By BeBe Sweetbriar www.BeBeSweetbriar.com
No secret, the fashion industry has for a long time propelled the notion that women are meant to be soft, beautiful and sensual and men are built to be strong, distinguished and veral by clothing them on the runway and print advertisements in attire that helps carry that message home to the public. Men and women who don’t fit the gender binary descriptives have often found it hard to find a place in the fashion industry as a commercial model, and thus, in a domino effect, many men and women in the public have found it hard to find themselves in commercial advertisement marketed to them. But, I think it safe to say “thangs be a changing”.
In most recent years we have seen several international male and female supermodels make headway in breaking the gender binary in fashion as their androgynous or gender fluid looks have graced more and more runways and magazine pages across the globe. Models such as Andreja Pejic (formerly Andrej before her 2014 reassignment surgery), Milla Jovovich, Willy Cartier, David Chiang, as well as, Rain Dove and Cory Wade have been some of the few models that have paved the way for people to start thinking of clothing and fashion in genderless terms, and who knows, maybe even the unnecessary use of gender descriptives for people.
The first ever Queer Fashion Week continues the presentation of the notion of a genderless fashion world when it takes center stage in Oakland, California April 16-19. fiveTEN Oakland Events, producer of the event, states its mission of Queer Fashion Week is to showcase fashion creations for all types of bodies and genders. Rain Dove and Cory Wade are two Celebrity Models on board for Queer Fashion Week who continually go against the gender binary as fashion models and people. I had an opportunity to visit with both of these pioneers to talk about their experiences as gender fluid and androgynous models and breaking the gender binary in the fashion world.
It’s not everyday that a person can turn a friendly dare into an exciting career, but that is exactly what gender-fluid model Rain Dove did when a friend dared the 6’2” masculine featured female then genetics engineering student to audition for a modeling job. Little did Rain know that the mistaken gender identity that landed her in the male model audition would present an opportunity for her capitalize on features she grew up thinking would label her an ugly woman. Featured on modeling assignments in both female and male attire during New York’s Fashion Week, Rain has been named as one of Elle Magazine‘s 12 Women Who Are Redefining Beauty in 2015 and voted SheWired’s Most Eligible Bachelorette in 2014.
BeBe: You describe yourself as a “gender capitalist”. Can you share what that means to you?
Rain Dove: Gender is a socially constructed thing that helps us treat people with specific anatomical values. While it makes it easier for us to figure out how to treat each other by identifying people with gender-specific terms, it also means we are limiting the way we can treat other people by identifying them in specific ways. I don’t want that! I want to be limitless. I want the most I can get out of life. I just happen to look like a white man in America, which is pretty fucking awesome! As a “gender capitalist”, I basically cash in and capitalize on all the positive aspects of being any particular gender orientation. If somebody calls me, sir, I’ll be okay with that and let them call me, sir, as long as it’s beneficial. But, the minute it isn’t, I’ll take my tits out so fast (laughs).
BeBe: Becoming a fashion model for you was by accident, and not really a career choice you sought out. But, it has been through modeling that you have been able to develop a better sense of self and how to define that self in a non-gender binary way. So with that said, how would your sense of self be defined if you hadn’t gone into modeling?
Rain Dove: I wanted to work for the U.N. (United Nations). I was pursuing my degree in genetic engineering and civil law. I would have applied at the U.N. And would have probably been working in some third world country, or a country that has water rights issues. Gender would be the least of my worries. My impact of who I am and how I capitalize on that would be the least of my concerns. I would be less concerned about being masculine or feminine. I never knew I had (physical) attributes that would become this “thing”. Growing up, while I loved myself, I just thought I was kind of an ugly woman. Then it turns out I’m not a ugly woman but really a handsome boy and a dyke (laughs). But, I knew I would never instantly be classified as a cute, soft sorority girl. I’d never be that Playboy bunny person.
BeBe: Now that you are able to model in both gender identified fashion categories as a 6’2” masculine featured female, do you think this capability will have any affect on how we define beauty, and how “butch” woman are viewed?
