Recently, the Liberal Postmodernist news website Buzzfeed conducted an interview with self-described ‘agender model’ Rain Dove on her life and career. The core of the article focused on how supposedly interesting it is that a woman, born with a bone structure considered ‘masculine’ is forging a modelling career along agender lines.
The piece is traced with a facile and naïve narrative of personal liberation through multiple gender identities peppered with trite liberal commentary. Writing such as this usually provides little interest for me; it is after all directed at the profane mass of the digital commentariat. There are however two elements of the piece which warrant thought: firstly, the honesty of the subject in her strategic use of agenderism; but more importantly, what the piece is lacking in terms of radical commentary.
Rain Dove paints her development into agender modelling as a process of overcoming. That is, she uses her unconventional looks to her advantage. Rather than resigning herself to having ‘the wrong look’ she has crafted a career around it. Indeed it has allowed her to reach a rather privileged position, banking on her agenderism.
“A self-titled “gender capitalist,” Dove uses other people’s confusion to her advantage.”
Yes, however a more honest description would be that Dove uses other people’s “confusion” for profit. She appears to be a ‘curiosity’ commodity and seems more than happy with that objectification;
“Gender capitalism kicked in and I didn’t really care — I thought it was a bit funny. I did it and I got cast.”
Dove acknowledges that she is in demand because of her androgynous appearance and consciously strategises it in order to maximise her opportunities. Why limit oneself to only female or male modelling work when agenderism can open up niche markets and PR opportunities, such as the interview in question? This is a telling element of the postmodern approach to gender and how it slots with ease into the structures and internal logic of Capitalism. Capitalism drives the exploration of new markets. New identities mean new kinds of consumers, new demands. Is multiple personality disorder the new derivatives market? Why settle with one consumer psyche when it can be split into multiples? Schizo-Capitalism beckons.
Dove goes on and candidly describes using a male pseudonym in order to succeed in a particular job environment:
“I looked at how the other women were treated in the room and I realized that being a woman was not a good thing in this predominantly male work environment. At the end of the day, if something goes wrong, you have to be able to trust your fellow man to get you out of the situation. You don’t want to be the one stuck with ‘Helga who can’t carry the chainsaw.’ There was just this perception that women couldn’t ‘step to it’ as much as the guys. I went under a pseudonym and nobody even asked if I was trans or gay; they just thought I was a guy. I lived a year like that.”
Notice how there is no direct critique of the situation, only a strategy of concealment that profits from prejudice.
“It was hard to get the cute jobs as a cocktail waitress or something. I realized I could make a lot more money as a male.”
And that’s the bottom line. Dove uses her looks to ‘position’ herself anywhere, allowing her to claim ‘oppression’ as a woman, transgender, agender and whatever or alternatively use “white male privilege” in situations where it is beneficial for her… It’s gaming the system, while at the same time being profoundly within and supporting that system through developing multiple identities that are ready to be exploited as new commercial avenues:
“She would love to see more genderless clothing campaigns and brands.”
Yes, because this means more jobs and thus more money for her. Some may claim that I am being ‘cynical’ in this, but Dove’s main motivation is clear throughout the interview.
Predictably the piece moves to express the subject’s supposed socio-political effects:
“Although she models both mens- and womenswear, she feels more powerful in a dress.”
Of course, it’s all about ‘feeling’ empowered – which is the central motif of liberal postmodern politics. Feelings, not facts – the delusions of autonomy and the stifling of real rebellion.
Further, Rain Dove appears to confuse the symbolic ‘unique’ with der einzige:
“We’re all struggling to be unique and the most unique thing you can be is yourself.”
One doesn’t ‘struggle’ to be unique since unique is what one is regardless. Once someone consciously attempts to ‘be unique’ they will find that they are grasping at geist. This phenomenon is found en masse among movements that endorse identity politics such as, among others the agenderism that Dove represents.
Rather than freeing the unique individual from classifications, stratifications, definitions and taxonomies, the politics of identity merely expands this multiverse of names. Not only will everyone have a classification but also a corresponding symbol. This is the triumph of the symbolic writ large, the death of the unique.
The triumph of the symbolic.
The piece ends on a statement that I consider untrue:
“One day she hopes to be completely and utterly “boring.”
If Dove were ‘boring’, which in this context means not creating second glances from people, she wouldn’t make the money she does through being a ‘curiosity’. Rain Dove is in many ways privileged to have a far more masculine bone structure than most women, allowing her to slither through social gaps and secret passageways, through which those without her appearance cannot pass.
In short, the article in question is but one small example of how postmodern culture and the politics of identity insidiously colonize and bankrupt opportunities for potentially radical critiques.