeral traits—his infallible sense of design, for example, an instinct for aesthetics and artistry that manifests itself in the pictures he paints, the graphic art he designs, the fashion shoots he styles and  photographs. He’s vested too with refined social capacities, thriving in and positively electrifying any gathering he joins, while I hew to the contrary stereotype of silent mannish reticence. Case in point: I’m twenty years old and alone at home right now in a suburb of New York, writing an article on a Friday night when most everything else with a pulse and a good pair of shoes is out on the town—and that’s the way I like it. Cause at the root of it all, my brother has the ease in himself to flaunt his femininity. I don’t quite know what to do with mine. 

It’s a rather new dichotomy, and one that still sometimes surprises me. He’s eighteen and just recently come out, via an Instagram photo of he and another boy kissing in Santiago, Chile, which communicated throngs of truths despite going cheekily uncaptioned. A gay, effeminate, beautiful high school senior, Nicolai is by default always dressed to impress. I, on the other hand, fit the bill for none of the above—not gay, nor straight, nor any sexual label that I’ve established so far, not exactly feminine, but not tom-boyish either by any stretch of the imagination. Just careless, dreamy, geeky me, a fashion model who by most accounts should feel confident and validated by the very existence of my career but who in reality feels rather envious of my brother’s rapid personal evolution. Why can’t I be as effortlessly myself as he? As certain of my identity as he? I guess I could just wake up tomorrow and decide to set up a personality I want to don, but that would likely prove a catastrophe in the long run: if I've learned anything in my  twenty years of existence it's that we as people aren’t meant to get anywhere in our spiritual lives by shortcuts. Cliché as it sounds, it’s the arduous and sometimes tedious process, the circles we run and the desperate cluelessness we feel that conspire to make the final outcome—the fully-actualized self—all the more rewarding. 

I’ve often wondered what all the recent gender fluidity talk means. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the expanding social power to choose and transform gender as we feel impelled, I just don’t think I entirely grasp how it all works. But I think perhaps of late I may venture to guess that it boils down to one thing, and that is a certain individualizing conviction. Maybe it means this: the courageous deconstructing, or the dismissing, devalueizing, of an inherited definition (male/female), and the subsequent freedom to decide, to invent, or to intuit who you are when that boundary is removed. I’m almost positive it’s not a two-step process as simple as 1) Discard your gender definition and 2) Discover your actual sexual stance, but maybe it’s something along those lines? 

In fact it sounds like a thing we should all be trying, straight and gay and all the rest alike. Because if it’s the journey that makes the arrival more triumphant, the search that makes the discovery sweeter, the question that makes the answer more meaningful, then why, why aren't we all searching that search and asking that question! If it makes the knowledge we have of ourselves that much more comprehensive, we should all go about sampling new gender identities before we settle on anything. Not disrespectfully; not mimicking as sport other people’s selves and lives, no. But by being curious in our minds and our ideas, receptive in the ways we consider ourselves and others as well as act towards ourselves and others. And if we come right back to the same conviction we set out with that’s just fine: now we know for sure and are not just towing the line of convention.

There are many themes to weed out and ponder here. It’s something I could discuss at length, and with more attention to truly what it means to be female or male; to how deeply we engage—or don’t engage, in my case—with our genders; to how gender stereotypes shape us (such as Nicolai’s act of wearing nail polish making me see him as feminine. That in itself is a stigma in action. But is it really so unreasonable an assumption to make? I don’t always know). 

For now, I’m writing simply to say that I’m amazed at my brother’s refined sense of self. I’m amazed at the process that brought him to find such a self in what seems to me a vast candy shop of potential selves. For now, I’m trying to do the same, to find some self I can be equally sure of and proud of. I’ll be thrilled if I can learn anything from my brother, even if it’s the politically correct way to talk about these sexuality and gender things, or better yet, the smallest tidbit of advice about finding my own identity in the Personality Candy Shop. Or about fashion sense, or belly shirts. Conditioner. God knows I could use all of the above.

Photography by Will Davidson, styling by Ilona Hamer, Hair by Hollie Mills, Makeup by Mariel Barrera, Overseen by Alexandra Nataf. Thank you a million times to everyone who helped this project into being, it is the best opportunity modeling has given me yet and Nicolai and I will treasure it for ever and ever and ever <3