In the latest episode of ABC’s One Plus One, Courtney Act sat down with South Sudanese Model Aweng Ade-Chuol, for what was a powerful and deeply moving discussion about the intersection between sexuality, culture and gender.

Born in a refugee camp in Kenya, Chuol has an incredible story. Chuol was working in a fast-food outlet in Western Sydney when she was scouted and just a few weeks later she was walking a runway in Paris. Since then she has gone on to do campaigns for the likes of Pyer Moss, Asai, and Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty label.

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“I got scouted when I was 18, I was working at McDonalds, and someone came through and said ‘I can get you to Paris if you want to get to Paris. I had always wanted to join this industry. They looked at me and said my face would look amazing in Paris.”

Coming Out

Within a few weeks, Chuol’s life had changed for ever. On One Plus One, Chuol who is pansexual discussed how she came to terms with her sexuality while in high school in Western Sydney, telling Act that she worked out she was queer when she was in grade 10.

 

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“We had a high school dinner, and I got asked, ‘do I like girls?’, and I had never thought about that because where I grew up the thought wasn’t an option, so imagine the reaction.

So for me, I was like I kissed a girl when I was younger, but I had never through about it. I had gone to a predominantly Muslim school, Auburn girls high school. So for me it was already out of mind in three different societies I was a part of.”

Chuol also discussed how she met her wife Alexus Ade-Chuol in January 2019, marrying later that year, in a move that angered many from her own South Sudanese community. Chuol opened up about how it led her to attempt suicide, spending three days in intensive care and a further six months in recovery.

 

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“It was a heavy weight to carry, there was so much pressure, but I was ok with it if young kids would be ok with it one day. I guess there is a lot of positivity in being visible,” Chuol said.

‘I was oblivious to the blatant racism’

Since 2016, South Sudanese Australians have reported continual and heightened racial abuse after ‘African gangs’ claims were made by Australian media.

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Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton added fuel to fire telling a Sydney radio station, “The reality is people [in Melbourne] are scared to go out at restaurants of a night-time because they’re followed home by these [South Sudanese] gangs, home invasions, and cars are stolen.” It was a claim that sparked fierce backlash.

 

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Speaking about her own experience of racism in Australia, Chuol told Act, “I was oblivious to the blatant racism that could occur to me as a black female walking around Australia for a very long time.”

“Till 10th grade I was completely oblivious…. It wasn’t ignorance, but no one had ever come to me and said you are black, go back to where you came from, it was never that. I watched the TV shows that showed that happening, but I had never experienced it.”

Chuol explained that it wasn’t until 11th grade that she first was a part of a circle that dealt with racism.

“It was a language barrier, I went to a store with my grandmother, and she was trying to say a word, and it was  hard work. So, I was like ok, I’ll say it for her, and the person in the store said to her, ‘if you don’t speak English why are you here?’ To her, that was like, ok so we are here, this is the reality of the race issues in this country, and from there I was more aware of it, it had been there the whole time, I just didn’t see it.”

Proud To Represent Australia

When Chuol is not walking the runways of the fashion capitals, she attends university, currently undertaking a double degree in law and psychological sciences.

“I can change the world hopefully. I’m a learner and I want to learn for ever. I like to learn, read a lot, I want to open psych centres and psych wards because I don’t think a lot of people with mental health issues get placed in good places,” Chuol explained, reflecting on her own mental health and time spent in hospital.

“I’m very proud to be from Australia, and for me to go overseas as to represent Australia is quite interesting.”

For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

 

 

 

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