Lewis Freese is living a dream after answering a casting call and becoming the first male selected as a finalist for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
Freese, 21 and living in Minneapolis, describes himself as gender fluid (his Instagram uses he/they as his pronouns) and had previously entered the Swim Search auditions, he told People, but this time in his audition video he stressed the inclusive nature of being selected.
[My message] used to revolve around being male and how important it is to feel empowered by all, women, men or nonbinary people. However, as I’ve continued down this path of self-discovery, I’ve realized my message is so much more about gender variety and how every person’s gender presents itself differently.
With those differences comes a need for acceptance so we can all inspire, encourage, and love each other regardless of how we identify. Growing up I always felt the need to suppress any form of femininity, however, brands like “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit” instilled confidence and hope in me. I was able to experience — through their platform — the opportunity one can find when being authentically themselves.
The swimsuit issue has evolved in recent years, as editors have selected a Black transgender woman and an openly gay woman to be models, among others. We used to spoof the edition with the Outsports version for gay men as a corrective to what the magazine had portrayed for decades. Having Freese as a finalist is a further sign of the edition being more inclusive, even if female models in bikinis are still its bread and butter.
As for Freese, he says on Instagram that “I have noooo clue where my gender really falls at the moment but all i can do is take things day by day and share every moment with all of you.”
I love his answer to People on how he views the gender spectrum and he says it in a way that people who might be confused can relate to:
When I was explaining the concept of gender to my family, I used a pretty simple, yet complex example. I said to them, when you walk into an ice cream shop you’re never presented with just chocolate and vanilla, but there are tens if not hundreds of flavors. In my opinion, that’s how gender can be thought of. The variations are truly endless and gender stretches far beyond what we are born to believe.
However, we don’t view gender as that today, we view it in a very chocolate and vanilla way, a.k.a. through a binary lens. The modeling industry has so much impact because it’s really how the fashion, cosmetics and entertainment industries present themselves. If we can increase the number of times we see different gender and sexualities in advertisements and campaigns, those variations can become more accessible and respected.
You can follow Lewis Freese on Instagram.