By Meg Zulch
I almost didn't become a fashion writer because I didn't think I was feminine enough. Writing about style and beauty for popular publications had always been a dream of mine, but I feared I didn't look the part. I was unsure of my gender identity, hated dresses and hardly ever shaved. Red and pink lipsticks were boring to me, and I hardly knew how to apply them “properly” anyway. In all of this confusion, emerging icons and genderqueer trailblazers in fashion, like Rain Dove, were formerly unbeknownst to me in my limited Facebook feed and neglected Twitter account.
So last year, when I became a fashion and beauty writer for a popular women’s interest site, it felt daring as hell. Terrifying even, thanks to vicious transphobic comments and Twitter trolls. I had always felt alone in my fight to degender fashion, to normalize genderqueer bodies like my own to the couture-loving masses. That is, until I discovered Rain Dove, one of the first gender-fluid models I’ve ever seen who actively capitalizes off of her androgyny while passionately raising awareness about gender inequality.
Before she was landing modeling jobs in New York and London, Rain Dove lived in a small town in Colorado, spending much of her time fighting fires and doing farm work. Her towering height (she stands at 6’2”) and sharp masculine features enabled her to pass as a man, and put her right at home in jobs centered around masculinity and manual labor. Understandably, the rustic environment Rain Dove was raised in didn't exactly inspire a love or respect for fashion within her.
“Growing up on a farm in a small town, I had only ever heard people make fun of the fashion industry,” she told me. “The clothing, pretentious people, unattainable beauty standards and judgements. So going into this world was really awkward at first because I felt I wouldn't be able to keep myself from laughing at anything that remotely reminded me of Zoolander.”
But after losing a bet during a football game, Rain Dove was literally obligated to go to a casting. Using her androgyny to her advantage once again, Rain was immediately given the job as a male model.
At first, she was hesitant about entering the modeling world as a genderfluid person who didn't exactly fall into step with what was considered feminine.
“Fashion had never seemed like a natural fit throughout my life,” Rain Dove told me. “I was told I was an ugly girl from when I was young－so the idea of trying to wear a dress and wait for my Prince Charming seemed ludicrous.”
But she quickly discovered that fashion could expand beyond this “princess” image, and actually have the power to make a positive impact on the world. This was a crucial detail for someone who values social activism so highly.
“As I began to meet people in the industry, I began to fall in love with those that swatted away the stereotypes I had seen [on] TV,” she said. “I found fellow hearts seeking change through cloth and advertisements. Models who were seeking a doctorate, designers who wanted to start a revolution of self acceptance, and photographers who shot only honesty. When I found these people, I found my love for fashion because fashion became not just cloth and rude manners. It became art and sociopolitics.”
It became glaringly obvious to her how her very existence within the fashion community could move mountains, specifically for gender nonconforming people. After all, her androgynous appearance definitely helped her carve out a niche in the industry.
“When I got into the fashion world, everyone told me that I was a very ‘niche’ type of person, that I represent a very small demographic,” she told me. “But after sitting on this statement for a month, one day I set up a meeting with these people and I told them. ’If NICHE is a small demographic, then I'm not that. Because I’m not gender ambiguous. I represent gender [fluidity]. I represent the full spectrum. All genders. All things. There's nothing small about that.’"
In her career so far, she’s set out to do just that: represent and affirm people of all gender identities. And luckily, her androgynous looks continued to be helpful in landing her modeling jobs along the way, making a greater variety of opportunities available for her to queer the industry through her versatile look.
This ability to shapeshift between genders has afforded her a certain level of privilege in everyday life, sometimes allowing her to escape the harsh realities of gender oppression that being assigned female at birth brings.
“The thing is, as a ‘girl,’ many people tried to oppress me growing up,” she told me. “Calling me ugly or gangly or a 6 out of 10 in looks. But as a young male (white male especially), I don't have to answer to anybody. I don't have to care about my sex appeal to know if getting home safe is a thing. I don't have to worry about negotiating for the best pay on a job. I don't have to worry about people trusting what I have to say.”
She uses her platform that her passing-privilege has helped her attain in part to raise awareness about gender nonconforming identities through her presence in the fashion industry as well as her social media presence. Rain Dove dedicates her Instagram to sharing valuable messages about gender norms on the daily, debunking restrictive binary ideas while shedding light on topics such as shaving, street harassment, gendered double standards, and chest binding.
“I hope to reach all people, especially those that hate the idea of what I am,” she told me. “I want them to come to [my Instagram] and be educated. Ask questions. Get answers. The message is simple－there are bigger issues ahead for the human race than how we identify with our flesh and what we wear. Why waste our precious lives oppressing others on something so frivolous?? Food, shelter, water, and a healthy planet to foster it all are top priorities. Let's focus on that.”
But being an androgynous person in the fashion industry definitely has its drawbacks, despite her masculine looks and commanding voice giving her the upper hand in some respects. When presenting as a woman, Rain Dove still deals with pressures and unfair beauty standards surrounding what her body looks like. This is especially the case thanks to the existence of both masculine and feminine features on her body: specifically her muscular arms and large breasts (the latter which she has lovingly referred to on her Instagram account as the “largest pecs in the industry”).
“I love my muscle tone. [But] when I go to ‘women's’ go-sees, that's the one thing people hate,” she told me. “Big breasts and big muscles. It's like they feel ‘you can't have both, that's not fair’ or ‘women should be noodle-armed because it's sexier when they are defenseless.’ I hate it.”
Rain Dove has also had to deal with weird instances of transphobia, including one situation where a lazy designer wanted to cast her as “male” for their collection, with the condition that she identifies as something other than a gender-fluid human.