Rain Dove: I think it can redefine things. And, I also think people need to stop defining things. I totally get the importance of people understanding your preferences and your needs and the way you need to be respected, but this whole thing of people in a category, which are so many, makes things hard. I could go out to dinner with someone on a date, and by the time I’m done telling them every label they should see me as, or that they need to tip-toe around, it becomes really uncomfortable and hard. It makes it difficult for people to meet other people because they are afraid they are going to peg it wrong. They are afraid they re going to hurt someone’s feelings. Being politically correct has become a system that was once put in place to allow us to identify each others differences, and now, it’s a system that has made it so that we are afraid that somebody may be different in a different way than we thought. It is starting to eat itself. I don’t think it’s about redefining the fashion world or the lesbian world, but about redefining our expectations of the human world.
We shouldn’t be surprised that a 6’2” person has giant ass tits and a clit, but happens to really look fucking good in Calvin Klein (menswear). It doesn’t change the way I’m going to orgasm and it doesn’t change whether your going to buy the suit or not. What I really want to bring to the table is that I don’t want to be surprising. I don’t want to be a topic of discussion in the future. If we were less surprised there would be less contention about having to label how your living your life.
BeBe: Speaking of living ones life, how did your appearance on the OXYGEN Channel’s Living Different show come about?
Rain Dove: I was contacted because the producers of the show were interested in highlighting women that have unique lifestyles. It was really an interesting experience. I was really nervous because OXYGEN has typically known to be a little conservative sometimes. I was a little concerned about their intentions. But, it turns out they did a really good job. It was a vulnerable process. It’s hard to admit that things are difficult. My career is going very well for the stage that it is in, but getting here was not an easy process. In fashion, people tend to pretend that their lives are perfect, but it is an industry where a lot of people struggle and go through a lot. They go through a lot of psychological stuff. Just because you wear $20,000 worth of clothing (on the job) doesn’t mean you go home with that at the end of the night. Many people go home to a lower standard of living conditions, and it is hard to admit that publicly. On Living Different it was hard for me to admit that I was not a perfect human being.
BeBe: Exposing your relationship with our father had to be vulnerable for you as well.
Rain Dove: That was a really interesting one. (It was) something they thought would be very beneficial. It was not easy for me to do. My Dad and I definitely have our history. I don’t need his motivation to be happy with my life, but to explore that relationship on a neutral ground was really great. I guess it ended up being a blessing in disguise. One of the things the show didn’t reveal was the whole reason my father hadn’t spoken to me in 5 years was because he thought I was transgender, not that he had a problem with my lifestyle. He thought I was getting hormone therapy and etcetera, and for him, he was afraid to be apart of that process because what he knew of me as a daughter, he thought he was going to lose and
that would be very hard for him. Of course, I told him I was not transgender, but that it really shouldn’t have mattered (if I was). It was really eye opening.
BeBe: You attended University of California at Berkeley only two years ago, and you’ll be returning to the Bay Area for the first ever Queer Fashion Week April 16-19.
Rain Dove: I think the interesting thing about this particular event is that this is a historical moment. Queer folk have always been apart of fashion, but this particular event shows that there is a large desire and interest for gay/queer people to be recognized. I think it shows there is commercial and marketing value to our particular community. When you have an event like this, you are telling the large conglomerates like Gap, Levi’s, H & M etcetera that there is money to be made and there is a desire to represent the queer community in the commercial side of the fashion world. They don’t have to be afraid to align themselves with the LGBTQ community.
The first openly gay male finalist on America’s Next Top Model, Cory Wade (Hindorff) has taken the criticism he received for being too effeminate on the long-running reality competition show and parlayed his look and characteristics into something unique and special in the fashion world. With numerous photo editorials and major runway appearances to his credit, Cory looks ahead to many more successes even if he has to be a trailblazer in order to achieve them.
BeBe: It has been a year and a half since you were on Cycle 20 of Tyra Banks‘ America’s Next Top Model. Has your modeling career gone in the direction you had hoped.
