Garnet Rubio is tired of gender labels being a topic on everyone's lips, which made her a perfect collaborator for photographer Courtney Charles, whose new photo series, entitled Pleasure Bots, imagines a future in which androids become self-aware, and their gender is less of a focus than their personal autonomy. "As gender becomes more fluid, it makes us question what defines us as humans," Charles says. "People want to put other people into categories instead of seeing them as an individual. Through this art, and through this lens of artificial intelligence effectively creating a new minority with its own culture, I want to help people realize that humans are no different and our consciousness has no gender."
Still, Rubio is open to speaking about her struggles as trans model; her appreciation of how gender nonconformity is increasingly permeating fashion; and even how she is among a select group of trans women to receive a pioneering form of gender confirmation surgery, which has made Dr. Jess Ting an in-demand surgeon at New York's Mt. Sinai hospital. These experiences, along with being signed to a forward-thinking boutique management company in New York, have allowed Rubio to further become the self she's long known--and to express it through art.
"I have photographed Garnet several times," says Charles, whose Blade Runner-inspired exhibition will have its official opening this Sunday, and also features New York notable Vincent Cooper. "I've watched Garnet blossom into her true self over the years. I was so blown away by how well we were able to create this vision of the future I had in my head. It's the future I wish I could live in now."
Here, Rubio shares bits about her past and present, and her own future hopes.
OUT: In your speech at the Community Health Awards last fall, you discussed the unpleasant time of working as a male model before coming out as trans at 20. How have your opportunities and experiences changed since making your transition?
Garnet Rubio: Ever since I was signed to Nova Management, I have been given the opportunity to model exclusively as a female model which I love. My new agent, Ty Pike, gives me the respect I feel I've been searching for since I entered this game five years ago.
Who are your icons and why?
My current icons would have to be Kim Petras and Lorde. Kim Petras is one of few trans women who is given a positive platform, and one in music, nonetheless. Her career is still in its early stages, but she is someone I have my eye on and I really hope she is given the opportunity to prosper and bring more attention to our community. As for Lorde, the lyrics she uses particularly communicate to me in positive ways. I love the way her brain works.
What are your fashion inspirations, and what are your personal views on how gender is perpetually blurring in the fashion industry?
I've really been into thrifting lately. I like to buy random pieces of clothing and combine them. Some of my outfits kind of don't make sense but it's really what makes me love my own personal style. I never really had the chance to grow up as a girl, so it's fun to play around and experiment with gender in fashion. It's especially encouraging to do this in 2018 where fashion is becoming more and more unisex. Nowadays so many people are androgynous and I love it. I think it's romantic.
I understand you're one of few people to undergo a very specific type of gender confirmation surgery, now conducted at Mount Sinai hospital.
Yes. My surgeon at that hospital used my stomach lining to line the inside of my vagina, enabling me the ability to produce lubrication. It's pretty neat.
What advice would you give to other trans people who are struggling with their identity, their openness, or their own transitions?
Be you. Listen to yourself and do not listen to anyone else. I got to where I am by ignoring people's opinions and staying on the path that I have built. If you want to be happy, you have to nurture yourself and be exactly who you want to become.
What have been your greatest successes and greatest struggles as a model?
I'm only 22, so I wouldn't call myself a success quite yet; however, my greatest struggle as a model is not only being recognized as a female, but also being taken seriously. It seems that almost every job or gig I have been given has revolved around my status as trans, and it's just boring. I'm tired of trans being such a thing. I didn't endure five excruciatingly painful surgeries to still talk about how I was born.
On that note, this exhibition and editorial imagines a more genderless world, in the sense that our consciousness as humans may have no specific gender definition. What are your thoughts on this?
I absolutely love it. I am so beyond sick of gender being the basis of everything. Gender constructs seem to define everything we are capable (or incapable) of doing, and I am over it. It's canceled. Courtney's vision means a lot to me, and he is one of the most talented photographers I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He saw potential in me before I transitioned, and he still sees my potential. I love him as a dear friend.
His editorial is also about the future. What are your personal hopes for the future, and what are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community?
Regardless of the current state of our politics, I still see a positive trend in the future of the LGBTQ+ community. All I want is for a future of normalcy--a world where we are seen as normal. My personal hope is for a future where trans is not such a topic of discussion. It is seen as a community of people that simply exists alongside humanity just as everyone else does. And I'm empowered by the future. By goals. What can I accomplish? What can I bring to the table? How can I better improve my life and the lives of others? I want to prevent even one person from experiencing the pain I felt growing up confused. Being given a platform where I can help educate means the world to me, and it's all I want to do with my life.
The gallery opening for Courtney Charles's Pleasure Bots series takes place this Sunday, April 8, from 6 to 9 p.m. at 317 Church St. in SoHo.