‘Every step I take is a defiance’: Rain Dove on modelling, Asia Argento and ‘gender capitalism’


She made her name modelling in mens and womens catwalk shows, but Rain Dove has gained more attention by reporting #MeToo activist and actor Argento to the police. She discusses pronouns, prudishness and her partner Rose McGowan

We are in a hotel lobby, waiting to go up to the model Rain Dove’s suite, when the lift doors open and out walks someone Rain Dove knows. They embrace. “How are you?” the acquaintance asks. “How am I? I am I!” Rain Dove replies. “That’s how I am.”

Rain Dove, an androgynous model who appears in menswear and womenswear shows, is staying at the Savoy hotel in London with her partner, the actor, director and #MeToo campaigner Rose McGowan. I say her partner, but this is an arbitrary decision on my part because Rain Dove (full name Rain Dove Dubilewski)disavows pronouns and asks her interlocutor to choose their own. This feels like a large responsibility; I had hoped to use them all in equal number, but have decided to stick to one to avoid confusion. “Use she, he, it, one, they. You could call me mow mow and I honestly don’t care,” she says. “A pronoun is just a sound. All I’m listening for in that sound is positivity.”

But it has not been a terribly positive morning.

Dove is the friend to whom the actor Asia Argento apparently confessed to having had a sexual encounter with a colleague called Jimmy Bennett, in 2013 in a California hotel; Bennett was then aged 17, and the age of consent in California is 18. Last month, there were media reports that Argento’s late partner, Anthony Bourdain, had paid Bennett $380,000 (£295,000) to settle a complaint of sexual assault (Argento denied any sexual relationship with Bennett and said the payment was a means to quiet the situation and help Bennett out financially). Afterwards, Argento reportedly sent Rain Dove a series of text messages, one of which read, “I had sex with him it felt weird. I didn’t know he was a minor until the shakedown letter.”

Rain Dove passed the texts on to the police and they were leaked to the gossip website TMZ.

On the morning we meet, Argento, also a leading figure in the #MeToo movement, has just released a statement claiming that Bennett assaulted her. It is a quagmire of accusation and counteraccusation from which many people would choose to step back.

But, although Rain Dove says that “confrontation makes me nervous”, she does not seem a stepping-back sort of person. “What a morning,” she says. “We had a Twitter spat.” This consisted of each party calling the other a liar and Argento accusing Rain Dove of profiting financially from the texts, something that Rain Dove categorically denies. “I didn’t sell the texts,” she says. “They were leaked, unfortunately. If I had, I would have donated the money to a rape crisis centre.”

Asia Argento … fell out with Rain Dove. Photograph: Lenny/IPA/Rex/Shutterstock

She says that “it seems so counterproductive to the movement when you get bogged down in the sludge”. But, she adds, she is “exceedingly disappointed” by Argento’s statement. “In a sexual assault case, it’s important to support and believe the victim. But what happens when both parties claim to be the victim? The solution is to shift your support to just the truth and an honest dialogue.”

Rain Dove met Argento through McGowan. They had only been together for six months when Rain Dove passed the texts to the police. Reporting the close colleague and friend of a new partner must have been a harrowing decision. Presumably, she spoke to Argento first? “We talked about it,” she says. “Part of me is, like, I should have kept trying [to persuade her to ‘be honest’]. I did try. But did I make this valiant effort with pleading and begging on my knees? No. And I feel guilty. Maybe I should have …”

Rain Dove’s relationship with McGowan has grown alongside #MeToo; they are staying at the Savoy courtesy of GQ, which has just named McGowan the recipient of its Inspiration award. In fact, Rain Dove was an almost accidental witness to the birth of #MeToo last autumn. She first met McGowan “a day or two before the Harvey Weinstein news broke”. They had mutual friends who had been telling Rain Dove that the pair would get along, but the model had resisted an introduction because she “didn’t want to have to deal with celebrity complex. I was like: ‘Celebrity? They’re always crazy!’”