Cory Wade: Yes, and no. I have high expectations for myself, and I have dreams of great success, success beyond what any previous contestant of America’s Next Top Model has achieved. I know I can be a little unrealistic at times, so, I’m never quite where I want to be. But, a mentor of mine told me that you never want to start feeling satisfied. So it’s hard to say. No matter what I do I don’t think I’ll ever feel 100% satisfied. I’ve been loving and living life. I’ve has some amazing opportunities that I definitely would not have had had I not been on the show. So, I really can’t complain.
BeBe: Now on the Cycle 20 of the show you were on, they focused on your being a gay man. And with that, you received quite a bit of criticism from the judges on your male femininity as if they were saying that unless you butch it up, you weren’t going to achieve all you wanted to achieve in the fashion industry. Have you found that to be true? Has being who you are been a roadblock for you in the fashion world?
Cory Wade: I don’t think so. I don’t think it has anything to do with my sexuality or my femininity because when you see an image, you can’t tell how that person speaks or whatever. I believe my look is different. I don’t see a lot of models that look like I do. And that may be what has taken me a bit longer. It is going to take somebody other than Tyra Banks to see something special and unique in my look. I have had some successes. I struck gold when I got on America’s Next Top Model. I struck gold when I found myself walking in the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week among some of the biggest models. I’m only going to find more success if I stay o the path I’ve been on. Nothing could ever stop me. If I have to be the boundary breaker and pave the way for everyone else, so be it.
BeBe: You mention breaking boundaries of gender stereotypes, have you modeled women’s wear?
Cory Wade: Yes, I have modeled “women’s” clothing. And, I say women in quotations because I don’t think we should have to define fashion by gender.
BeBe: On the America’s Next Top Model season after yours, there was a situation with openly gay contestant Will Jardell and ex-football player Denzel Wells where Denzel basically said that Will’s “gayness” perpetuated the public’s erroneous perception that male models were gay. What were your thoughts on that whole ordeal?
Cory Wade: I think it’s very immature for straight men to even see (gayness) as an issue. If you are really insecure in your masculinity or whatever you feel is being threatened by gay men working in the fashion industry, you need to rise above it and be mature and secure in your manhood. It is so silly. Stereotypes aside, people are going to talk (about ones sexuality) no matter what you do. They are going to assume things about you no matter what. It’s unavoidable. It was a powerful moment on the show when Tyra slammed Denzel on international television for criticizing Will for walking in heels.
BeBe: What’s interesting about all that is that there was a time when men wore high-heeled shoes, make-up, wigs, ruffled shirts and it was considered a sign aristocracy and wealth. So when did men wearing these things become an issue in the first place. When did these things become feminine attire?
Cory Wade: You are absolutely right. This is a reason why we should have a Queer Fashion Week where we emphasize that there really is no classification when it comes to your clothing. Gender classification of clothing is something we created. As RuPaul says, “We’re all born naked. Everything after that is all drag.” Everything is so contrived. And, since fashion is so unnecessary, we should have fun with it, and wear whatever we want as our self-expression.
BeBe: With the exposure over the past 5 years that androgynous modes have received wearing both men and women’s clothing on the runway, do you see this type of discussion on gender-specific modeling being irrelevant in the next 5 years?
Cory Wade: Absolutely! People are starting to recognize that clothing doesn’t have to be gender exclusive. People have both masculine and feminine energy regardless of their gender classification. You shouldn’t feel restricted to only wearing heels and a dress if you are a girl, or a button-down (shirt) and slacks if you are a boy. People should feel free to express themselves in fashion however they want and not be afraid of what others might think.
BeBe: Why do think women have been able to break that barrier of gender classified clothing easier than men? Women wearing menswear has long become common place.
Cory Wade: I think it’s because “women’s wear” tends to be more glamorous and when you see it on men it doesn’t look as understated as seeing “menswear” on a woman. But, I also think women have been quicker to realize that clothing in general is an unnatural thing. Fashion is an adapted thing through evolution. Women weren’t meant to walk in heels or wear make-up. Nobody was meant to.
Rain Dove and Cory Wade will be Celebrity Models at the inaugural Queer Fashion Week presented by fiveTEN Oakland Events April 16-19 in Oakland. For more information and event passes to Queer Fashion Week go to www.queerfashionweek.com