When I first met Andre J. at the Lower Eastside Girls Club, where he was speaking about – of all things – Real Beauty, I knew immediately that I wanted to feature Andre J. as one of our own Real Beauties. The fact that he was born “male”* and, up until this point, we’ve only featured “women” barely crossed my mind because Andre J. is, by any and all accounts, a Real Beauty, unconfined by gender. And considering that this column is about honoring Real Beauty, in all forms, it seemed like a genital analysis was by all means contrary to the mission entirely!
Some may label Andre J. as “transgender” or as a “cross dresser;” but, as Andre J. told us, “I consider myself genderless.” And if this is what being genderless looks and feels like, we all want in!
So, who is Andre J.? Andre J. is one of the most beautiful people I have ever met – and clearly I’m not alone in thinking that considering he is the only African American “male” to have ever appeared on the cover of a major fashion magazine (but more about that later!). Andre J.’s beauty, though, comes from much more than just staggering good looks! Rather, Andre J. exudes beauty, confidence, kindness, love and acceptance.
*I’ve decided to put gender reference in quotes because gender roles/norms/expectations are continuously evolving and, particularly in the presence of Andre J., called into question (in the best way possible).
We sat down with Andre J. to chat about Real Beauty.
How do you define beauty?
I define beauty by a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful thing that beats. And it’s called your heart. And it’s that glow, that comes from within, that exudes without, that gives you that radiance and that shine that people don’t realize that they’re actually glowing and emanating this joy – that is what is considered beauty to me, because I think that beauty, by superficial terms, you can go to a plastic surgeon and you can get a lip implant, you can get your nose broken, you can get boobs. But that’s not beauty. To me, the beauty that you have comes from within. And it’s about a passion, it’s about an enthusiasm, it’s about a life, it’s about your mind being open. You know, it’s all of these elements that the world, for some reason, isn’t conscious of – that is what beauty really is?
How has that definition, for you, changed over time?
Well, since I have discovered the beauty that comes from within – which is my beauty – it has gotten me to travel around the world for almost 2 years, I’ve been on the cover of French Vogue – where I’m considered the only African American male or, they say, “transsexual,” to be on the cover of a major fashion magazine in full Andre J., in a trench coat, in heels and hair and with a smile! And with a smile! Because on French Vogue covers they never have anyone smile on them before. That joy came from within and it landed on the cover of the fashion bible of the world!
How does being unconfined by gender norms impact how you see and experience beauty?
Well, for me, simply because I am exotic, I find that I can accept everyone and anyone and when I see people I am never judging them for how they look or how they dress or any of those entities of society’s interpretation of what life or fashion or style is. Me, I’m much more interested in someone who has a great smile, or a great disposition or someone just by the way that they walk – you know that they are feeling good about themselves – or someone who has on multi-colors, who chooses to express themselves. That’s what I’m more fascinated by. I’m not fascinated by someone who’s wearing Manolo Blahniks or an Hermes bag. That, to me, anyone can have. You can buy it in a store and you may be the only one in your area with it, but if it’s easy to buy happiness then please, that’s not even real happiness, honey!
When do you feel the most beautiful?
I feel the most beautiful when I wake up because I’m so grateful that I’m actually alive, that I have a new day, it’s a new start, it’s a new beginning.
If you could give your younger self advice about beauty, what would it be?
Love yourself. Love the universe. Love others. And if I had that interpretation from my youth, I would be even further than I am today. So, now that I know those elements, I know to pass that on to other people – as opposed to talking with them about great shoes. And yes, I like great things, but that isn’t the core or substance or what I am – that’s just my taste!
How would you hope to see how others define beauty and gender change over the next 20 or 50 years?
I would love to see more people believe in themselves. I would love to see more people want to be themselves. I would love to see more people who are more fascinated with their individuality. I would love to see people who have a huge nose, love their nose! And if you choose to change it, that’s fine also, but that love has to come from within you – it isn’t defined by how small your ears are. All of these elements that are in society, that are in fashion magazines, do not define or create a good human being. What is does is create paranoia. It creates insecurities. It creates all of these marketing strategies to get you to spend money. Because as long as you feel unhappy, the more you’ll spend money to feel happy when, in reality, if you just took 5 minutes and just sat in the bath tub – for free – maybe bought some Epsom salt and put some scent in the water – you would feel even more impeccable than if you had those $5000 shoes that actually hurt your feet! So, is pain beauty? No!
Who are your beauty role models?
Good question! To be absolutely honest with you, I have grown up on old divas, on icons, not celebrities. To me, Cher and Diana Ross or Buddha or a deity, to me, that’s beautiful because it stands for something. When you looked at Diana Ross, you saw glamour, she was poised, she was graceful, she had charisma, she had charm, she knew how to shine. When you look at Cher: same thing. Tina Turner, Jimmy Hendrix too. It absolutely became a “look,” but it became a look because of that inner joy, inner peace, inner something special they had that showed they loved being themselves.
What message do you hope everyone who hears you speak walks away with?
Love yourself! That’s my mission. I want them to know that they should love themselves. I want to share that. That’s what my new mission is in life: to touch lives and save souls.