Rain Dove encouraged open dialogue and discussed their experiences coming to terms with their identity
The Student Association sponsored a lecture by the androgynous, agender model Rain Dove on April 8 at Lorton Performance Center. Dove has been featured in Vogue, Buzzfeed, Cosmo, People and more. Throughout their career, Dove has struggled to form and express their gender identity and encouraged the audience to consider the language they use in discussing this complex topic.
Dove began by telling their own story, recounting how they came to understand their gender identity. “I was an ugly girl,” they remembered. As a child, they struggled to come to terms with feeling unattractive as a result of not fitting into specific gender molds. Instead of being the “hot girl,” they reassured themself they were the girl that would survive in the apocalypse instead.
This struggle with femininity took a different path when Dove moved to Colorado, working to prevent wildfires. Here, they were mistaken for a man early on and never told their coworkers differently. For eleven months, they existed under a male persona; during this time, they became acutely aware of the different expectations between men and women. Doing manual labor, the men were expected to pull more weight and felt burdened by working with women who were perceived as doing less.
After experiencing a life threatening accident, Dove spoke about the expectations imposed on them by a female coworker. While another colleague was bleeding out, the woman told Dove to “be a man” and stop his suffering. Under the persona of a man, Dove was expected to do the “dirty work” and make this difficult decision. Dove was air evacuated to a hospital more than half an hour after the woman in spite of having a worse injury when the medical officials told them “ladies first.” Everyone involved survived, but the experience exposed Dove to the negativity of imposed gender roles.
At this point, Dove became interested in the idea of gender capitalism. They realized that “every time people thought I was a particular gender, I’m held down by it.” They decided to start switching gender personas based on the situation in order to benefit from a system that they felt oppressed within. For example, they would assume a female persona in a bar to get free drinks, but become more masculine when walking back home in the dark.
Around this time, Dove became homeless after coming out to their parents who did not support them. They slept in their car and in peoples’ yards, barely finding enough food to survive. They described being depressed and feeling alone, in part because there wasn’t a language to express their sexuality and find a community that accepted them.
After several months, they went to a dollar store and bought three things, the only things they had enough money to afford. One of these was a pair of clippers that they used to go door-to-door, offering to trim bushes for a few dollars. This idea transformed into a small business that allowed them to afford college. They then attended UC Berkeley, where they got a degree in genetic engineering.
Dove entered the modeling world because of a bet they lost. A few weeks later, they went to an audition for Calvin Klein; they were mistaken for a male and cast in the men’s underwear show. When they realized this, they decided to try to embarrass their friend and hid backstage right before they were supposed to walk. They walked the runway with exposed nipples, wearing only men’s underwear, shocking the audience.
Dove went into the modeling world with “two middle fingers up,” intending to make a change in the industry. However, they only got two jobs in their first year. In a last ditch effort, they supported themself by participating in medical tests. During one of these sessions, they checked their phone and saw hundreds of notifications, including calls from Ellen and Oprah. One person, who Dove had met while bartending, had shared their story. This catapulted them to fame, opening opportunities to model for major names like Vogue and provided a huge social media platform to share their experiences with the world.
Dove spoke about the challenges they faced in understanding their gender identity and how they want to help others understand this complex issue. Pronouns like “he” and “she” carry histories of others’ experiences. People understand each other based on categorizations, but the histories that they carry pushed Dove into a box. Rather than conforming to specific guidelines, Dove described finding fulfillment in creating themself as a completely unique being, independent of prescribed traits associated with either gender.
Throughout Dove’s lecture, they continuously offered their personal advice and support for anyone struggling with their identity. They encouraged the audience to find an “exit buddy” to confide in. “That can be me,” Dove told the crowd. During the next two days, Dove offered to personally speak to anyone who wanted to. They described listening to messages that fans (or critics) left on their phone and scrolling through comments to ensure that everyone was heard. Dove wanted to be sure that no one felt as alone as they did and that everyone could have an exit buddy.