Juli Kocemba in short buzzed blonde hair looking up with hands behind their head

Model Juli Kocemba is in their muscle era

“My name is Juli. I am 23, an Aquarius and a trans masc person using they/ them pronouns. But honestly, I always bring my dog around and she usually gets all the attention, so at home in New York I am primarily known as the owner of my dog Bun (as in cinnamon bun)”

INTERVIEW JESPER GUDBERGSEN @yessirjesper
PHOTOGRAPHER RASMUS LUCKMANN @rasmusluckmann
STYLING LOUISE BORCHERS @l0uiseb0rchers using only custommade and personal archive pieces
MAKEUP ANDREA BRØNDSTED @andreabrondsted
LOCATION LITTLE SKY STUDIOS @littlesky_studios

Hi Juli, tell me a little about your childhood?

I grew up with my mom and her dogs in the countryside of Denmark, very far away from everything and quite isolated. I honestly think that being surrounded by animals was great preparation for living as a model now!

Which do you prefer – the city or the countryside?

I definitely find myself being much more grounded when I’m outside of the city, but I get very inspired by being around people.

You mentioned feeling isolated. Can you tell me more about that?

We were always seen as outsiders in the small town where I grew up, because we weren’t originally from there – we moved there when I was a little child. I was a trans queer kid who just kept getting weirder and weirder – and being diagnosed with autism wasn’t something people understood either. I think it’s maybe very healthy to have had both perspectives though. Growing up like I did and living how and where I am now, I feel like I am used to moving around in the world being okay with people not quite understanding me

When you’re in a work setting where people who don’t understand you, I imagine there’s often an implied expectation for you to explain yourself  or educate them. What does that feel like?

I often think about how much I am allowed to expect from people around me. Considering their circumstances, is it fair of me to expect that they will be able to use the right pronouns? I’m not sure it is. When I was first introduced to the idea of pronouns outside of the norm, I was blown away, so I know what it feels like to understand that you don’t know everything. I do have a lot of compassion and understanding for people who find it hard to keep up, but I also feel like we all have a responsibility to make each other feel good and therefore also educate ourselves. When I first came out as non-binary, I was very cool about it and would let people misgender me, and there is an element of that in me still, but it has changed. The more I work in the fashion industry, I am surprised that people aren’t catching on; Fashion is on it, we have to keep up to date with culture, right – isn’t that our job? When they say she or even he, I try to correct them with ‘They’, without any sort of mannerisms. It’s intense because I am trying to make them not uncomfortable about making me feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, I want it to be so quick. It’s definitely made me realize who my people are and who are not, because I honestly don’t care whether or not you misgender me. I care about whether or not you’re going to correct it and make an effort. We all make mistakes, I misgender myself and others all the time, but if you care about changing that, that is what makes a difference.

 It’s definitely made me realize who my people are and who are not, because I honestly don’t care whether or not you misgender me. I care about whether or not you’re going to correct it and make an effort. We all make mistakes, I misgender myself and others all the time, but if you care about changing that, that is what makes a difference.

Juli Kocemba in a black and white photo

Do you feel like you had someone that you could look up to when you were growing up? 

I’ve thought a lot about this question. Growing up I was confused how I didn’t look up to anyone like my friends did – Bieber, Rihanna etc –   but for me, my representation was missing. I thought I’d like to be an actor, but none of the actors I saw looked or sounded like me. My parents both had their own companies, so I knew I wanted to be independent, but I had no idea what that would look like.  I just knew that I had to get very far away from where I was.

Let’s hope your generation is the last generation to feel that invisible…

Yeah,  I hope that what I’m doing and things like what we are doing here will result in carving our own road and making a visible place for us all to belong.

Do you have any advice – something you would like to say to your younger self at that time?

Don’t be scared of asking for help and expressing your emotions. I think as a child, especially when you come from a place that’s very small, the whole world seems so scary, big, and people seem mean. Don’t be scared of asking for help because everyone else is just human too.  I thought I had to go through the whole world alone and that’s not the case: the more you speak, the more they speak back to you.

Can you share one of your earliest memories of beauty?

A part of me being autistic means that I have a really strong memory. My brain is a little weird and I remember everything since I was 2.5 years old. What comes to mind is a memory from around that age, strolling down a little street close to my kindergarten in early fall. I remember looking down at all the colorful leaves and asking my mom what happened to them. She explained to me how time moves on, seasons change and before we know it the trees will have leaves again, and I think this was the first time I remember experiencing change. I remember thinking in my little brain how it has just been summer, and now the leaves on the ground were such a different kind of pretty. My favorite season is still fall, I love how the world suddenly changes to a million different colors. 

This past year has been really big for you. Tell me as much as you want to share?

