Australian drag darling Courtney Act is back in the country and already busy. She spoke with Jesse Jones about launching Cartier: The Exhibition, appearing at the Commonwealth Games, and what the Big Brother house was really like.
Welcome back to Australia – what is the Cartier exhibition going to be like?
It’s a bit exciting. I’ve just ordered Elizabeth Taylor’s coffee table book, with photos of all her jewellery—obviously there’s lots of Cartier in there. One of the pieces from the book is going to be on display. They’ve loaned a bunch of things, like her ruby and diamond necklace. That’ll be cute to see. There’s something so decadent and opulent about jewellery on display. It’s art.
Yes, I watched All Stars, and I’ve watched the first episode of the new season. I was disappointed to see Vanessa Vanjie Mateo go home because I think she’s adorable. I think it’s too early to call a favourite, but I’m looking forward to season ten. It looks like it’s going to be exciting.
How was your experience in the Big Brother house?
It was really fun, mostly because I was sharing my time with Andrew [Brady] and we were like two little naughty schoolboys, enjoying each other’s company. I think everyone else got really bored in the house, but he and I were always entertained by each other.
There were some amazing people and interesting characters. Even having the opportunity to coexist with [former conservative politician] Ann Widdecombe, it was amazing to have conversations with someone who’s so far right, when I’m so far left, and not resort to calling each other names.
What about all the work you did educating the housemates about gender and sexuality?
It was great, because everyone was so willing to listen. Nobody was critical, especially the men. I was in the bathroom one night getting into drag, with my face and padding on, no wig—visually very peculiar-looking to anyone who’s not in the inner circle of drag. And I had these straight guys all listening, asking me questions, eager to understand and learn. It was a real insight.
I think most people want to be good people and understand things more, but sometimes information is not presented in a way that’s accessible or palatable to everybody. So often minorities are required to explain themselves to the majority, and it shouldn’t be the work of the minority to do that. But I found myself in a position where I was able and comfortable to talk about gender and sexuality to these people, and they were so willing to receive it.
I was surprised at how much I assumed people understood, and how little they actually did know—but how willing they were to learn. Times are changing.
What do you think are the biggest issues currently facing LGBTI people?
I think the biggest issues for our community at the moment are not those affecting people in Western countries, it’s the issues in countries that aren’t as developed with human rights. There are so many countries around the world where it’s still illegal and punishable by public stoning to be homosexual. I think that’s probably where our attention should start getting focused.
And we need to recognise intersectionality: being a black person, a disabled person, a woman, or a Muslim can also mean being a queer person. In our communities, looking at intersectionality is really important, as well as looking beyond our own Western communities to see how we can help people less fortunate than us.
Are you looking forward to visiting the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games?
Yes, I’ll be back up after my Brisbane show for Sparkle in the Sand. It’s a big queer event at Surfers Paradise on the main stage, with live performance, music, and dance. Everybody’s welcome. Hopefully lots of Games-goers and locals come along and have a really great time in the sand. I hope the dance floor is sand.
What would you like to say to your queer fans?
I was afraid to be queer in my twenties. I was always this radical conformist when it came to my gender and my sexuality. As the conversation has evolved in society and I’ve evolved as a person, I’ve realised that being queer and all the colours in between are so much more fun and fulfilling.
Push your comfort zone and lean into all of those little things somebody told you that you shouldn’t be or do, because for any benefit you think you’re getting from repressing a part of yourself, there’s a much greater cost. When you take those things you’re ashamed of and put them on display, they’ll become your greatest strengths.
Cartier: The Exhibition is at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra until July 22.