TIME Newsmaker Interview

Supermodel Andreja Pejic on the Reaction to Her Gender Transition

Andrej Pejic is seen in Soho on Sept. 8, 2014 in New York City.
Andreja Pejic is seen in Soho on Sept. 8, 2014 in New York City. Raymond Hall—GC Images/Getty Images

And life as a transgender Serbian refugee

Before she started filming a documentary about her male-to-female gender transition, before she appeared on the cover of New York magazine or became an international supermodel prized for her androgynous look, even before she was discovered by a talent scout while working at a McDonald’s in Australia, Andreja Pejic was known to the world as Andrej, a little boy growing up in a Serbian refugee camp during the Bosnian War.

She has since rocketed to fashion stardom and is now embarking on a new, and largely unprecedented, adventure: transitioning from male to female while working as an international supermodel in the public spotlight.

Pejic isn’t the first internationally successful, high-profile transgendered model. But she does seem to be the first to start a career identifying as one gender, and then transitioning to another in the public eye. She’s raising money now to fund a documentary about her transition, and about how the fashion establishment reacts. She spoke to TIME about the project, life as a transgendered Serbian refugee and how the industry has reacted to her transition so far.

TIME: Was a refugee camp a challenging place to grapple with gender identity issues as a child?

Andreja Pejic: I had to learn how to navigate and how to hide it from certain people. I was lucky in that I didn’t have an aggressive Balkan father, because my parents were divorced when I was very young and usually it’s the father in that region that says “You can’t do that” and “I don’t want my son playing with dolls.” So I could get away with it sometimes. I just learned in what situations it was OK and in what situations it wasn’t. When you’re really young people think you’re going to grow out of it. They’re almost like, let the kid have fun and he’ll grow out of it or she’ll grow out of it. Or, it’s just a passing phase. Obviously that didn’t happen.

When did you learn about what it meant to be trans, about the possibility of living publicly as a woman?

At the age of 13 with the help of Google. I would dream about being a girl. I would imagine it all the time, daydream about it a lot. But I didn’t know it was exactly possible. I would talk to my mom about it and she didn’t really know. She was like, “Oh you don’t want to be a woman. It’s so much harder for a woman. You can achieve so much more as a man.”

I didn’t know there were medical terms to describe my feelings, that there were doctors and a whole international community of people and resources and forums. When I learned that it was very eye-opening. I was able to define myself.

Did you ever think maybe making this transition to isn’t a good idea? You went from a refugee working at McDonald’s to an international supermodel. That’s a lot to risk.

It was more about timing. It’s not a desire that you can really get rid of. It’s not really a choice like, “Is it a good idea or not?” It’s not an aesthetic decision either. It’s a constant need. Unless you can fill that need it just grows stronger and you feel that you aren’t living a completely truthful life and the longer you live it like that the harder it gets. Could I have lived in my previous days for the rest of my life? I could have. But I wouldn’t have been nearly as happy and I didn’t want to keep wondering for the rest of my life what it would be like to live as a woman. And I just felt like life’s too short. We are in the 21st century and there are medical advancements. They’re available and why should I not take that opportunity? I definitely delayed my transition. I was originally going to do it after high school but the opportunity to go out into the world and earn some money was definitely great. Modeling became a great opportunity. So I put off the transition but it was always going to happen.

Who do you look to for inspiration?

On a personal level my mom is by biggest inspiration. She’s always been an idol for me. I used to dream about growing up and being like her. She really sacrificed her life for her kids and I really appreciate that. I definitely did look back into the past when I was a teenager for transgender icons, like a famous model called Tula in the 1970s-80s who starred as a Bond girl. She was a leading model when The News of the World outed her. She wrote two very great books. And past models like April Ashley, Bobby Darling. I think that it’s important to recognize the ones who came before.

The unique thing about your story is that you transitioned in the public eye. What has the reaction been so far?

I never thought I would do it this way. I always thought I would leave the life and do it as privately as possible. So when I decided to go public with it there was definitely a fear of rejection and I think it’s something that every person fears before they transition. It’s one thing to have family support and another thing to have the world accept you. I definitely didn’t know what was going to happen and I thought it was important to document it and that’s why we started a documentary. I thought it was important to tell my story.

