Palette Magazine

Q&A: How Rain Dove Went From “Tranny Danny” to Transforming the Fashion Industry

Bret Love

Standing a slim 6'2", with dark features, piercing eyes and a masculine pout, Rain Dove’s androgynous physicality rapidly made her one of the fashion industry’s most buzzed-about models in 2014. But her work with designers like Malan Breton, Vivienne Hu, Chromat and Rochambeau in last year’s New York Fashion Week is made even more intriguing when she waxes philosophical about being a “gender capitalist” and the sociopolitical ramifications of challenging the fashion industry’s heteronormative traditions.

Born female as Rain Dove Dubilewski and nicknamed “Danielle” by her parents, the 24-year-old grew up being ridiculed, often called “Tranny Danny” for her masculine physique. But the former firefighter has boldly turned the bullying into a backhanded blessing by turning what others considered a flaw into her greatest asset.

After modeling in Oakland’s Queer Fashion Week in April, Rain will be involved in a litany of projects ranging from TV shows (“Dyke Central” and an unnamed project at TBS), books (Jessica Yatrofsky’s

I Heart Girl) and movies (Madness and an action short about zombies) to NPR’s “The Moth Radio Hour” and various community activism initiatives.

We recently caught up with her via phone to talk about her meteoric rise in the fashion industry and the joys of exploring society’s preconceptions of gender.

How did you get into modeling?

I lost a bet with another model. We were watching a Cleveland Browns game, and she told me I should be a model. I said that models are pretentious people who don’t eat. She said, “If you choose the winning team, I’ll do you a favor. If I choose the winning team, you’ll go to a casting call.” She won, so I went. I looked around and there were a bunch of blonde women, and they told me I was there on the wrong day. When I came back the next day, I realized it was all men. I thought they made a mistake, but I decided I might as well go with it, and they cast me. A few hours before the show they handed me my outfit — a pair of Calvin Klein men’s underwear — and I waited until 20 minutes before I was supposed to walk out on the runway. The stylist said, “Why aren’t you in your outfit?”

So they gave you nothing to cover your top half?

Exactly. So I put on the underwear and walked out topless, breasts flopping everywhere. I thought the designer was going to pass out; he was so confused. So he puts me in a big Calvin Klein men’s shirt and says, “Swear to God, you will not tell anyone you’re a woman!” I walked out and I walked back. I didn’t tell anyone I was a woman. I even kissed a girl at the end of the day. The show didn’t get as much publicity as the people who coordinated it would’ve liked, so they started telling people: “Did you know that boy #17 was actually a girl?” That’s when people started seeking me out to do other work.

Is the fashion industry more liberating or restrictive?

I think the fashion industry is limitless. Not everyone sees me as being part of their vision. But the people that have seen me, some of them have seen things in me that I hadn’t even seen in myself. Some people can’t imagine me in anything but a flowing red dress and black high heels. Others only want to see me in a smoking jacket and a pair of suspenders, walking down the street in $2,000 loafers. It has been very liberating, and it’s opened my eyes to how we divide ourselves. Clothing is like a feather, a fur, a scale. It’s what we use, just like the animal kingdom, to tell the world how we want to be treated and what we have to offer. It’s a mating call — a way to get better employment opportunities and to attract a specific crowd. We limit each other by saying people can only wear specific things because their genitalia is a specific way, which is the most ridiculous thing.

What do you enjoy about fashion as an outlet for exploring gender?

I like it because I live it. People say it’s really brave what I’m doing. It’s not: Bravery requires a certain element of fear. I’m more afraid of trying to live within the restrictive boundaries of being one gender or the other than I am of just being myself. The great thing about fashion is that you can create a very unique version of yourself to display to the world. I’m excited to be a blank canvas. A lot of people love it when I wear menswear, but I’m very excited to wear women’s wear because I want to help people understand that gender doesn’t really exist. It is a socially constructed variable in our society. I want to show people that gender is whatever we make of ourselves.

How do you feel about representations of the LGBT community within the fashion industry?

Advertisements are severely lacking in same-sex, so I don’t think there’s a lot of clear representation at all. It’s a huge risk, but I would love to see that change. I don’t have any particular sexuality that I try to promote. I’m into whoever turns me on and gets me off. I think that’s the way all people should be. If that happens to be someone who has tits and a vagina, does that make you a lesbian or straight? Not necessarily, because you never know when a nice cock is going to walk into your life, and you’re going to feel hot for that. Why limit yourself? The whole world is trying to limit you. People should stop trying to label what they are and what they’re into before they even know if they’re into it. We should just love and choose whether we want to act or not act on it. In the fashion industry, I’d love to see all different forms of sex, love and lust represented. I think companies will find that they will get more out of their clients by representing their products with as many possibilities as possible.

Do you think the fashion world is getting better at representing a broader swath of humanity?

I don’t think the issue is necessarily about the fashion industry, although the fashion industry definitely contributes to it. I think it has more to do with advertising. It’s not about the clothing: The clothing doesn’t choose who it sleeps with, who wears it, how it orgasms or what it eats. Advertisers tell us ahead of time who that clothing would be best for. We, as people who don’t want to waste our lives making a bunch of decisions for ourselves, usually take their hints. The advertising industry has a huge responsibility on its shoulders. But these are private entities and, at the end of the day, they’re not required to help us make socio-political decisions. We need to tell them why changing the market and representing more people can make them better. We need to say, “Look, we know you’re going to get some backlash for representing a plus-size model in Victoria’s Secret or putting a same-sex couple in an H&M campaign. But we have money, and we love people who represent us, and we are willing to spend our money on your company.” That’s our responsibility as consumers. These people are not obligated to make changes or represent any kind of shift at all.

This is our luxury issue. What does the term “luxury” mean to you?

I used to feel guilty about having nice things, because there was so much good I could be doing with that money. I always tell people that, if you can afford what I’m wearing, then you can afford to make a difference. But fashion has taught me that it’s not a bad thing to love yourself and take care of yourself. I used to not give myself permission to go get a manicure, have a spa day or even have clothing that lasted a long time. But I’ve learned that luxury exists for a reason, and it can be found even in the simple things. It’s interesting what working hard to obtain high-quality things does for your mind and body. To be able to share those things is incredible. I don’t think any person should ever feel bad about treating themselves the best that they can. The better you take care of yourself, the more you’ll have to offer the world.•