But after a photoshoot one day, a friend announced: “I’m going over to Rose McGowan’s. You should come.” When they reached McGowan’s house, in Los Angeles, she was in full flow: “She was: ‘The world is going to change tomorrow! You don’t understand. The world is going to fucking change tomorrow!’ I was, like: ‘This person is absolutely fascinating, but this is why we don’t work with celebrities.’ I had no idea what she was talking about, of course.” After the news broke, Rain Dove says, “we talked as allies: ‘How can I be supportive, help you move forward?’”

With Rose McGowan at the GQ awards. Photograph: Ian West/PA

A few months later, McGowan upset the trans community when she argued with a trans heckler in a Barnes & Noble bookshop. Again, a mutual friend spoke to Rain Dove about McGowan: “‘I think this incident is really harming her. Is there anything we can do?’” At which point Rain Dove “got together a bunch of organisations, including Stonewall – and a bunch of individuals – to talk to Rose. We went to all these meetings … and people were so mean to her. They were really condescending. It was hard to watch. I was, like: ‘Dang! I know she has upset this community, but I don’t envy having to sit down in a rage like that.’”

Rain Dove looks up, apparently remembering something. She gives a small laugh, which sounds suddenly private, and then she says: “Rose told me afterwards that she was in the middle of one of those meetings and somebody was literally going: ‘Wah wah wah,’ at her. And she looked across the table and saw me. She thought: ‘Hah! I’m attracted to this person. How strange.’” Love grew and now, Rain Dove says: “I think she’s amazing.”

Rain Dove’s journey through life has been an unlikely and expressly modern one. Now 28, she grew up in Newark, Vermont. At home, she was Rain Dove (her mum is Flower), but at school she was known as Danielle. Danielle was on her birth certificate and Rain Dove was “a name that I held in the closet … part of my family was very Christian”, she says. “They thought it would harm my chances of a job and I’d be picked on at school.” She still was. Ridiculed as “Tranny Danny”, she grew up thinking of herself “as an ugly girl”.

Then, at 19, before embarking on a civil-law degree, she signed up for a wilderness fire prevention programme in Colorado and everything changed. She had been raised on small farms – “if you were hungry, you just went into the garden and pulled something out of the ground” – and had never been short of muscle. But when the mostly male crew began to comment on the female workers, Rain Dove realised she had been mistaken for a man.

Modelling womenswear in New York in 2016. Photograph: Rabbani and Solimene Photography/Getty Images for Parsons School of Design/The New School

She did not disabuse them of the notion. For 11 months, she presented solely as a man and then, at college in Berkeley, “it was a pretty even split between people thinking I was a butch lesbian and the other half thinking I was male”. Rain Dove began to formulate an idea, “gender capitalism”, which she set out in a TEDx talk last year. “You can identify with whatever you want. It’s just that you recognise how society sees gender and you capitalise on it.”

In practice, this means deploying the appearance of “societally fem” and “societally very masculine” genders to subvert expectations of both and to maximise opportunity and earnings. (One recent post on Instagram involved shaving her body hair and then gluing it on to her face as a beard, to show that hairiness has nothing to do with gender; in another, she wore Victoria’s Secret lingerie and Photoshopped the faces of Victoria’s Secret models over her own.) Less commercially, Rain Dove says, gender capitalism may simply mean “changing my posture and my voice” depending on the person in front of her.

The most obvious practical application of Rain Dove’s “gender capitalism” is that she walks on menswear and womenswear runways. She got her break in modelling after losing a bet to a friend and, as a forfeit, attended a casting. When Rain Dove arrived, the bookers told her she had the wrong day and to come back tomorrow. Well, all the women here are blondes or redheads, she reasoned. But, the next day, the other models sitting around were men.

Still, Rain Dove said nothing. She demonstrated her walk and got the job. But when she returned for the show, she says: “They handed me some underwearand said: ‘Go put on your outfit.’ I said: ‘OK, but where do I get the outfit?’ and they were, like: ‘That’s it.’ Just the underwear. It was a men’s underwear show!” At that point, Rain Dove saw she had two options. “I could go out and say: ‘Hey, there are some things in my body that don’t align with the particular marketing scheme you have in mind for this garment.’ Or I could make my friend just as embarrassed as I was.”

So, what did she do?

“I walked out topless. The casting director looked like he was going to shit himself. It was a charity show; such a conservative audience. They didn’t show up to see titties on the runway. These are huge and they’re bouncing! Oh, it was fun. Really fun.”

