For anyone in the queer and trans communities, genderqueer model Rain Dove is truly a godsend. She not only uses her androgynous appearance as a means for creating more visibility for these marginalized communities (specifically trans and gender nonconforming people), but she also uses her platform quite regularly to articulate her beliefs surrounding fluid identities, effectively dismantling the gender binary and the restrictions that it can place upon bodies, including her own. Just last month, she conducted a photo shoot with Victoria's Secret lingerie to emphasize that there is more than one way to be "sexy," and that the definition goes beyond the hyperfeminine presentation we see in most VS models.
Most recently, Rain Dove brought the nuances of gender into discussion once again via Instagram post. In the split photo, the left image showed her presenting more femininely and with her chest bound, while the right image featured her chest unrestricted as she posed in a more masculine photo shoot. In the caption, she mentioned that she would not be binding her chest during her participation in Men's Week in London. In spite of the expectation of more masculine silhouettes in a men's fashion show, Rain Dove maintains that a flat chest doesn't necessarily equate to masculinity, and "my tits don't define my sex and they got swagger."
As a genderqueer person and as someone passionate about breaking all the gender rules, I was overjoyed to see her latest contribution to the gender conversation. So many parts of the body, like breasts, tend to be gendered without our consent. For example, I usually don't feel feminine, but as soon as my breasts are accentuated or visible, I'm perceived as such. Rain Dove is making a similar (and subversive) point: You can have breasts and be a man or masculine. Although many people choose to bind, she is making the point that you are however you feel, bound chest or not.
"While there are many humans who bind for valid and personal reasons (that shouldn't be discredited)," she tells me in an email, "I wanted to make a statement that just because I am wearing a suit that has been deemed 'menswear' doesn't mean I need a penis or pecs to feel comfortable and confident in it. To feel allowed to wear it. To be worthy. All humans should be privy to the same respect regardless of their gender. I should be able to be treated with the same trust and respect with 'pecs' as I would with 'breasts.'"
As for the traditional expectations of bodies and gender in men's fashion, Rain Dove says eff it. She believes that style is unique to the individual (not limited by gender), and the way each person uses it is not always going to fit into societal expectations. And that's OK. Feminine people can wear menswear if they want to (and vice versa) regardless of how they identify or appear.
"Clothing may be tailored for a specific physiology, but it's also designed for a lifestyle," she told me. "Many other humans enjoy the aesthetic and promised lifestyle of what we have branded as 'menswear' but feel afraid of freely purchasing it because their bodies in the garments are not reflective of the types that have been socially accepted through advertising and media."
Although Rain Dove made it perfectly clear that although she doesn't feel like binding for Men's Week, she cares deeply about her fans who do choose to and demonstrated this care through a link she shared in the post about safe ways to bind.
"Many people end up hurting themselves due to lack of proper resources and tools," she tells me. "Inappropriate binding can lead to crushed organs, ribs, arrhythmia, and more. It's important to me that if people feel that the only way they will be safely respected as male or passably flat chested without surgery that they do this practice carefully!"
I've been toying with the idea of binding for a few months, hesitantly browsing through websites for chest binders every few weeks. I've certainly been apprehensive about taking the plunge myself based on the dangers of the practice that have been brought to my attention via my transmasculine friends. Before I do so, I definitely want to read up on the correct ways to bind. As for my reasons for binding, those are ever-changing.
Most days, I feel better when my breasts are invisible to the world. But sometimes I can't help but wonder where my gender dysphoria begins and my body negativity ends. As a person striving for body positivity, it is my instinct to try to become more comfortable with my breasts as a beautiful part of my body that is, like the rest of me, without a gender. I respect all of my friends' choices regarding binding, but my need to do so may stem from a deeper feeling of hating a body that is misgendered every day. Perhaps some of my hesitance in purchasing one is the instinct that binding my chest may not be the right choice for me, or the right answer to my own discomfort.
Whether or not I decide to purchase a binder, Rain Dove reminded me that no matter what my body looks like, I am as masculine as I want to be no matter what I look like. Breasts and all. And as a person who sometimes feels strange in a feminine body, this is a valuable reminder that I am who I am, and not what society tells me I am.