Trans Model Stav Strashko On Why She’d Rather Live Without Definitions
By Elaine Welteroth
From Teen Vogue - May 27, 2016
At 23 years old, Stav Strashko has all the trappings of a typical burgeoning fashion model. The Kate Moss cheekbones, the innate cool factor, the lithe 5-foot-11 frame, the flowing hair, and the kind of jet-set lifestyle that begets residences in both Italy and Israel. Then, of course, there’s the starring role as the hot blond babe in this season’s Diesel commercial (cast alongside Joe Jonas, no less). But there is something less expected about this rising fashion star, a fact that may elude even the industry’s most discerning casting agents. Stav is featured in the women’s section on her agency’s website (alongside supers Karolina Kurkova and Helena Christensen), and the most compelling aspect of her success is the journey she took to get herself there.
“I was born a boy, and I consider myself a girl,” Stav explains, pausing a moment to clarify. “I consider myself a girl only because of the world we live in. For example, if I wear a skinny jean, a crop top, and makeup, people see me as a girl, so I feel obligated to say I am a girl. But I would rather live without definition.”
Unlike Andreja Pejic, the first transgender model to land a major cosmetics campaign — and who has publicly discussed her gender-confirmation surgery — Stav has no plans on altering her body. “I do consider myself a trans person. By definition, transgender doesn’t include only those who have had surgery; it’s just someone who identifies with another gender,” she points out. “But I never wanted to go through the surgery — I feel comfortable in my body. I have a boyfriend who loves me the way I am. I don’t want to change anything.” And she shouldn’t have to. Stav represents a new generation that refuses to conform to societal standards about gender and gender expression. That said, the freedom to explore one’s identity without limitations comes with a new challenge.
Finding the language to communicate and, more important, to understand her own identity wasn’t always easy. “No one ever told me what being gay or transgender was. The only time I heard those words used was as an insult,” says Stav, who grew up in a fairly conservative community in Tel Aviv, Israel. “So, when I realized I was attracted to boys and to my feminine side, I didn’t know how to deal with it. It took me a long time to build the confidence to know that this is normal.”
Stav started challenging gender norms early on, with frequent trips into her mother’s closet to play dress-up in heels and makeup. “I knew that I was different, and I was scared of people’s reaction, so I hid it. But I didn’t understand that I wanted to live my life as a girl,” she recalls. “When I realized that I actually felt more comfortable wearing women’s clothes, that was the point when I really began to struggle. I started to think, ‘What does this mean? How do I tell my parents? Should I tell my parents? Will it go away?’ When it didn’t, I started to wander the streets to find friends who would accept me the way I am. Because of my own fear, at around 14 I ended up running away from my life, my school, my home, and everything that was important to me.”
Stav’s turning point came after she was scouted at age 16 and introduced to a much more liberal fashion scene, where she didn’t feel so isolated. “I started modeling with this spirit of trying to figure out who I am. It really helped me to come out of the closet. Suddenly I was accepted and felt free to express myself. It gave me a lot of confidence. And I decided to go speak with my parents.”
With genderless fashion in full swing and a high demand for models who transcend the boundaries of traditional gender roles Stav hopes that “more people learn to just accept the way others choose to live their lives, without thinking about definitions or labels.” She adds wistfully, “The most important thing I wish the world would try to understand about trans people is that it is not easy for many of us. It’s not something we choose. In many cases, it’s something we’re struggling to deal with.”
The indomitable rise of Stav signals that we are living through a seismic shift in how society views gender. “Something I find really refreshing about the English language is that when you refer to someone in conversation, you simply say ‘you,’ instead of in Hebrew, for example, where the word choice is gender-specific,” Stav notes. “When you’re having a normal conversation with someone on the street, I don’t think anyone should care whether you’re a boy or girl because you are what you are. I think it’s a shift we should apply to how we think about gender overall. We still have a ways to go, but I think it’s happening.”