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Ezra Miller poses for photographers as he arrives for the London premier of the fantasy film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald on Nov. 13, 2018.John Phillips/Getty Images

The high-profile annual Golden Globes ceremony acts as a starter’s pistol for Hollywood’s awards season. Previous years have catalogued the sartorial talents of emerging actors such as Carey Mulligan, Emma Stone and Ruth Negga.

This year, Ezra Miller is that newcomer. He’ll be playing young Salvador Dali in Mary Harron’s upcoming drama about the artist, but his recent gender-bending red carpet style choices have been just as surreal. Whether you call him a queer sex symbol or a queer style icon, what he’s serving up is what 2019 needs.

High fashion can be a harbinger of social change, the more forward and experimental haute couture especially. In Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fall 2011 haute couture show, for example, bearded model Benjamin Dukhan wore a bustier wedding gown, and Gaultier’s frequent muse and collaborator Tanel Bedrossiantz modelled a floor-grazing feathered skirt. Though the runway is far from the real world, men wearing clothing that the modern world codifies as female does its part to start a conversation that may one day normalize it. That daring doesn’t often trickle down to the red carpet, however, where celebrities tend to play it safe with a mass-appeal personal brand.

Emerging talent Miller is an exception. While promoting Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald before Christmas, Miller wore a glossy liquorice-black Moncler puffer gown (and matching black lipstick) for the film’s Paris premiere. In Beijing, it was futuristic mirror metallic Chelsea boots and punk duckbill hair; by London he was leaning in hard in an all-white feathered owlish Givenchy capelet with silver-tipped hair and makeup, the Potterverse’s killing curse, Avada Kedavra, written in henna on his palms.

He could be peacocking, as others have. But in Miller’s case he’s making a major statement. In a profile for the December issue of Playboy, Miller spoke candidly about being part of a “polyamory molecule” and that he was proud to be among those leading Hollywood away from the “racist, sexist, rape-culture mess” it has been, one “that we still sort of celebrate.” Sixty-five years after Hugh Hefner launched the legendarily laddish lifestyle and entertainment magazine, Miller donned the bunny ears and fishnets to pose as a pin-up. This isn’t itself remarkable, except that the ears were the only thing remotely camp or ironic about the otherwise sincere photo shoot, which sees the performer don a suede pencil skirt and crop top, a lace teddy and a frilly mesh negligee, and accessorizes a jumpsuit with a crimson moue.

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Miller wears a glossy liquorice-black Moncler puffer gown (and matching black lipstick) at the Paris premiere of Fantastic Beasts on Nov. 8, 2018.GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/Getty Images

"I’m trying to find queer beings who understand me as a queer being off the bat. I don’t identify as a man, I don’t identify as a woman,” the American actor, 26, said in the accompanying interview. “I barely identify as a human.”

Miller is especially well-positioned to have influence in the culture because of his peak visibility. The actor is part of two juggernaut fantasy film franchises: Fantastic Beasts, the Harry Potter offshoot, as outsider wizard Credence Barebone, and the Justice League of the DC Comics universe as Barry Allen, aka the Flash. Both are as popular as they are ubiquitous. His presence is notable given that children’s culture is often lacking in queer content and superhero fandom is overdue for redress in the kinds of masculinity it puts forward.

“There’s often a resistance in the mainstream to showing queerness of any sort in anything aimed at a younger audience,” says comics journalist and cultural commentator Andrew Wheeler, the editor of Shout Out, a new anthology of genre stories for young readers. “Miller is far ahead of anything that DC or Warner Brothers is doing and far ahead of anything Marvel is doing in terms of the movies, certainly. Superheroes have been tied to a sort of toxic masculinity for a very long time. I think Ezra Miller does feel like the first of a new breed,”

Miller signalling his beliefs and identity, and with his on-screen roles entangled in personal fame, means his every red carpet walk and magazine shoot is a political moment.

But he’s not the first person to do this. White male fluidity pops up every generation or so with androgynous glam, and its talents treated as though they were unicorns when it’s the same work that performers of colour, both male and female, have been doing for decades – from Freddie Mercury to Prince, Janelle Monae to YouTube star Eugene Lee Yang.

But because mass culture in North America is still predominantly white and heterosexual, a white guy operating outside gender norms is nonetheless framed as a breakthrough. And Playboy’s choice of a non-binary star profile and provocative photo shoot mark a change. Miller’s arrival is sharp, modern and timely.

And he’s not the only one. Around the same time Miller’s Playboy interview, Canadian crooner Shawn Mendes chose to address fans' ongoing speculation about his sexuality, saying they were lucky he wasn’t gay. The conjecture, he says, would have made him “terrified of coming out," he told Rolling Stone in an interview. "That’s something that kills people. That’s how sensitive it is.” More proof is in cinemas now with Welcome to Marwen, the true story of Mark Hogancamp (played by Steve Carrell), who was brutally attacked by five men outside a bar in April 2000, because he had communicated to one of them that he liked to wear women’s shoes. The grievous assault that almost killed Hogancamp was motivated by hatred of anyone who does not express gender in a binary, heteronormative way.

It’s the lack of inclusion keeps the cultural narrative narrow. And when celebrities challenge the stereotypical fashion grammar of gender on the red carpet or broadcast how they eschew norms in their private lives it matters, because their fame can be a platform to normalize and create space for others.

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