“I think the world would be a better place if we got rid of sex-pectations: expectations placed on someone based on the idea of what their sex is.”
Gender-nonconforming model and activist, Rain Dove, is speaking to me about body manuals. Specifically, their idea for the 1989 Rain Dove Supreme: an automotive handbook that would break down the details of their body as specifically as if it were a machine, without any gender-infused presumptions.
“When you’re born, instead of saying it’s a boy or a girl, I think we could now say to people: ‘It’s you. And here is an individual handbook and manual to your body, your genetic history, your blood type’ and so on.”
Rain speaks enthusiastically about the body manual idea and I am hooked on their every word. There is a passionate openness to how they invite me into each one of their stories. It keeps me engaged and intrigued throughout our conversation. Their easy-going charm immediately creates a sense between us that we are long-time friends, casually sharing ideas on a breezy porch…rather than two strangers on a Zoom call conducting an interview on a Wednesday evening.
Rain explains that these body manuals would allow people to understand their bodies better as individuals rather than as part of a homogenous group.
“It would allow you to have better mental healthcare because you’re not ‘an angry woman’, you’re just a person who’s vehicle has high testosterone, and maybe that triggers certain things. So, with this knowledge, maybe you can get better therapy. You’d also have better dietary knowledge; there wouldn’t be a one diet fits all mentality. You could understand the genealogy of your family and be able to eat for that—honour that—and also evolve and change it.”
Rain Dove is now at a stage in their career where these ideas could reach a following of over 430,000. But they haven’t always had this platform. In fact, they haven’t always had a home.
It was during a period of living transiently, whilst trying to find work as a model, that Rain found themselves checking in for a 10-day drug trial when in need of cash.
“I was getting tested with morphine in my body, and I was like, why am I doing this? I’m literally taking drugs to make money to stay in this industry that doesn’t seem to want me. Is it ego? Why am I here?”
However, unbeknownst to Rain, their life was about to drastically change.
Just before entering the facility, Rain had a chance encounter with a publicist and shared their story of living transiently, being in debt, and trying to make it as a model in a fashion world that seemed “very anti their existence.” (Sharing their story with strangers is something Rain does generously and frequently! !) .
“But it turned out that this one person knew a journalist at BuzzFeed who said, ‘I’m gonna use the power of this pen that I have to give a queer person some visibility.’ They took a chance. And they wrote an article called – it’s really intense – but ‘13 Reasons Why Rain Dove is the Androgenous Model of Your Dreams’, which I thought was a bit much,” they laugh, “but it meant that I went from having a few 100 followers on Instagram to over 10,000 followers overnight.”
I am impressed, but not surprised. The fact that Rain could tell a story in such a way that two professional writers would be compelled to write about them needs no explanation. Rain’s inviting and bold nature is refreshing as they explain their rise to fame.
Shortly after the explosion of instagram followers, Rain remembers being contacted by Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres and being asked to be involved in various campaigns. “I was still very broke and homeless – it takes a moment to get paid – but I was suddenly wanted. And that was really, really big.”
This lifestyle change meant a huge increase in visibility for Rain who is now known internationally as a queer activist in the fashion world, subverting gendered expectations in film and on stages.
I want to know more about how they are perceived on runways as a self-described “gender capitalist” who walks in both menswear and womenswear. How do they make sure their physique fits the changing wardrobes? Is there a kind of juggling act system to slimming down and bulking up? And does body hair ever play a role in their work?
“I don’t really do anything. I just up my exercise, or I lessen my exercise and I keep my life pretty consistent. I have a really great privilege of a body that changes very quickly.”
I am relieved to learn that Rain does not need to purge or diet to fit into smaller womenswear.
Body hair has, however, been a point of contention in the industry. In menswear, Rain laughs, body hair is a very positive thing to have. But in womenswear, “I have to fight to keep it because it is often equated to hygiene.”
“You know, I don’t call out names very often because I’m not a big fan of public shaming culture and cancel culture. But this one thing happened that was very public so I don’t feel uncomfortable saying this person’s name. Juan Tran wanted to put me in a dress for a Project Runway show and when they saw my body hair, they were like, ‘This is disgusting!’ They made a huge deal of it saying, “What is that under your armpits?” They had their assistant go to Walgreens and come back with three different razors because “It’s so thick, you’re going to need more than one.”
Reeling from the shock of this interaction, Rain stood in the mirror with one of the razors and began asking themself aloud “Rain. Would you advise somebody else to do this?”
In a career sprinkled with chance and kind acts from strangers, the events that followed seem to be part and parcel of what it is to live as Rain Dove.
“Behind me comes Laura Victoria Albert, who is quite a controversial figure in the fashion world, but a very kind person to me.
She comes up behind me, grabs the razor in my hand, throws it onto the ground, stomps on it several times.
And is like, ‘No Rain. No! This is not happening!’ Laura Victoria Albert was supposed to open the show with JT Leroy, who is this kind of iconic fashion figure, and she says, “Rain, you know what? Don’t walk for Juan Tran. You can be JT LeRoy.” So I went out with this big blonde wig and a dog and I opened the whole show, not just Juan Tran’s portion, I opened the whole thing as JT LeRoy.”
Rain is careful to note that Laura Victoria Albert “has done some things they have to rectify with the community” but they are clear about one thing: “I fall under the trans umbrella, and when I, a complete stranger, needed someone to stand up for them, Laura just came up to me and did it. I think that what she did was really kind.”
On the subject of kindness, I am curious to know the thinking behind Rain’s generous dedication to their online following—though they take issue with the word ‘follower’ and think fans on Instagram should be called supporters.
Rain dedicates a minimum of 2 hours a day to responding to comments and messages on their profile, often staying up late to give “toe touches” to members of the community by typing out ‘I love you’ or ‘hug’ reminding them that they are seen and valued.
“I used to have a great guilt complex because as a person who’s been transient and depressed and gone through some things… I feel like
I want to be the person that I needed
when I wished somebody was there for me. So part of it is ego and part of it is trauma, but I just feel obligated to not stop answering. Because I’m like, ‘What if the one person I missed was me? What if the one person I missed was a person that I really needed to reach out to?’”
When they were living without a home, Rain admits to feeling quite jaded about those who had visibility, thinking that they could be doing more. Although now they understand that “this world has a great amount of suffering, and everybody’s cup is brimming,” Rain still carries a sense that they could always be doing more for those who are suffering, and more for themself.
They often use the mantra “we can do hard things” to steady themself in moments of difficulty. I can’t help but squeal with delight at this reference to the book Untamed by Glennon Doyle and we share a moment of awe for Doyle’s work.
We discuss the notion of feeling powerless to change difficult circumstances and I wonder what Rain thinks the Queer community needs more of right now. Rain is adamant: “I think people need permission to love themselves. And I wish…you know, permission granted, please! You can do this, you can walk out on that relationship, you can leave that house, you can try to get refugee status. You can!
The choices that you will have to make are going to be hard, but I just think there are many people who can do a lot more than they think they can. Yes, it’s gonna suck to have to get yourself on your feet and to work all these jobs and scrap it to get what you want. But you can fucking do it.”
This is the work that Rain themself has done; ensuring that they have permission to be loved and to love themself. As a self-identified queer person in a body that does not fully pass (and does not try to pass) as a woman or a man, in a world that has often presented them with hate, they have had to cultivate that deep love and respect by and for themself.
No one gave Rain permission to be Rain — they gave it to themself. And by doing so, they have helped a new generation of queers find the courage to be themselves, with or without a body manual.
They / Them | Instagram
Rain Dove was interviewed by Bella Cox | Photography by Rachel Thalia