All photos: Jonathan Hooper
Backstage at a fashion show in Toronto, model Myles Sexton is wearing the final piece in designer Lubica’s show. It’s a tight, asymmetrical bodysuit that hugs his form, and while looking at his hair and face and legs might not give away the fact that he is a man, the way the suit hugs his crotch will. The solution for a male model who wants to appear genderless and let the audience focus on his walk and his outfit: duct taping his penis to his leg.
I met Myles Sexton almost five years ago at Atlantic Fashion Week where he was working as a makeup artist. His tall, slender frame, platinum hair, and full face of makeup intimidated me, and I’d never seen anyone quite like him — especially not in Halifax.
When I moved to Toronto two years later, I was not surprised to learn that Sexton had also found a more fitting home for himself in this city. He quickly began popping up in street style shots, on more event posters than I could count, and on several runways. It was clear that people were intrigued by his undeniably unique look that straddled gender boundaries — and of course, his ability to fiercely stomp around in six-inch stilettos. A man of many talents, his jewelry collection was also gaining popularity, and he was becoming a permanent fixture in the Toronto fashion scene. I knew I wanted to know more about him, and the perfect opportunity arose when it came time to write my master’s thesis. Myles became the focus of my project and, during that time, I learned there’s so much more to him than his beautiful ability to bend gender.
While Sexton was growing up, his peers knew something was different. He remembers the struggle that stretches as far back as grade two, when he tried to bond with a boy in his class. The boy quickly abandoned him when others started calling both of them gay — a word that seven-year-old Sexton didn’t understand. High school was an even greater test because he was gay, effeminate, and had an unusual body type.
“It was really hard, but I think it was that moment when I was like ‘I need to start living for myself every single day,’” Sexton says of his high school years, and his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts.
He began modeling when he was just 16 in an industry that wasn’t eager to embrace his femininity. The Halifax agency that signed Sexton cut off his long platinum hair, dressed him in sweater vests and suits, and asked him to “act straight” in his everyday life. Feeling-stifled, he left the modeling agency, Halifax, and the early stages of a career in makeup artistry.
He tells me his new Toronto home allowed him to be himself. Taking to the streets in towering heels and everything from shredded leather bodysuits to floor-length gowns made of discarded videotape, he quickly discovered a community that understood him in all his glory. It was not, he hastens to point out, the gay community.
“We have all these stereotypes within [the gay] community and I never understood that,” Sexton says. “Why is it that if a man is feminine, it’s a negative thing? I’ve always had such a negative experience with it. I go out, and people call me a drag queen, and a tranny, and that’s not what I am. You expect the gay community to support and embrace it. But you have to be a drag queen or a transgendered person, and if you’re in between, they don’t want to think about it.”
The Toronto fashion community proved to be a much better fit.
“I love it when my friends are sitting at runway shows and they hear the reactions of people, and I come out as a guy and they’re like, ‘Oh man, that guy has so much attitude, it’s really great.” Sexton says of his early experiences modeling at Toronto’s various fashion weeks. “And then a couple models later I come out in a dress and my makeup has really changed, and they’re like, ‘Oh man, look how sexy her walk is.’”
Walking in Fashion Arts Toronto’s 2010 shows was a major breakthrough for Sexton, because designers sent him down the runway in both womenswear and menswear. Videos of these shows capture his hips swaying in a dress and heels, and his masculine swagger in pants and a sleeveless top. In both cases, it’s clear that he is a man, albeit one with uniquely feminine features. This in between-ness is exactly what Sexton strives to achieve.
“It’s hard sometimes because they throw me into these dresses I don’t fill out, because I don’t have boobs,” Sexton says, describing some of his backstage experiences. “If they want me to wear a dress, I’m not stuffing. To me, a set of breasts is a part of being a woman, and I would never identify that way. I physically would never want people to perceive me that way.”
Sexton admits he has used fashion and makeup as a shield, and tells me he once needed outrageous outfits, mascara, and a manicure before he could go out in public. He has since figured out what works for him, and exactly what makes him look and feel beautiful. He wants to wear foundation and mascara to enhance who he is, and he is careful to choose clothing that suits his body type rather than pieces that are clearly from the women’s department. He has toned down his look over the past year, wearing skirts with men’s shirts and his fur coat with combat boots more often than his attention-grabbing stilettos.
Concerns that his decision to set aside his stilettos would hurt his chances of modeling for a third consecutive year in FAT’s 2013 season were unfounded: Sexton was featured on the front of FAT’s program, posters of his face lined the walls of the festival’s entrance, and he was the main character in the promotional video for the week. He booked 10 shows, seven of them for womenswear. When I walked into the festival, the doorman’s response to hearing Sexton’s name was, “Oh, Myles? He’s the face of FAT.”
Despite his ongoing success in Toronto, Sexton idealizes the European fashion industry, where he feels his look would be more appreciated. He got a chance to live that out earlier this month, when he walked in L’Oreal’s couture hair show in Paris. His Facebook wall was littered with congratulatory messages about his dreams coming true and how deserving he is of such an opportunity.
“It has been an incredible experience,” Sexton tells me from Paris. “More people think I’m a woman, because a lot of the women here dress like boys. I think fashion in this city is less about sexuality and more a way of life.”
Sexton recently signed with B&M Models in Toronto, and he’s getting ready for Toronto Fashion Week castings. Busy as usual, he is also hoping to launch his next jewelry collection in November. His latest goal is to make it to London Fashion Week, and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t.
Tara is an East Coaster at heart and a freelancer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @TaraMacInnis.