For Ruby Rose, these words mean finally saying “f*** you” to the insecurities that have always accompanied her sexuality. Miss Rose posted her short film, Break Free, to her YouTube account back in July, which celebrates “gender roles, Trans, and what it is like to have an identity that deviates from the status quo.” The film has since gone viral and Rose has become an inspiration to over 300 thousand fans and (Facebook) followers.
Interview with Ruby Rose
By Kristopher Fraser
It’s been a couple of months since you posted your film, Break Free, on YouTube. Aside from going viral, what’s been the biggest surprise with this project?
First, I released it on Facebook and it went from a couple thousand hits, to millions, in one day. Every time I would check my feed, the views would rise by a million, until the film reached just over ten million views. Then, I uploaded it to YouTube (knowing that not everyone has Facebook), where it gained another two million views.
That, in itself, is completely mind blowing. It was my video and my story and I never thought so many people would care. Yet, at the same time, it’s not surprising, in the respect that it’s not news that millions of people around the world have similar experiences of gender fluidity.
Gender isn’t just black and white. Some people may believe it to be and that’s fine, because that may be true for them. However, for many people, a battle occurs when trying to fit in with what they believe society expects from them. There’s pressure to wear a dress and paint your nails if you’re a woman; pressure to never cry and to love football if you’re a man. These are old stereotypes; stereotypes that also endorse the idea that same sex relationships are unnatural.
I stand by the belief that women can have short hair and dress like boys, and men can have long hair and wear dresses. Men can like men. Women can like women. Who we are, and what we identify as, is entirely up to us as individuals.
You spoke with The Guardian, back in July, explaining how it’s possible to watch Break Free from the beginning to the end, or from the end to the beginning – was this intentional?
It was, yes. The idea was that I would film myself transforming into another gender, from start to end, which naturally meant that it worked either way you watched it.
How has posting the video affected you on a personal level?
I thought I was already confident in my level of gender queerness. I’ve been pretty open about it and I style and act according to what makes me comfortable. As I’ve matured, I’ve embraced it, while being in the public eye. If you Google my red carpet looks from 2008 to now, you’ll see it took me quite some time to gain the power to control my image. No one dictated what I wore, but I felt certain things were expected of me. Slowly, this was peeled away. I wore more unisex clothing, I leaned towards shorter and shorter hairstyles and found my vibe. (I admit, I can’t blame society for some of my horrible outfit choices along the way!)
After releasing Break Free, my level of self acceptance, and the duty I feel to bring out the same in others, has grown exponentially. This is partly due to the influx of messages and posts, the news articles, comments and letters, and of course, the people who stop me in the street, everywhere from Texas, to LA, to NYC. They all tell me what it meant for them to see a tangible, emotive depiction of what they were dealing with. This cemented in me, how important it is to be authentic, when I get to be in this blessed position. If I have a voice and access to millions of people’s ears and eyes, I should be drawing them to important issues. Breaking gender stereotypes is definitely one of them.
What was the greatest difficulty you had in making the Break Free video?
The only thing that was difficult was covering my tattoos, and of course, the all important decision about whether I would include the dildo in the transformation, or use the second take instead, which was with a sock.
I was slightly worried the video would be banned, or taken down but I thought the dildo was an important element… Perhaps I didn’t really think it through: 15 million people seeing me in my underwear, with a dildo on, but it was that kind of vulnerability that gave Break Free the truth it deserved.
What are your hopes for the non-gender conforming movement?
I just hope for acceptance; something we continue to fight for in many areas of life. Understanding would be brilliant too, but it’s not a necessity. Not everyone will understand or care to be educated about gender issues but that doesn’t give anyone the right to judge or make others feel less than.
Which groups have played the biggest part in advancing the idea that not all people conform to traditional gender roles?
The feminist movement, gay rights, as well as just individuals and the media.
Not everyone who’s gender queer is gay, either, which is a common misconception. And watching more and more people in the limelight, paving the way – like Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono and many more – helps this become a less taboo subject. Even the way Angelina Jolie is raising her beautiful daughter, who likes to dress like a boy, and be called ‘John’… All of these brave acts are creating ripples in people’s ideals.
