Olly Eley Unveiled as ELLE's First 'Agender' Cover Star | 22 Words

Olly Eley has made history after they became the first agender star to grace the cover of ELLE and now their story has become a talking point for a lot of people.

For those of you that may not be familiar with Eley, let's take a look at how they got here.

The thirty-five-year-old British-Australian non-binary model has been on a journey coming to terms with their identity, as many of us have, but for people that don't identify with one particular gender, a safe space was created for them to be whoever they want to be.

So what is being "agender?"

There have been a few definitions to define the term and most of them agree with the fundamental idea that it's an adjective that "relates to a person who does not identify themselves as having a particular gender."

Vera Papisova at Teen Vogue spoke to Dr. Meredith Chapman, who delved deeper into the concept, explaining there are other terms that could also denote a person's gender fluidity.

Unsplash

"Genderqueer, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming are some terms used to describe a person whose gender identity does not match with the binary model of gender like man/male/boy or woman/female/girl."

Chapman continued, also adding that definitions related to gender are constantly evolving.

Unsplash

​"A person who is agender sees themselves as neither man nor woman, has no gender identity, or no gender to express. This is an example of someone who may also identify as genderqueer or non-binary. Similar terms to agender include genderless, gender-neutral, and neutrois."

So, for a lot of people that identify this way, their personal definition might differ from the general terms.

And for Olly Eley, that is also the case.

Speaking to Elle, they revealed that they want to live a life without limits.

While they do not identify with being only male or female, they describe themselves as "a dot floating somewhere between the two, untethered to the line [that splits them] altogether" and "articulating this feeling of existing in a hinterland outside of the binary is one of the greatest gifts the past few years has given [them]."

Eley grew up in a rural part of Australia, many miles from the city.

And throughout childhood, they were always branded as a "tomboy," a very vague label given to females who display many stereotypically male traits. Other than having long hair, Eley found themselves being associated with the boys rather than the girls due to their strength, whether it be their bold external features or their physicality.

"My 5 brothers and I played outside together all the time," they explained to the outlet.

"I did everything they did: football, climbing trees, running around exploring – it always felt relatively equal, although as time went on, it got harder trying to keep up with the restrictions and differences that came with my body."

And that is the reality for a lot of girls.

Because puberty can hit them at as young as 9, their bodies suddenly undergo a physical and almost traumatic transformation that society deems as "weak" or "fragile." Of course, these assumptions are now being unlearnt on the surface, but underneath, they're still very deeply ingrained within our society.

"A lot of girls feel a sense of shame around their changing body as they go through puberty, but for me it was different," said Eley.

"There was no base of 'femaleness' that I was gravitating towards or away from – I felt completely unanchored to my body and my sense of self. A simmering rage coursed through me almost constantly, but I didn't understand why."

​Watching their brothers feel at ease within themselves was always something that made them "seeth with jealousy."

And that's when all the frustration began. Eley found themselves being angry with their family, falling into harmful and toxic habits such as teasing their brothers for "being gay" in a futile attempt to regain some power for themselves. But anyone experiencing turmoil with their identity will tell you, there's no addition of power that comes with violence or anger.

Instead, you're left feeling emptier than before. Eley describes it well when they said:

"...I think back to that time [and] I find it hard to remember specifics. Instead, a darkness descends, and I feel the unbearable heaviness of being."

And puberty within a "biologically" female body only gets tougher to come to terms with especially when society is hammering home the idea that you're an outcast.

Eley described themselves as an "alien" during that time, never finding a sense of belonging anywhere - not with the boys, not with the girls. They were operating at a whole different frequency than everyone else around them.

And a few years after, the difficulties got harder to understand once sexuality came into it.

​Eley can only remember loving women, from icons such as Christina Aguilera to Beyoncé but the transition from having simple crushes, to actually being in a relationship with another girl are 2 very different things. When they got a girlfriend at the age of sixteen, they stuck out like a sore thumb as they were probably the only queer couple in a 100-mile radius.

And in rural Australia at the time, it was hard to be accepted if you were "gay."

It didn't help that their parents were also very against the LGBTQ+ community, with one of Eley's earliest memories of their father turning off the TV when The Ellen DeGeneres Show came on.

But all these things combined gave Eley an idea of just how complex gender and sexuality can be, with one or the other never really encompassing what they felt inside.

​However, the option of being non-binary and agender was brought to the surface "When someone first introduced themselves with their name and the pronouns 'they/them', it felt so safe..."

"Woah, that's the answer to everything right now," they thought.

After meeting and socializing with other people that were feeling the same way as Eley, they decided to not limit themselves to one gender.

"From then on, I promised myself that I would do everything I could to normalize and uplift being trans so that future generations might have an easier childhood than mine was. With that decision came a change in everything."

They continued:

"Over the following weeks, I changed my pronouns to 'they/them', as well as my name to Olly (after the lead singer of a band that I loved who embodied the kind of aesthetic I strongly coveted). I booked myself in for a chest reduction and bought a one-way ticket from Australia to North America, where I knew there was a larger queer population. Finally… I felt like I could breathe."

​And because of their influence, their confidence, and openness, Eley found themselves as Elle's first-ever agender cover star.

Despite some negativity around the issue with some people, everyone else has been so supportive and happy that this type of history is in the making.

Comments have been flooding in...

Instagram

And with such a beautifully bold identity, I have no doubt that Eley is going to inspire the next generation of non-binary and agender folks.

We're exceptionally proud to see them live their life in their truest and most comfortable form.

Here's the cover shot:

Read Olly Eley's full story here.

ELLE's June 2021 issue hits newsstands on May 6, 2021.