Meet Rain Dove: The firefighter turned model who embraces being genderless

<i>Rain Dove fell into the world of modelling after being mistaken for a man [Photo: Rain Dove]</i>
Rain Dove fell into the world of modelling after being mistaken for a man [Photo: Rain Dove]

Rain Dove is no ordinary model. A clichéd line to begin with but on speaking to the 27-year-old famed for her genderless appearance, it’s clear that she won’t let being thrust into the limelight stop her from speaking her mind.

Growing up in a small community in Vermont, Rain wasn’t aware that she looked different to the other girls. Taunts of ‘tranny Danny’ (Danielle is her middle name) went straight over her head.

It wasn’t until she became a firefighter – accidentally, she stresses – that she realised people were mistaking her for a man. You see, Rain Dove is 6 foot 2 inches tall with a muscular body that defies society’s expectations of what a woman should look like.

Her alternative appearance has allowed her to break into the tough world of modelling, simultaneously giving her the opportunity to work with both mens and womenswear.

In a time where the term ‘genderless’ is becoming more well-known (just look at China’s androgynous boy band) but not necessarily accepted, Rain’s ever-increasing profile is becoming vitally important.

A staunch believer in diversity and equality for all, we caught up with Rain (and her adorable dog Gus Gus) to find out how she fell into the fashion industry, the advantages of being able to pass as both genders and the pressures that come with being a role model for the non-binary community.

<i>Rain has become a role model for the genderless community [Photo: Rain Dove]</i>
Rain has become a role model for the genderless community [Photo: Rain Dove]

I grew up in a farming community in Vermont with people who were just working hard and trying to make it through life. It mattered more about how you could contribute to the community than what you wore. There was still a clear division of sex and gender but the expectations were different. It wasn’t about being pretty; it was about how you could help.

I wasn’t a victim but I just didn’t fit in. It wasn’t easy but I wasn’t exactly going home and crying every day. I just knew that there was something different about me. Something that wasn’t common. I was tall and muscular and didn’t wear the popular things. It was a very awkward phase.

The first time I was mistaken for a man was as a firefighter. After an episode of heartbreak, I went across the country to Colorado for what I thought was a conservation course. Turned out it was for wilderness firefighting. It was in the middle of winter so I was wearing puffy clothing and a hat. The male firefighters asked me to rate the women with them. I realised very quickly that I didn’t want to be the ugly woman in a room full of men so I went along with being a man for the next 11 months.

Never in my life had I considered that I looked masculine. No one had ever called me ‘he’ before. But I thought I had discovered the golden ticket to life. I didn’t have to be an ugly girl anymore. Instead, I could be a decent-looking heterosexual cisgendered white guy.

Modelling sounded like the worst possible thing. I was pursuing a degree in genetic engineering when I made a bet with a friend who was a DKNY model at the time. Of course, I lost the bet and ended up having to go to a casting call for Calvin Klein. I remember dragging my feet, hoping I’d miss the casting. I showed up miserable and covered in dirt (because I was a landscaper at the time).

Calvin Klein told me to come back the next day. So I came back to find it was a men’s underwear casting call. That’s when I realised they thought I was male. But I just went with it, walking down the catwalk topless. The designer quickly saw and covered me up with a shirt, telling me not to tell anyone I was a girl.

<i>The model and activist regularly posts photos showing herself from both a male and female perspective [Photo: Rain Dove]</i>
The model and activist regularly posts photos showing herself from both a male and female perspective [Photo: Rain Dove]

You think being a white male is the best thing. Over my career, I’ve learnt that while white men have a lot of privilege and power (particularly in the States), there’s a lot of pressure, responsibility and oppression that comes with it. Whether I’m perceived as a man or a woman, there’s always something that will be deemed as not good enough.

I present myself in whatever way’s beneficial. If you’re more likely to treat a male better in a situation than a female, then I will present myself as that gender. This idea I developed is called gender capitalism. People should be judged for who they are – not what’s written on their birth certificates or hanging between their legs.

I’m more comfortable modelling as a man because I don’t get any criticism. Men are taught they are going to make a lot less in the fashion industry so they don’t bank their entire lives on it. They’re very supportive. Women on the other hand are more competitive. They always assume I’m trans and say: “How did they make clothing in your size?”

Weight is a big issue for female models. When I model menswear, I’ll gain a couple of sizes. Sometimes, that’s just pure fat, not muscle. I love eating but I get a lot of flak for it. A photo of me sitting in my underwear recently came out. All these people commented things like: “That’s so gross. Why doesn’t he pull his stomach in?” And then I was all over Instagram on body positive accounts. It’s an inch of belly fat, guys.

But I feel more empowered as a woman. It’s a lot more dangerous for me to dress female. And that’s why I have to do it. When I walk down the street in a dress, I know I’m putting my life at risk. People will threaten to hurt me. A lot of people who are gender non-conforming always say they’re not afraid. I am a little f**k society but I also get scared every time I step out into the world.

<i>Rain admits to feeling scared when wearing a dress on the streets [Photo: Rain Dove]</i>
Rain admits to feeling scared when wearing a dress on the streets [Photo: Rain Dove]

I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders. I grew up with a binary language in a community that didn’t really talk about queer rights. Vermont doesn’t have a lot of people of colour or any diversity. I never knew my modelling career would be about gender but when it took off, I realised I was ill-equipped. I have offended trans people, people with breast cancer, other people who were gender non-conforming. I didn’t understand why people couldn’t see I had good intentions.

‘Educate, don’t hate.’ That’s my motto. The reason why there’s so much pushback against diversity and against minority communities is because people are afraid to make mistakes and ask questions. They feel that they’ll be chastised if they use the wrong label. It’s too scary for them.

I’m still educating myself. I talk about a world in which we don’t use ‘he’ or ‘she’ pronouns but I still find myself using them. It’s difficult to change your language. When you get a lot of exposure, you have to expose yourself in return. You have to have a voice that is relatable to other people. I’m trying my best but I constantly make mistakes. But that’s a great thing.

I don’t delete the haters. I have conversations with them. I want to invite people who can relate to me on my journey. But the people I am looking to attract are the people who would kill me for who I am. Those are the people we need to open our hearts to because they are the real problem.

Here’s a message for young people. You’re living in a world where everything is run by other people: your parents, teachers, the law. They get to tell you what to do, what to wear and how to be. And a lot of people are going to pressure you online to ‘just be you.’ But sometimes, it’s not always safe to be yourself. So you do what you need to do to survive. Don’t feel guilty for having to go with the grain in order to make it to adulthood.

I never wanted fashion to be a part of my life but it will always be there. Clothing is such an interesting part of our social construct. It’s the first piece of art we express ourselves with every day. But I’m moving into acting. I think it’s about time we had more non-binary people representing something that’s not about them being non-binary. There’s a lot more to come from me.

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