21-year-old Lewis Freese is the first male finalist of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit‘s annual Swim Search, a contest to be featured in the 2021 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Freese, who identifies as male but considers himself genderfluid, is rather sanguine about the historic nature of the chance, telling People Magazine that “the entire concept of being the first male does not phase me.”
“I really don’t view myself as the first but as the next,” he said. “The next model to break a barrier, the next model to have these uncomfortable conversations, the next model to be unapologetically myself. I am so grateful to be a part of a group of finalists who all represent completely different messages, yet have the same goal, to further inclusivity.”
The Minnesota native was wrestling with his gender identity when he saw the casting call for the contest.
“It was hard for me to find a lot of people on mainstream media platforms discussing these issues,” he said. So he decided to enter, hoping to “bring this discussion to the brand.”
Out of 15 finalists, six contestants will be chosen to appear in the magazine.
“My message is so much more about gender variety and how every person’s gender presents itself differently,” Freese said. “With those differences comes a need for acceptance so we can all inspire, encourage, and love each other regardless of how we identify.”