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The Road to Mainstream Acceptance: express Chats to Shane Jenek and His Alter-Ego Courtney Act

express Magazine
Written by express Magazine

Shane Jenek charts the incredible career his alter-ego Courtney Act, telling Oliver Hall, “we’re the same person, just a different wrapper.”

I first interviewed Shane Jenek aka Courtney Act in 2003 after his breakthrough TV appearance as a contestant on Australian Idol. He been performing as Courtney for less than two years and told me that people’s opinions of Courtney didn’t affect him because he didn’t think of her as being a part of him. Sixteen years on with Courtney going strong, I ask him if he still feels that way.

“Courtney is me,” he admits, clarifying, “she’s an extension of me. The world looks the same through our eyes, but the world looks back at us differently.”

Shane is talking to express to promote The Bi-Life, a reality bisexual dating show hosted by Courtney Act (and sometimes Shane) that debuts on Bravo TV in NZ this month.

“Bravo has such a mainstream reach, to have a queer dating show on it just felt like such a great opportunity,” says Shane, describing his motivations for hosting the show. “I specifically wanted to showcase the bi world. We’re the biggest part of the LGBTI community and yet the least represented. I thought it would be really interesting to have a dating show that positively shows the experiences of young bi and pan people.”

Shane hopes the show can bring the gay and straight communities closer. “Sexuality exists on a spectrum, with gay and straight at the opposite ends,” he explains. “By showcasing bisexual people it can break down the boxes of sexuality and make people feel more comfortable to express their true selves.”

It’s a show mainstream TV would not have been ready for when Courtney Act made her TV debut sixteen years ago on Australian Idol, a show that started a tidal wave of Australian made reality television.

“It was the most watched TV show in the country at a time when everybody tuned into a show, as a nation. It propelled me into the mainstream but I don’t think I was ready for the mainstream and I don’t think the mainstream was ready for me,” says Shane, adding, “but it did take my career forward in a big way and gave me a taste of what was possible to keep working towards.”

Filmed ten years later, Courtney Act returned to television on Season Six of RuPaul’s Drag Race. “It was wild because it’s cult rather than mainstream, so you have a more invested audience. Then it went on to Netflix and was available all around the world. So that led a lot of club gigs and live performances around the world,” despite the exposure and the success that followed Shane says he will not return for an All Stars season.

Having caught the interest of UK television producers in 2018 Shane and Courtney were invited to star in Celebrity Big Brother, a show ‘they’ ultimately won. “In the UK there is still a bit of that ‘the nation tunes into the same show on the same night’ vibe which is cool. That took the whole thing genuinely mainstream.” He says, referring to his Courtney Act persona.

“Like sitting on live news panel programmes in full drag at the in the morning talking about Brexit and the NHS (National Health Service). It was fascinating to be included in that way and have my opinion respected. Whereas before I was seen as a gimmick, now I was genuinely someone with a voice.”

Courtney’s voice was not the only talent TV producers craved. The girl can move. Dancing with the Stars Australia began calling with a ground-breaking prospect: by competing as Courtney would Shane like to be one half of the first ever same-sex dance pairing on the Australian show. Like he was going to say ‘no!’

“I keep pinching myself. Vanity Fair my drag sister is doing my hair for the show, and I keep saying to her – I expect straight people to just tolerate me, but they truly accept us and love us!” Shane says of shifting attitudes he has noticed from the audience, cast and crew.

“Before if I was talking to a straight person in a mainstream environment, they would talk to me, but as soon as another straight person would come in they would go and talk to that person instead. That doesn’t happen anymore. People have changed and I need to change my perception to catch up! They’re not just tolerating queer people. They’re accepting and embracing us and treating us as equal.”

The Bi Life is on Bravo from Saturday the 20th of April at 9:30 pm.

 

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express Magazine

express Magazine

express is New Zealand's leading LGBT+ publication. Our goal is to inform and support our community by delving into relevant people, stories and events.

GJ Gardner Maxi 8 May – 31 July 2018

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