I have to say the reaction has been pretty positive. I think there’s a level of respect that didn’t exist when I was growing up, definitely, toward these issues. Because I grew up with, you know, Jerry Springer, and that was the only representation of transgender people, and how horrible is that? I think we’re all doing this to tell a story that we hope will inspire other people, in the hope that they won’t have to hide and possibly educate parents and give hope to transgender youth and anyone that felt different.

Read TIME’s Cover Story on Transgender Activist Laverne Cox

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Wendy Davis on the Filibuster That Mattered to Her Most

Wendy Davis
Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis presents her new education policy during a stop at Palo Alto College in San Antonio on Aug. 26, 2014 Eric Gay—AP

It's not the one you think, the Texas gubernatorial candidate tells TIME

In June 2013, Wendy Davis made headlines across the country while standing on the floor of the senate chamber in the Texas legislature.

A member of that chamber’s embattled Democratic minority, Davis donned a pair of pink running sneakers under her otherwise business-as-usual attire and staged an 11-hour filibuster against a bill that included stiff restrictions on abortion across the state.

She ultimately lost that fight — the measure eventually passed and its constitutionality is now being fought over in the courts — but the episode became a viral sensation. Even those running shoes became Internet famous; “Guaranteed to outrun patriarchy” wrote one Amazon.com reviewer of the sneakers.

Davis was propelled to national prominence overnight, and she’s now making a long-shot bid for governor of Texas. But before her 2013 filibuster — which, she tells TIME, is not even the most important filibuster she’s staged — Davis was the daughter of a single mom and a single mom herself, experiences she has written about in her memoir Forgetting to Be Afraid, released this week.

She speaks to TIME about her struggle to get a college degree, her fight for reproductive rights and her favorite ice cream (it’s Rocky Road).

Your memoir is called Forgetting to Be Afraid. What inspired the title?
It was inspired by a Lady Bird Johnson quote. She was asked at least on one occasion by a group of young women how it is that she pushed through fear to do things, because she was inherently a very shy person. She advised them that you have to get so wrapped up in something you forget to be afraid. My whole life story can be captured through that idea. I had to make a way out of no way for myself and my daughter. Due to the fact that I was so wrapped up in trying to do that, I forgot to be afraid of doing it. Along every step of my journey I think that that sentiment really captures how it is that I’ve pushed through fear, put my head down and done what I needed to do.

Are you inherently shy yourself?
I was a very shy child. And I talk in the book about moving from being very shy to being a fighter, and that shift really came from the need to fight first for myself and my daughter and then next in the public-service arena for people who don’t have the same opportunities that I had in a myriad of ways.

In your book you write about your decision to terminate two pregnancies for medical reasons. Did that motivate your filibuster against the Texas abortion bill?
Honestly my personal experience in that regard was part of what I want people to know about me in hopes that it might help people struggling with the same situation. But my stand for reproductive rights in Texas was primarily motivated by my understanding of the harm that would come to women across our state if they were denied access to safe reproductive care. I have always firmly believed that women should be trusted to make decisions for themselves with their family, their faith, their doctor, and that the government has no business intruding in that most private arena. I fought that day for women, and men who love them, whose voices had been cut out of the process. In committee hearings at the state legislature, there were so many people that had signed up to speak and been told after several hours that their testimony was repetitive and they were cut off. I wanted to give voice to the people who felt like they’d not been heard.

But those restrictions were eventually passed. In fact, restrictions on abortion have been tightened across the state.
The first provision, which required that doctors have admitting privileges (to a hospital) within 30 miles of an abortion clinic was implemented right away. It immediately caused 21 of the 40 clinics in Texas to close. The second provision was set to go into effect on [Sept. 1], but a federal judge ruled the law in its entirety unconstitutional. As a consequence of that and while it’s on appeal at the Fifth Circuit I know that some of those health centers are considering reopening, some are waiting to see what the Fifth Circuit will do.

Was the filibuster your defining moment as a politician?
A lot of the people know about my filibuster last summer but as important if not more to me was my filibuster in 2011 to try to stop $5.5 billion from being cut from our public schools and try to stop a dramatic reduction in financial assistance for our students trying to go to a state university. Access to opportunity comes through education, and that is my primary passion and fight. And it’s why I’m running for governor.

