She may have faced backlash after posing topless for a Canadian newspaper, but that is not going to stop her
Bret Easton Ellis recently dubbed today’s young people ‘Generation Wuss’, referring specifically to our untempered, heightened level of sensitivity. As the social media generation, he said that we have unlocked within ourselves new levels of narcissism, and combined with our glaring ignorance of real hardship, we are overly susceptible to any and all criticism. However, one individual who contradicts this theory, and represents a maturity and inner-strength beyond her age, is Amelia Maltepe, a transgender model.
Born in Dhaka, in conservative Bangladesh, Amelia started life as a boy, named Adesh. Moving to Toronto in 2009 to study, Adesh’s eyes were opened to the possibilities of gender transformation, and his journey to becoming a woman began. Having battled years of internal conflict, Amelia now stands as an inspirational figure to transgender individuals: “Everyone is a human being and deserves to be treated with respect regardless of their sexual preference or lifestyle,” she explains to me.
Amelia had to endure fierce criticism last year after making the decision to appear in a topless photo shoot for the Toronto Sun. After her birth gender was made public, an online petition was set up to bar transsexuals from modelling in the publication. Given the recent backlash against Page 3 girls here in the UK, topless modelling is clearly still a divisive subject, but given that Amelia’s decision stemmed from her desire to enlighten, and affect change, perhaps it should encourage a shift in thinking.
“As far as any controversy regarding the Toronto Sun , I am happy to say I have been inundated with positive comments that by far outweigh any negativity,” Amelia explains to me. “I am not ashamed of my lifestyle. In fact, I am proud and comfortable acknowledging that I am a transgendered individual. I also acknowledge that no matter what the issue may be there will always be some people who will be critical. So one must be strong and committed to their choices if that is what is best for them personally.”
The importance of familial support throughout Amelia’s journey cannot be understated, and she was lucky to be surrounded by attitudes of love and tolerance. Perhaps surprisingly, given their cultural background, Amelia’s parents encouraged their child to pursue her happiness: “My family were aware of my natural instincts as a child growing up and were in total support of my decision. Their love, support and understanding were a great help to me as I went through the transition.
“I am a different person since I went through the change. As a child, growing up, my mind and my body both seemed to tell me that I was a girl, trapped in a boy’s body. I used to feel so anxious all the time.”
The change in Amelia’s attitude from this time is clearly evident: “As soon as my surgery was complete I felt like the person I was meant to be. Spiritually, physically, sexually, and mentally I felt like, and still do feel like, a new person. I was on a new journey in my life, one filed with joy, pride, and confidence.”
It’s not just her family who has provided a wealth of support. Amelia is currently living with her 27-year-old, stable boyfriend, Charles Dubuc. A personal trainer and model, Amelia tells me that Charles has been a tremendous source of strength in her life. “[He] knew from the time we met what my feelings were, and he not only understood, but fully supported me, which was so reassuring. He only asked once, ‘Are you sure this is the right thing for you, are you sure you will not regret your decision 10, 20, or 30 years from now?’ He loves me, and is so proud of me. The day after my surgery he said that I was like a flower that had just blossomed.”
The move to Toronto was instrumental in facilitating Amelia’s realisation of her dreams. However, she is confident that Bangladesh will come to be more open-minded with time. “The attitude in Bangladesh, and other Muslim countries, is generally not supportive of gay or transgender lifestyles, but I compare this to North American attitudes to homosexuality 25 years ago, when the idea of gay lifestyles were frowned upon. Likewise in the Muslim community, with understanding will come acceptance.”
Having the beautiful female body she always aspired to, Amelia now has her sights set on entering beauty pageants, just as Jenna Talackova, Canadian transgender model and Amelia’s role-model, won the right to do last year. On the topic of Miss World, it seems that Amelia’s desire to compete stems from her perfectionist nature and competitive attitude: “I have always wanted to excel in whatever I do; therefore my dream was not to just be in a female body, but to be the most beautiful woman I could ever be, thus my goal of being ‘Miss World’,” she explains. “I am not ashamed to say that whatever your background, everyone should have the same opportunities. I would be proud to say ‘I am transgendered and I am Miss World’.”
It is a far cry from the brainless aspirations to beauty harboured by many of her peers. Rather, Amelia is resolute that her’s and Jenna’s stories should act as encouragement to young people battling with their gender. “People like Jenna Talackova, others and myself should be exposed to the public eye. We have nothing to be ashamed of, and a lot to be proud of. It is not an easy decision to make when a dramatic change is required to change your lifestyle.”
She continues: “I have no doubt that there are large numbers of individuals facing this difficult decision to try and be the person they feel they were meant to be… The more positive exposure the situation receives I hope the greater the relief for those who are agonising over making their own personal decision.”
There has been a growing acknowledgement of the transgender community within the fashion industry, as global brands like American Apparel hold castings for transgender models. To an onlooker this could beg the question of whether or not transgender individuals should be singled out in this way, but Amelia tells me that she considers it a positive thing. “Whether it be American Apparel or in any other type of advertising, I believe transgendered individuals should have equal rights. Steps forward like this can ensure transgenders and will be far more accepted in any and all advertising in the future.”
Personal opinions may vary on the topic of gender transformation, but there is no denying that Amelia possessed both courage and undeniable confidence – refusing to accept a life of unhappiness in the wrong body. With individuals like this at its forefront, perhaps there is hope for ‘Generation Wuss’, after all.
All images: Amelia Maltepe