Rain Dove, the 6-foot 2-inch androgynous model, walks into The Advocate's offices in Los Angeles wearing an In-N-Out white paper hat, denim jeans, high-top sneakers, a pink printed button-up shirt, and a designer leather jacket that was given to her by designer Loris Diran when she walked in his show back in July for Men’s New York Fashion Week.
Sitting at the end of a conference room table, Dove laughs, holding her cap, and says, “I’m determined that In-N-Out is going to have something of theirs in a gay publication, and there’s nothing they can do about it.”
Dove was joking about the West Coast burger chain's homespun, Christian (and rumored antigay) values, an esoteric fact one might not assume a model — who has helped sell both men and women's clothing for designers including Calvin Klein — would be privy to. As a student of genetic engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dove didn't come into the modeling world through any traditional routes. She lost a bet on a Cleveland Browns football game to a friend of hers, who was trying to encourage her to become a model. Dove didn't believe in herself at the time, but since she lost the bet, she had no choice but to go to an open casting call. This casting opened the door for Dove to model menswear for Calvin Klein, and she continues to straddle both worlds as a gender-fluid model for both mens and women's wear.
On that day in L.A., Dove was tired after a two-hour drive from San Diego, where she was volunteering for various nonprofit organizations, including Feed America, which provides food and support for families in need. Dove commits herself to volunteering whenever she can, but it’s not something that she views as separate from the world of high fashion. For Dove, presenting as a gender-nonconforming person in the fashion world is a form of activism.
Reflecting on the millennial obsession with and reliance on social media, Dove has a phrase she likes to repeat often: “We are a selfie nation, not a selfless nation.” Dove actively posts photos of herself from fashion shoots on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and gets good engagement, but when she chooses to post photos of herself doing volunteer work, she notices that she always loses around 30-80 followers on Facebook and at least 200 followers on Instagram.
Dove speaks without hesitation when she reveals that she’s not in the fashion world to “preach to the choir.” She doesn’t want to attract only those who follow her work after seeing headlines online about how she’s “breaking gender norms.” She wants to reach the corporate gatekeepers of the commercial fashion world.
The most sought-after brand for which she'd like to model is not one that people generally associate with gender fluidity or gender queerness: “I am a 100 percent determined to be a Victoria’s Secret model. I have the tits and I have the height and I can walk in high heels.” Dove is self-aware enough to know that her gender presentation isn’t exactly what people associate with either "male" or "female," the outdated binary that still defines how most people think of themselves.
The challenge for Dove is that her "masculine of center" appearance could potentially ward off commercial brands because, "I look like what we have taught society a lesbian looks like. I just do. I have the short hair, I got the muscles." It's difficult for Dove to book commercial shoots because she comes with "sociopolitical associations … that a company might not be ready to endorse."
Moments later, on the rooftop of a parking garage in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, Dove stands in front of the photographer, unafraid of embracing her dual identities, as she waits for the shutter to click at the right moment, and her face takes on an intensity that wasn't there seconds before. She is no longer the friendly, welcoming, easygoing person you were having a conversation with five minutes ago. For someone who only a few years ago was working as a firefighter and so penniless she slept at a gym, Dove is a pro at modeling.
At the camera clicks, she coordinates in her mind how to properly position her body, and the way she positions her face, pouts her mouth, and intensifies her eyes is different when she’s modeling for menswear versus women's wear. She explains that when she models menswear, she must show an “angry face,” whereas for women, she goes for a softer look in her eyes.
Although Dove has received attention from major news sites, she has yet to receive the commercial success she would like to. She speaks confidently when she says that she knows her time is coming soon. Although the industry she works in is known for being heteronormative, Dove understands that advertising agencies “aren’t some evil illuminati trying to dupe the people into living heteronormative white lifestyles,” she says They are simply “trying to make money in the safest way possible." These agencies will eventually want to capitalize off the trend of androgyny, says Dove, as cultural and political shifts are made, it will show those agencies that a “larger group of people are backing LGBT movements and sociopolitical movements.”
Dove isn't waiting around for Marc Jacobs or Donatella Versace to discover her, but instead they may come looking for her. “I am female genitalia'd and I don’t look like that classic girl next door that you see in the movies, but why can’t I be?”
Photography by Yannick Delva