You have daughters aged 32 and 25. Do you feel hopeful about their future?
What I see when I look at them is the fact that their mother broke through and got a college degree created a path for them to logically follow. I think about how fortunate they are that they have the ability to do that and I think about all of the other young girls in Texas who are those first-generation college students like me who don’t have the same path available to them. It’s that concern that motivates me most.

According to your book, your mom worked at the ice cream chain Braum’s. I love Braum’s! I grew up in Tulsa.
You did? Well, Texas is all about Whataburger. Oklahoma is all about Braum’s.

But your mom worked at Braum’s! Does this make you a traitor to Braum’s?
No, I still crave a Braum’s hamburger every now and then for sure.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

TIME Newsmaker

TIME Newsmaker Interview: Spelman President on Small College Success, the Flawed Fed Ranking Plan and How to Meet Smart Spelman Women

The Atlantic Presents:"The Shriver Report Live"
Beverly Daniel Tatum attends the Atlantic Presents:"The Shriver Report Live" at The Newseum on January 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. Kris Connor—Getty Images

During an hour long interview with TIME, retiring Spelman College President Dr. Beverly Tatum spoke about race, Historically Black Colleges, and her plans after she steps down next June.

In June 2015, Dr. Beverly Tatum will retire after 13 years as the ninth President of Spelman College. During her leadership of the historically black women’s college in Atlanta, Tatum, 59, raised annual alumni giving to 41%—one of the highest among historically black institutions. Tatum will leave the school having led a 10-year campaign that raised $157.8 million and garnered the support of 71% of the school nearly 17,000 alumnae.

Spelman is an exceptional school in more ways than one: it’s one of the oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the U.S., and it has an endowment of $357 million—the average private HBCU endowment is around $38 million. In 2014, Spelman ranked number 65 on U.S. News and World Report’s annual list of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, the next highest ranked HBCU—Morehouse College—comes in at number 126.

But because Spelman is an HBCU, it’s often mentioned in discussions about the overall fate of black institutions, which face dire financial situations, declining enrollment and questions about their relevance in the 21st century. Tatum says the comparisons aren’t always fair. “Just as we as individuals tend to be stereotyped, lumped together as a group, in the same way the institutions that are serving African Americans are lumped together and are stereotyped as a group. We have to work very hard to penetrate that bias,” Tatum tells TIME.

In an hour-long wide-ranging interview, Tatum spoke about why we should not consider HBCU’s as a monolith, the problems with the Department of Education’s plan to marry financial aid and graduation rates, and what’s next for her post-retirement. The following interview has been condensed and edited for space.

 

You’re retiring in June of next year. Why now?

In the life of a college president 12, what will be 13 years is a long time. The average span of a college president is about 6 or 7 years. It’s a very demanding job—I’m just ready for a new chapter. But I think it’s also a great time to pass the baton. If you think about being a president as like running a relay race, you get the baton from one person and when you get it you run as fast as you can to make as much progress and then you have to pass it to somebody else. I wanted to pass it while there was a lot of momentum.

Your 10-year fundraising campaign raised $157.8 million, with contributions from 71% of alumnae. Forty-one percent of your alumnae give annually. Can Spelman be a model for other small liberal arts colleges and other HBCUs, specifically?

When I started in 2002 [annual giving] was about 13%. I knew that the future of the college really depended on strong alumni support on an annual basis because when you go to foundations, corporations, and other donors outside the alumnae community one of the first questions they’ll ask you is, “what is the level of support from your graduates?” If your graduates aren’t supporting you, why should anybody else? But, I do know that it’s very labor intensive. When you think about a donor who hasn’t been regularly giving to the college and you call her on the phone or you meet with her in person, the first gift she makes might be a small gift. Maybe $25, $50, or $100, but it’s not necessarily going to be a big check. And you spend a lot of time and energy just to get her to write that first check. There are schools that will likely say it’s not worth my time to focus on that little gift, I need to focus on those big gifts that are going to really help sustain me. What we did, which I think was really helpful, was we got one of our trustees to essentially match the gifts that we got from small donors over a period of time so that we knew we’d be able to build up the level of giving, knowing that there was a safety net, so to speak, of this other donors’ match. I think every school has a trustee who would, if you ask them to, help grow alumni giving by matching.

What does the future of Spelman look like?

