Model Yuri George Pailman has recently taken the local and international fashion by storm. Pailman was born in Maputo in 1997 and moved to Johannesburg a few years ago. He has walked the most prestigious catwalks in the world and is a talent agent.
Who are you? What do you do?
I think I’m still answering that as I go about life, but I am George Pailman. I am a model, I am a talent agent, I’m a son, I’m a brother, and I identify as gay.
How would you define masculinity?
I think that the world has already defined [masculinity] to the extent that men are supposed to wear pants, men are supposed to shave their hair, or grow their beard. I tend to draw the opposite of it, because for me, masculinity is not an appearance; more of a sense of feeling. I really try to break that boundary between what society thinks a masculine figure should look like and just become completely the opposite.
For me, that doesn’t necessarily mean looking feminine, but just breaking those boundaries and binaries between femininity and masculinity. I grew up Muslim, we have always had this complex of being more powerful as a man. I think that is what defines masculinity; being powerful, being less vulnerable and those are the words that come with the word masculinity.
I identify as he/him and for me masculinity is about me being powerful, but also being vulnerable as well. I have adapted the word masculinity to my own context, I might not look quite masculine to someone who looks from the outside, but for me, it is my masculinity.
How have your experiences with masculinity influenced your career and yourself?
When I started my career, it was quite difficult because everyone was quite closed minded in their binaries and definitions. It was difficult but now it’s become quite beautiful.
I think I was one of the first to break that boundary in the markets I’ve modelled in. When I started walking as a model; my runway walk was always criticised for being a bit too feminine, I never understood that.
For me, it was a powerful walk. Now I get booked for being different. I think being different, or me interpreting my masculinity in a different way than everyone else does, has actually benefited me in my career.
Personally, [coping with masculinity] is a daily struggle. Simply because I am more androgynous, I sometimes get called she/her, which being a part of the LGBT community, I don’t mind, but it labels me into something that I’m not. In the beginning, other people’s ideas of masculinity affected me, quite intensely; I tried to fit into a box or every box that was around me, just to [conform].
I had to accept that I am different, different to my peers and my cousins and my family, because I am the first that I know of to be gay. Self-discovery and acceptance is the first step to self-love.
It’s all about self-love and I love myself, I really do. So people’s projections, people’s ideas on top of what I think masculinity is, do not affect me. If anything, it gives me more motivation to keep being myself so people can see that I am not fazed, and for people to be inspired by being themselves.
What advice, in regards to masculinity, would you give your younger self?
I keep having conversations with my younger self and just trying to figure out, not what went wrong, but what was going on in that moment. I grew up Muslim in Mozambique where the ideal man is strong, is masculine; a little boy supposed to play outside and get hurt and all of that.
I would love to tell myself and younger people, that it’s fine, you’re fine, be whoever you are. Whatever you identify as, is what you are and no-one can ever take that away simply because of what you do, what you look like; it’s yours and no-one can take it away from you.
How do you see masculinity changing?
I hope that every aspect and boundary that has been created before us, before our generation — a man should wear pants, a man should be powerful, a woman should wear skirts and be vulnerable — should be broken down.
I think it’s getting to a point where I see less binaries and there are a lot of people expressing themselves as they please, but for me, the future should have zero boundaries to what a man or a woman should be and how they should act or how anyone should act.