I had been thinking that Rain Dove sounded pretty reserved as a child, but I must have got that wrong, I say. “You could ask a lot of people in my childhood and they’d say I was very prudish about showing off skin,” she replies. And, although she may have lost her inhibitions, her feelings about her body remain mixed. “I mean, my body is sometimes this thing I look at and think: ‘What strange, alien thing grew around my consciousness?’ It’s like this weird fungus that’s just there. Sometimes I even look at my tits and think: ‘What are you doing here?’”

Even after all these years?

“Even after all these years. The reason I have changed is because there are people who have my aesthetic around the world and whose faces and bodies don’t really align with what society deems is appropriate or pleasing. And those people are killed every day, they’re raped every day, hurt every day because their bodies haven’t been normalised.” So her “job” is to keep putting her body out there. “To make my body really boring. So it’s OK.”

Signed to the agency Major Models in New York, Rain Dove has appeared in Vogue, Elle and Cosmopolitan and in March this year graced the covers of Diva and Gay Times. Although the fashion shows are in full swing, Rain Dove is unsure if she can take part because she has been booked for Louis Vuitton womenswear in October, “if I can fit the clothes”. They wanted her to lose 20lb, she says; she counteroffered 10lb.

In a menswear show in New York in 2016. Photograph: Brian Ach/Getty Images

In fact, Rain Dove is something of a professional shapeshifter because, when modelling on womenswear runways, she has to slim down to a size four at most – no easy feat when you are 6ft 2in tall with generous breasts – while modelling for menswear requires her to bulk up to a six or an eight “and build some muscle tone so I fit the arms of the shirt or fit the pants a little more appropriately”.

The two catwalks provide very different experiences. Womenswear is better paid; menswear is friendlier. “When I go to a womenswear casting, those are the places where most people will tell me: ‘Oh, I don’t think you’ll fit the clothing,’ or: ‘Yeah, you know, I heard this brand is actually very anti-gay.’ When you run into fellow male models, on the other hand, they slap you on the back and congratulate you on getting the job they wanted.”

The stakes are lower, she says. Many male models have to get second jobs. Rain Dove herself was picking up plumbing work on Craigslist only six months ago when she was out of cash, replacing someone’s faulty float valve for $50.

With all this switching around, it can be hard to keep track. Some days she races to a casting in heels, only to find the job is menswear.

Gender capitalism is beginning to sound like hard work. Far from disavowing gender – Rain Dove rejects the phrases “gender-neutral” and “gender-non-binary” – one must choose and re-choose every day. Doesn’t she ever want a break from thinking about it? “Some people have lost their families, their homes, their careers and even their lives over their right to be able to identify with a particular gender,” she says. “So I very much respect people’s identities with their own personal labels. But I think the world would be a lot better off if we saw people as intentions and vessels.”

I think she means that people should be judged not by their bodies, but by their thoughts. I can see the benefits to this, but I worry that words themselves are beginning to feel a little performative and conditional. She describes people who insult or attack her on social media, for instance, not as haters, but as “individuals who would be deemed as haters”. (These, along with friends, are invited to attend the open-apartment events she posts on Instagram.) Even the word “word” seems vague when Rain Dove describes “pronoun” as “a sound”.

This may be because she “grew up in a world where it was really hush-hush to talk about the LGBTQ community” and only recently learned the language with which to do so. Back in Vermont, “I didn’t have the language down”, she says.

It is modelling – and the bi-gendered presentation she has practised in that line of work – that has forced her to become fluent. “Suddenly, everyone wanted me to be an expert on identity. It has taken me a couple of years to develop the language because I didn’t really know how to talk about it,” she says.

While the language has evolved, some feelings have clarified. She says she feels more comfortable when presenting as a man, “more empowered as a woman”. This seems counterintuitive. Surely feeling comfortable is a big part of empowerment? “It’s when you do it anyway,” she says. “When you say: ‘I don’t need your blessing to do what I do,’ then you’re taking your power.

“When I walk down the street,” Rain Dove says, “every step I take is like a defiance.”

Read more: www.theguardian.com


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