I had my top surgery last year, in May, so that was a big upheaval for my career and my understanding of myself. I truly think that the more you believe in yourself and the better you feel, the better the outcome will be. I feel an enormous amount of change in myself and the way I’m approaching the world. Being seen as who I am, or at least closer to how I feel, has been very special and it’s ridiculous that these two lumps of fat have been holding me back from that. Meeting people in creative spaces that like me for who I am has brought some amazing euphoric moments and I’ve been able to be a part of some really special moments because of my decision.

I feel an enormous amount of change in myself and the way I’m approaching the world. Being seen as who I am, or at least closer to how I feel, has been very special and it’s ridiculous that these two lumps of fat have been holding me back from that.

Black and white portrait of Juli Kocemba in an open dark trenchcoat
Juli Kocemba in a black and white photo, crossed over arms and white pants

What does identity mean to you?

I think identity is ever-changing. For a lot of my young adult life I think I’ve been trying to chase a feeling and understanding of knowing myself instead of just appreciating the journey and how we all evolve. I feel like I have always been the same but when I look back at pictures of myself from half a year ago, I think, who is that person? I’m constantly evolving, constantly meeting people from a new place. Identity is very fleeting for me and I keep trying to figure out who I am, while I think maybe I should not care that much and just see who I become.

Can you describe to me what it’s like to be you in your industry – what are some ups and downs?

On one hand I think it’s nice being in a position where I am able to give people within the industry the space to learn and make mistakes, while also being at a sort of forefront of a new way of presenting a view of what the world looks like. The world often culminates in fashion and we are asked to put a balance of reality and fantasy into images in a very intense way. I feel lucky and honored but it’s also very weird to me, because I have to be both fake and very real. I represent something for people to aspire to at the same time as having to be relatable and human. It can be hard to find that balance, and to find myself existing within this.

You’ve been modeling since you were 13, a decade now. What are some significant changes you’ve seen ?

I think the biggest change I’ve seen is how models are slowly seen as human instead of just like, you know, mannequins… At castings, people actually want to hear about our personal story now. There’s an understanding that an icon isn’t just about looks, it also has to be about personality.

Would you say that we’re seeing actual meaningful representation in culture right now?

I think it takes a lot more special angles to be able to represent the actual diversity of the world we live in, But we are making changes and we are always getting closer to it. 

There has been a really good moment for realistic body representation and models in many sizes, but I think we’re sadly moving away from that again. It’s that constant battle of an idea of ‘beauty’ and ‘realism’ fighting against each other, that we talked about. 

It’s important to remember that while fashion is art and there’s a magic that we must keep, I don’t think that has to do with only portraying a certain type of model, I think that magic is created behind the scenes in the creative process and decision making.

What is a moment in your career that felt particularly magical or meaningful?

I think my work has been much more meaningful to me after I got my top surgery and I’ve been able to express myself and how I feel I look inside. My first job after the surgery was for Numéro and it was really special to be seen. I’ve obviously always been allowed to just take my top off and stand around, but I never would and that just feels different now. Feeling like I was really allowed to do that was really amazing and special. 

It’s really fucking intense to have a job that is still so much about your looks and how pretty you are – my body, my face… I think that not feeling comfortable for so many years was maybe harder for me than I realized. You don’t know how good something is until you get there I guess. I kind of assumed that everyone just lived their life being very uncomfortable in their body, hating their boobs like me, until I started opening up and speaking with people about it

You don’t know how good something is until you get there I guess. I kind of assumed that everyone just lived their life being very uncomfortable in their body, hating their boobs like me, until I started opening up and speaking with people about it

What is your safe space ?

I find myself feeling the safest when I’m at work with other trans people. I’m able to work in an environment where I find a lot of people who identify in a similar way to me, or have been through some of the same life experiences, and that’s something very special. There’s such a concentration of trans and queer people in my industry and I’m so grateful for that.

Would you say it’s important to your life in general to surround yourself with people who have had similar experiences?

It is. It’s hard to get an understanding of yourself when you grow up as isolated and far away from everything as I did, with no one to mirror yourself in. The gay and queer kids will find each other one way or the other, even if they don’t know themselves quite yet, and I’ve seen in my own friend group how beautiful it is when that self-awareness spreads quickly

Since we are still in the beginning of a new year, can you tell me about some of your hopes and dreams for the future?

Right now I’m in Iceland filming my first movie and I very much hope I’ll be able to be in more movies in the future. I would have loved to see someone like me on the screen when I was younger. I’m in a very specific group of people and have never been able to find myself anywhere, which is possibly why it took me so long to find out where I belonged.

Another dream is to get buff. For so many years it was about ‘the thinner, the better’ and I just feel like we are moving into a muscle era. We’re in our buff era. I want to get my workouts in and show muscles can be cool.

Amazing. I love that for you!