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Courtney Act on how her friend Chaz Bono helped her realize her gender identity

Courtney Act on how her friend Chaz Bono helped her realize her gender identity

Courtney Act | Photo: Under the Covers

What’s the writing process for a show like Under the Covers?

It starts with the title. Well, it starts with the poster! You’re forced into a title, image and concept. This one is covers of covers – It’s Oh So Quiet by Bjork, Gloria by Laura Branigan are covers… I did the show last year around the UK and Australia. Underbelly asked me to bring it back this year at South Bank!

Will there be any changes this time?

I’ll be doing it with a band. A few songs, a few hairdos, and the encore might be ballroom dancing…

Were you happy with the reaction to Dancing with the Stars?

It’s been amazing. Maybe I didn’t delve deep enough into negative comments and feedback, but everyone seems supportive. People were like ‘It’s weird this should be a first.’

Would you do Strictly?

If they asked. But I feel having just done Dancing With the Stars precludes me from that.

 

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It’s so striking, the difference between the Australian and the UK versions, when it comes to gender formats…

Ballroom Dancing, especially in the UK, is a very rigid, old school thing. That’s used as an excuse to not move with the times. But surely my appearance on Dancing With the Stars will encourage Strictly to have same-sex partnerships?

What else do you have coming up this year?

My schedule is up in the air. I’ve got all these spinning plates. We just shot a pilot in LA for a late night talk show!

Does negative commentary bother you?

No. There’s been very little negative backlash to Big Brother, Dancing With the Stars, The Bi Life, the Christmas special, any of those things in the mainstream.

I asked Jinkx Monsoon about the extremes of Drag Race fandom; when it oversteps the line into abuse. LGBT people who…

…not always. The majority of the Drag Race fandom is straight women. There’s definitely a level of toxicity in the fandom. But the problem is, it’s a vocal minority. Often, one negative comment, and it’s ‘people are saying this!’ People aren’t saying it. A person said it. You have to be mindful of how much attention you pay to negative comments.

 

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You’ve been in entertainment for so long – has it always been like this?

We didn’t have social media when I was on Australian Idol! Or YouTube, comments sections – we barely had the Internet! It’s been interesting watching it evolve. I think it’s gotten better, because there’s more accountability on social. And there’s a block button, which I use.

Have you ever blocked a famous person?

I’ve certainly muted a few!

Do you feel pressure from society to appear a certain way, or the way society thinks nonbinary people should present, because of the misconception that you can’t be femme nonbinary or masc nonbinary, otherwise you might as well subscribe to male or female?

People who are nonbinary, gender nonconforming, gender-queer, gender-fluid – by definition, they’ve already stepped away from society’s expectations. The whole point of self-identification is, you’re the one who decided. So it’s counter-intuitive to the process. But yeah, I’m sure there are pressures. It’s interesting because I remember many years ago when I discovered the term gender-fluid. I felt liberated from the expectation of gender. It literally set me free from 30-something years of one of my biggest and most consistent battles. The expectation to ‘be a man.’

 

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Do you remember coming into contact with the term?

Yes. Chaz Bono and I were having a conversation. We became good friends after Drag Race. We were on the phone and he said ‘have you ever heard of the term gender-fluid?’ I was like ‘no, what’s that?’ He described it to me and it as a pivotal moment.

From my late teens, 20s, I thought the only option was to be cis or trans. I didn’t quite feel either were me. I’d always struggled with the trans identity, even though I knew what I was supposed to be. I thought the only option was to be trans.

So you contemplated that you could’ve been trans?

Yeah, definitely. Many times in my 20s I questioned my gender identity. I was too afraid to fully consider it. I had a lot of internalized transphobia. I really struggled. A few times a year it’d consume me and pull me under. Before the conversation with Chaz, I remember calling my best friend Vanity. I thought I was calling to come out as trans. I thought I was finally ready to admit it, and needed that friend who’d listen and not judge. I got to the end of the conversation and thought ‘oh. I don’t think I am trans. I really like being a boy, I really like being a girl.’ And at that time, I was still afraid of the middle.

When Chaz and I discussed gender-fluid, it was weird to know that was what I’d always been, but because I never had a word for it, I always struggled with it. I was always trying to be more masculine than I was. I mean, I failed miserably! But I always was trying to be a man, especially in the bedroom with other guys when I was presenting as Shayne.

 

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It’s interesting because now I’m just me. I’m not afraid of the words ‘man’ or ‘woman’ or the middle ground anymore.

When we last spoke you were dating someone you met at Tom and Dustin’s New Year’s Eve party…

Yes. We’re no longer dating. But I can tell you, London is the city for dating. Sydney, nah, LA, nah. But I’ve dated a bunch of people in London in ways that I never have before. I love it. I went on a date with an opposite sex couple – a man and a woman – which was fun. I met them on an app, Field, for couples seeking a third. I met my ex-boyfriend on that. We were both singles seeking whatever! That app is handy, because people are more open when it comes to gender and sexuality. For a lot of ‘capital G’ gays, the idea of having a boyfriend who does drag or is feminine can be a bit confronting still. It’s getting better. For a lot of pan and bi guys, they’re attracted to masculinity and femininity.

Are you excited about Drag Race UK?

Drag Race in the US is wonderful but after 11 seasons and however many All Stars, it feels… I’m excited for the cultural injection. And to see the UK interpretation of drag. The girls are so influenced. The girls on season 11 started doing drag long after Drag Race began. Drag Race is huge and popular in the UK, but it’s still a fresh approach to drag. Drag as a culture needs new blood. The UK version is going to be so important for stopping drag becoming stale or predictable. It’s do different here. It can be polished, but some of the most entertaining drag I’ve seen has been roughly presented; the looks, the commentary, the politics.

Do you keep up with the US show?

I have every single season up until this one. I don’t know why. I watched episode three and just stopped watching. I didn’t feel as compelled. It just hasn’t taken me, and I’m a super fan of the show. I’m not one of those jaded people. I genuinely love it. Once my Underbelly show’s up and running I’ll have more time. But I do love Nina West. I knew her before and she is fabulous.

Courtney will perform Under the Covers at Underbelly Festival from 12-19 May. 

See also

Courtney Act: gay men are the worst when it comes to biphobia

Courtney Act lands bisexual dating TV show