Do you think the media is finally making progress in realizing there are more people than the public even realizes who do not fit in with the gender binary?
More trans* characters are appearing in primetime television and TV shows like ‘Orange is the New Black’ and ‘Transparent’ have become huge hits, not just indie, fringe shows. The process of making a TV show is not an easy one, and to have it remain on air is a whole other challenge. Clearly, with shows like OITNB, they were green lit based on a screen play, financed by someone who believed in telling the story, and then kept on air because millions of people are tuning in.
Previously, you grew your hair long, in order to appear more feminine and land jobs in the entertainment and modeling industries. Why do you think modeling is widely considered a ‘feminine’ career choice?
I don’t know if it’s the same nowadays but back when I started modeling, androgynous models were few and far between. There were maybe a few andro men… but boyish-looking girls?! It wasn’t like it is today, with amazing models like Erika Linder, Andreja Pejić and Jana Knauer, all killin’ it in the industry, modeling both ‘male’ and ‘female’ looks.
I shaved my head at 15, kept it short ’til I was 18, then grew it ’til I was 20, to give myself a better shot at getting my dream job. Once I had my dream job, I applied for permission to cut my hair after about eight months, haha.
You came out when you were very young and took a lot of hits (verbally and physically) for it… Looking back on these experiences, what do you wish you could tell a 12-year-old you?
Don’t worry, Kiddo. It gets better! It might sound cliche but that was literally what I did tell myself. I told myself I would one day be in a position to help others who were bullied for the same reason. I kept it as my dream and I never stopped aiming for it. That’s what kept me going when I was at school.
Coming out at a young age is, without a doubt, a really hard thing to do. Do you ever wish you’d made a different decision and avoided the backlash a little longer?
I regret nothing (said in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice). But seriously, I wouldn’t change any of it, as it all landed me here.
Do you think you would’ve handled such a difficult time differently, had you been a little older?
Yes, I wouldn’t have let it get me into the deep and frightening depression it did. I wouldn’t have skipped school to avoid being beaten up. I’d have changed schools earlier. I’d have focussed more on studying than surviving.
Is the music industry different from the modeling industry, in terms of sexuality?
Not really. You have pioneers in both. Madonna’s ‘Erotica’, and the Madonna ‘Sex’ book were huge statements on sexuality and feminism. Madonna communicated her stance through modeling and music. I think both of those careers are art forms and art is a way of expressing oneself. So, from fashion, to music, to film, to modeling; ideas about sexuality are going to keep being spread through these platforms.
While most people choose to shy away and try to ignore internet trolls, you wrote a response to some negative comments on your YouTube account. Has acknowledging cyber (and real) bullies helped you cope with your past? Would you say the bullies still “get to you”?
I really have to learn to stop doing that, lol. Something I’m working on with my therapist.
You once told MTV:
“being a model there is always something they want to change. Whether they want someone a little bit skinnier, a little bit taller, a little bit prettier, but MTV wants you to be yourself… not censoring anything and not conforming to anything.”
How has working with MTV helped you embrace your sexuality? Would you say that a job like this (versus modeling) was therapeutic for you?
Oh, absolutely. Same goes for working with Maybelline. Two enormous, world renowned brands, both supporting me, not just based on looks but on what I stand for. Accepting and even promoting what and who I am, and wanting to align it with their brand, means that things I was once beaten up for are now being embraced.
You’ve touched the lives of so many who can relate to you and your experiences with your sexuality. What has been the most rewarding part about this journey?
The fans (I hate that word) I’ve had contact with, the stories I’ve heard, that are so similar to mine, and hearing that I’ve helped people in coping with those things.
What’s next for you, personally and career-wise?
I’m currently shooting a TV show and a pilot, as well as still DJing and producing music. Things are going to get very big in 2015 but for now, my lips are sealed. 😉
Editorial exclusively shot for All My Friends Are Models
Styled by Sasha Benz
Make Up by Misha Shahzada
Photography by Brad Triffit