I think the future of Spelman is bright. Strong philanthropic support, great students, a wonderful tradition of excellence that I’m sure will continue into the future. But I think the next President will certainly need to be thinking a lot about the impact of technology in terms of this rapidly changing world we live in. There are lots of conversations in higher education right now that any new president should be thinking about. I often say when I’m asked what the characteristics of that new president should be—and obviously it’s the board’s decision to choose— but it should be someone who can be a really fast runner; someone who can take that baton and just go with it.

What’s next for you?

It has been tremendous honor to serve as the President of Spelman College. It’s been a high point of my career and I’m looking forward to this coming year. Before I became the President of Spelman I was a professor, but I was also a writer. I want to return to writing. So my first project will be to work on my next book. One of the books I want to revisit is “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” which was written in 1996. I want to reflect on the last 20 years and figure out what I will say differently, but I don’t know the answer to that question yet.

How has the overall college landscape changed during your time as the leader at Spelman?

I think the concern about cost and affordability has really gotten more intense. How can we provide [an education] in a cost effective way so that students can afford to come—whether that’s providing more financial aid or figuring out a way to offer it less expensively. Because we know that everyone needs an education, but a lot of today’s students can’t afford it. And I think that that conversation has really gotten more significant for everyone, not just at HBCUs, in part because the vast majority of today’s high school students are coming out of low to moderate income families and are often first generation college students. It’s not just an HBCU question. Everybody has to figure out, how do we make this more affordable?

I know that’s something First Lady Michelle Obama has been focusing on, increasing access to higher education, particularly among African American students. But at the same time the Obama Administration is working to distribute funding based on graduation rates, which have long been a problem for HBCUs. What do you make of that?

There’s an irony there. When you are serving low-income students there are many barriers to their completion, some of which have nothing to do with the school. There are all kinds of circumstantial situations that make it hard for students to persist. If you are providing services to students who are coming from high-risk backgrounds, the odds of their completion are going to be lower. One of the things we take great pride in at Spelman is our ability to graduate students at a high rate, but even at Spelman we have found since the Great Recession it’s become more difficult for us to maintain that graduation rate. More and more students are having to step out because of financial concern. I think when the Department of Education says to an institution that we’re going to judge you by your graduation rate— I hope that they will compare apples-to-apples. If you’re a well resourced institution serving a high-income student body, that graduation rate better be high. You have no reason for it not to be. But if you are looking at the performance of schools that are serving the most underserved student population, you should compare apples to apples to make sure that you are holding all of those variables constant.

Do you think that proposal will have an adverse impact on HBCUs in particular?

HBCUs have historically served those students who are most at-risk. Every HBCU is different. If you’re a school that has more open enrollment, more selective and students who are financially challenged you are hopefully going to transform their lives through the education you provide but your graduation rate is not going to be as high as someone who is dealing with a different socio-economic demographic. Graduation rates of institutions serving high percentages of under-served students should be evaluated in relationship to predicted retention rates for low income first generation students.

In previous interviews you have said people often talk about HBCUs as if they’re monolithic, as if they’re the same school. Where do you think the disconnect is in understanding HBCUs and addressing issues that face them?

That really has to do with understanding African Americans in general. Just as we as individuals tend to be stereotyped, lumped together as a group, in the same way the institutions that are serving African Americans are lumped together and are stereotyped as a group. We have to work very hard to penetrate that bias. You don’t regularly read articles about predominately white institutions are in trouble. You know what I mean? You don’t. So why is that when an HBCU closes its doors because of a loss of enrollment or loss of accreditation we read articles in which all of us get mentioned? That is, I think, just consistent with the stereotypes that have permeated our culture about people of color and the institutions of color.

What about the question of HBCU’s relevancy? Is that the same issue?

It’s a very interesting question. Why do people ask this question? We know that the history of HBCUs is that they were created at a time when there was no opportunity because of segregation, at a time when there was no educational access for African Americans. When Spelman was founded in 1881 in the city of Atlanta, there was no other opportunity for black women to get an education. So people will say, well now those majority institutions are available so why do we need those other institutions? But that fails to acknowledge the other purposes of HBCUs. An HBCU not only provides an educational opportunity for those who have been underserved, but it does so in a context in which the culture from which they come, the history that they’ve experienced is affirmed and acknowledged in a way that’s very empowering. And so the need for empowerment is always relevant.

