This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Rhiannon Collett is a nonbinary writer/performer splitting their time between Montreal and Toronto. Their work deals with themes of sex, identity, and belonging. Collett is constantly questioning the prescribed notions of normalcy—pushing both buttons and boundaries—while trying to figure out how we all interact in day-to-day life. “I'm really interested in the gap between how the world appears and how it is. Like, what's the conflict between who we are and who we'd like to be? If you’re running around yelling about how you’re a good person, what kind of person does that make you? I love inconsistency—it’s where the truth shines through,” they told VICE.
The award-winning playwright moonlights as a lingerie model, working primarily with female-driven/DIY creators. While the job of a lingerie model is typically associated with women, Collett has been using the experience to joyfully askew ideas about gender, particularly when it comes to gendering bodies. They get to look great in their underwear and possibly offer a teaching moment. Recently, we had a chance to speak with Collett about their experiences.
VICE: What does being genderqueer mean for you? How do you define it?
Rhiannon Collett: I think above all, being nonbinary is about listening to the different parts of myself. Some days, I feel more feminine, and others, I feel more masculine. Both are an important part of me. Getting dressed every day is finding a balance between how I want the world to see me and how I feel best. People automatically read me as feminine because of my body. I’ll often end up changing outfits to feel more masculine. I have always felt liminal, particularly in regards to my sexuality and gender identity and embracing my identity as a genderqueer person is honoring that ever-changing part of myself.
You work as a lingerie model. When you’re being photographed your presentation is extremely femme. Does that cause any conflict as a nonbinary person?
There’s this idea that masculinity is inherently the neutral—that to be really nonbinary, you have to adhere to this standard that fits a white, skinny, masculine presenting body. I was talking with a friend recently about how I sometimes wish that I had a flatter chest so I could look more androgynous, and they cut me off in the middle of my sentence and were like: Breasts aren’t inherently gendered. This was a good reminder that bodies are bodies and gender is a construct. But truthfully? I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with modeling. I’ll feel really sexy, then my Christian shame kicks in and I think: Oh God, everyone on the internet has seen my butt.
What do you get out of modeling? What does it do for you?
I was in high school when Amanda Todd was blackmailed to death. It happened all because a stranger had photos of her topless. It had a really intense impact on me. I was terrified. I spent a lot of my adolescence viewing my body as something that could be weaponized against me. I would think about my tits and be like: One day, bucko, this nipple is gonna ruin your life. There’s this horrible duality where patriarchy is like we’re going to sexualize you against your will, and you're an absolute slut for showing off your body. So I think modeling, in a lot of ways, is about facing my worst fear. It’s saying: Hey, I live in this body. I’m trying to love this body. It looks cute nude. Fuck you if you’re going to shame me.
I also love modeling as an outlet for expressing my femininity. In the past couple of years, my wardrobe has become a lot of black t-shirts and black jeans, so getting to wear sexy lingerie for cool brands is a way of acknowledging that femininity is powerful and beautiful. It’s a part of me, even though I lean away from it sometimes. Femininity isn’t the opposite of masculinity—it isn’t a reaction against something else. Just like how queerness doesn’t exist in reaction to straightness: We don’t exist because we’re not the other… we just exist. That said, getting emailed a zip file with three hundred photos of my bare ass can be a bit overwhelming but whatever. The world is a mysterious place.
A lot of people get really angry at nonbinary individuals and new ideas about gender. What do you think they’re so mad about?
People don’t like having their baseline perceptions about the world challenged. If you put a huge amount of time into planning a princess-themed gender reveal party, you’re probably going to be pissed when you find out that gender is a societal construct and also… kind of fake. It’s easier to believe in absolutes than in nuance. Sexuality is a spectrum; gender is a spectrum; light is a spectrum. Gender roles are toxic and really mess with people’s personal lives whether they acknowledge it or not.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Graham Isador on Twitter.