Petr Nitka is certainly not your average 23-year-old. Though he was born male, the Czech model prefers to call himself gender neutral, someone who identifies with both the sexes rather than having to choose one. This February, Nitka will participate in the forthcoming Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2017, becoming the first gender-neutral model to walk on a fashion runway in India.
Nitka's selection is yet another step towards inclusivity and diversity in the fashion industry, and towards breaking stereotypes surrounding gender. This year's Lakme Fashion Week will also feature Nepal's Anjali Lama, the first-ever transgender model to be selected for the event.
Gender neutral clothing has been a big trend on international runways since 2015, with brands like Zara and Louis Vuitton launching clothes that blur conventional gender lines. It is being championed by the likes of Will Smith's son Jaden, who has been smashing norms with his gender-bending photo shoots and sartorial choices.
Alongside, international celebrities such as Miley Cyrus have spoken about being gender neutral. "Gender fluidity is not really feeling like you're at one end of the spectrum or the other," American actress Ruby Rose said in an interview. "For the most part, I definitely don't identify as any gender." These conversations have pushed the boundaries of looking at gender beyond the conventional binary of male and female, and instead, thinking of it as a spectrum.
Though Nitka was aware of being different from a young age, he says it was fashion that helped him discover who he really was. "It was very early on in my childhood that realised that I was different," he told HuffPost India over email. "As a child, I was very inclined to fashion. My interests made me wonder if I was gay or transsexual, but at no point did I want to change who I was. That is when I came to understand that I am a person with a unisexual orientation."
"My interests made me wonder if I was gay or transsexual, but at no point did I want to change who I was."
Last year, Nitka's first stint with modelling proved to be a transformative experience. While studying in Australia, the 23-year-old collaborated with fashion photographer Bharathan Kangatheran for a shoot, which was then published in a leading magazine. "It was the first time I saw pictures of myself in a magazine. I realised that I was different from the other models out there and that I see myself as gender neutral," Nitka said, adding that he has no qualms about how people address him.
Nitka, who was raised by his mother in the Czech town of Ostrava, says that it was easy to identify as gender neutral because of the support he received from his family and friends. "I was always made to feel comfortable about who I am," he said. "They only want to see me happy."
The photo shoot also led to other assignments, such as the African Fashion Week in 2016 and the fashion week in Bratislava. Nitka is now considered to be the first gender-neutral model in his country, the Czech Republic, and neighbouring Slovakia.
"I've always wanted to help and influence people with the work I do and with who I am," Nitka said. "To achieve this, I have been wanting to model in countries around the world to spread the word about gender neutrality. It is time we destroy prejudices and stereotypes about race, sexual orientation, religions, gender, minorities and women."
When he lands in Mumbai for his first visit to India next month, Nitka hopes to shatter stereotypes and change pre-conceived notions. "Fashion has helped me define who I am," he says. "It has given me a career that will allow me to be who I really am and travel the world and make a change."