I had a really interesting conversation with a white male educator and he asked me about the relevance. He went to an Ivy League school and said he would have really benefitted from having women like the women who choose Spelman at my college. He said that would have really benefitted his education. I understood what he was saying, but he failed to realize the privilege in his statement. The parent who writes that check for their daughter to go to college is not thinking, “she’s going to help someone else get a good education.” They’re writing that check because this is the best possible experience for their daughter. And one of the benefits for American higher education is that there are a lot of different schools to choose from. If that guy really wanted access to smart, Spelman women he could have enrolled at Morehouse. [laughs].

 

TIME Newsmaker

Senator John McCain: “We Are All Ukrainians”

John McCain, Tom Harkin
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, right, and other senators come and go from the chamber during votes at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

In an interview with TIME, the Arizona Senator said Obama is “naïve” about Putin’s ambitions “to restore the Russian empire.” McCain says he wants to see the Obama Administration move a short-term economic aid package for Ukraine as quickly as possible

In response to reports of a Russian takeover in parts of Crimea, Arizona Senator John McCain declared Friday, “We are all Ukrainians,” before calling for swift U.S. economic aide to Ukraine, new moves to condemn Russia at the United Nations, sanctions against Russian officials and the installation of U.S. missiles in the nearby Czech Republic as a show of American regional strength.

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes “this is a chess match reminiscent of the Cold War and we need to realize that and act accordingly,” McCain said, in an exclusive interview with TIME. “That does not mean I envision a conflict with Russia, but we need to take certain measures that would convince Putin that there is a very high cost to actions that he is taking now.”

The comments echoed McCain’s 2008 statement, “We are all Georgians,” which he made as a Republican candidate for President after Russia invaded Georgia. Six years later, McCain says he feels the same about the plight of Ukraine. “We are all Ukrainians in the respect that we have a sovereign nation that is again with international boundaries… that is again being taken in as part of Russia,” he said in an interview in his Senate office. “That is not acceptable to an America that stands up for the rights of human beings. We are Georgians. And we are Ukrainians.”

Leaders of the newly formed Ukrainian government say Russian forces moved into Crimea’s two airports and parts of the province’s capital of Simferopol early Friday, though the troops wore no insignia. The Russia has an historic military presence in the province. The incursion comes after pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in fear of his life after pro-European opposition groups in parliament voted to oust him. Ukraine has been torn part by violent protests since Yanukovych walked away from a trade pact with Europe in November and sought a bail out from Putin.

In the interview Friday, McCain said President Obama has “been incredibly naïve” about Putin’s goals. “Putin wants to restore the Russian empire, that’s his ambition, he’s stated it many times. Therefore no one should be surprised,” McCain said. “I predicted it and I’m not a genius. But I know Putin.”

McCain says he wants to see the Obama Administration move a short-term economic aid package for Ukraine as quickly as possible. Kiev is “on the verge of an economic collapse. That would give credibility to the new government,” he says. The U.S. should also be working on a long-term International Monetary Fund bailout for the Ukraine, McCain says.

On the military front, McCain believes Putin needs to face a show of U.S. strength. Putin is “convinced that the United States is weak and there’ll be no significant retaliation of his occupation of the Crimea and possibly eastern Ukraine,” he says. He wants to see Obama revive the Bush era missile defense plan, which would have placed U.S. missiles in the Czech Republic. He also believes that speeding up Georgia accession to NATO would send a strong message to Putin.

McCain would like to see the U.S. introduce resolutions in the United Nations Security Council condemning the violence in eastern Ukraine and approving an international response, though “obviously they’d be vetoed” as Russia is one of the five permanent members of that council, he says.

McCain also supports expanding the Magnitsky Act to allow the U.S. to bar certain Russian individuals involved in any incursion in Crimea and Ukraine from getting U.S. visas and doing work with U.S. citizens. That law was passed in 2012 in response to the 2009 death of lawyer Segei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison while he was investigating fraud and corruption involving Russian tax officials.

Finally, McCain said Obama needs to be braver in his foreign policy, citing Ronald Reagan’s declaration that all Americans stand with Israeli human rights activist Natan Sharansky, who spent nine years in a Russian gulag starting in 1977 on accusations of spying. Reagan “took a beating for saying it, but it reverberated every where, other than the gulag.”

“So, what I’m saying is: ‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls,’” McCain continued with a wink, paraphrasing the famous John Donne line about the interconnectedness and mutual responsibilities of humanity.

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