"I'm a lot of more convincing as a boy than as a gendered female," Dove tells PEOPLE

By Gabrielle Olya
Updated May 29, 2015 07:15 AM
Credit: Pete Hopkins

Rain Dove may be one of the most versatile models yet, as she feels just at home in menswear as in a dress.

“I feel more comfortable in men’s clothing, and I’m a lot of more convincing as a boy than as a gendered female,” the model, 25, tells PEOPLE. “But with women’s clothing, I feel more empowered. When I put on a dress, people have a lot of questions to ask, so I like putting on a dress just to get people to ask those questions and open up a dialogue.”

Her ability to model clothes of either gender caught the eye of Beau Lawrence, who decided to make Dove the star of his new ad campaign for his menswear line, Ace Rivington. The candid photos for the campaign are actually just that – Dove took them on a whim with friend Cory Wade (whom you may recognize from America’s Next Top Model) while on a trip to San Francisco.

“It was an in-the-moment shoot,” Dove says. “We had just had a talk about topless equality, and the freedom of being able to stand next to a great friend of mine and be able to have the same body expression as him was so great.”

Lawrence fell in love with the photos and decided to use them.

“He’s putting his reputation and the validity of his men’s brand at risk by having a topless woman in men’s attire running down the beach, but he was 100 percent for it,” Dove says. “I was floored.”

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This is just one of many boundaries Dove is prepared to break as an androgynous model. She doesn’t mind being labeled male, female or neither, as long as it’s creating a conversation.

“We’ve established a world that’s binary gendered, and I don’t want to be disadvantaged at all,” Dove says. “If being male is going to be more advantageous than being female, I’m all about it. I don’t really think it’s that important.”

Dove grew up in a small town in Vermont where she often felt isolated because she didn’t fit into gender norms.

“I felt like there are girls who are cute and soft and pretty based on commercialized standards and norms and expectations about what a girl should be, and then there were action hero girls like G.I. Jane and Sigourney Weaver in Alien, and I thought, ‘Well maybe I was meant to be an ugly girl, but an ugly girl who can kick some ass!’ ”

The New York-based former wilderness firefighter first got into modeling after losing a bet – her friend made her go on a casting call after she failed to predict the correct outcome of a football game – but it wasn’t an easy career path.

After being signed to Major Model Management in 2013, Dove moved to New York full-time, and though she was walking in New York Fashion Week, she was secretly homeless.

“I didn’t have a job, I didn’t really know anyone when I first came out here, I didn’t have any support from my family, so I started staying in a Planet Fitness shower stall,” she says. “It was such a weird dichotomy because I would wear thousands of dollars of clothing a night, be in fashion blogs, be in pictures and then go to sleep in a shower stall hoping no one would find me.”

Even though she lived in a shower for over three weeks, she remained optimistic, saying that the experience “wasn’t terrible because I was pursuing my dreams.”

And she isn’t done pursuing them.

“I see myself doing more commercial stuff,” Dove says. “I love high fashion, I want to do it, but in order to be able to make a change, you have to be able to talk to the masses, not the 1 percent. I see being able to talk to the everyday person about not being afraid of people that are different, because we’re all different.”