Happily Ever After? Guest Kween: BENJAMIN NORRIS

Happily Ever After? Guest Kween: BENJAMIN NORRIS

To celebrate #STFTL’s one year anniversary, we’re checking in on some of our favourite Kweens and Kings.

What are these gems up to now? And how much can really change in a year? So…

It’s been exactly one year since we achieved marriage equality… and is everything ok?

Have you ever thought, ‘what happens a year on after superheroes save the earth?’

Did Buffy go on to slay her next job as a social media influencer? Did Frodo craft engagement rings for same-sex hobbits and did Wonder Woman become a tradie?

More importantly, what happened after our LGBTI heroes fought and won the right to marry their partners?

Did we all get invited to hundreds of same-sex weddings; enough to turn all the Real Housewives of Melbourne into marriage celebrants?

I have always been interested in what happens next: movie sequels, sophomore music albums, series 2 of anything on Netflix; I am fascinated by the follow up!

So when Carmela asked me to reflect 12 months after Australia changed the marriage act, I felt deeply intrigued.

So, what were the ripple on effects for myself and for the LGBTI community?

I personally thought I would have a big gay wedding with swans, celebrities and old pop songs sung by one of the Young Divas. (Yes, I am that gay!)

So why did I not do it? Why am I still engaged with no wedding gown in sight?

Somehow (dare I admit it), there appears to be more chance of our Prime Minister Scott Morrison marrying Tony Abbott than me walking down the aisle!

Because of this, I recently started to freak out that I had not yet done what we had been fighting so hard for.

Had I lied to my partner when I proposed? Had proposing in front of the country on Big Brother in 2012 been all about getting attention? Worse, I wondered if my partner (now 6 years on) didn’t even want to marry me!?

I felt like I was having an identity crisis.

So I started looking for answers on Google. How many same sex couples got married this year? Did everyone get married but me???

Well… there have been close to 3000 same-sex Aussies couples legally married.

This is amazing, but it certainly does not conclude that everyone in loving same-sex relationships, in deed got married. Phew! I am not the only homo alive with just an engagement ring.

Then I called my partner for an emergency date night, which went something like this: an elaborate dinner plan, face masks and a certain amount of nervous energy. What followed also was a weird conversation that started with the most romantic question anyone can ask, “Do you still want to marry me?” Gulp.

The reality was lost on me for a moment. I’d almost forgotten that the marriage equality debate was really just about equality. It wasn’t about marriage. Yet here I was hanging my relationship on a tender hook and questioning if it was all worth it because I haven’t thrown an over-priced wedding extravaganza with my life partner.

I guess our version of ‘happily ever after’ doesn’t mean we all get married right now! It just means that we are all equal now.

Maybe referencing those gays & straights as heroes might be a bit intense but i am still immensely proud of Australia for last year’s achievement.

I have found last year’s result gave Australia a chance to address some issues within the LGBTI community. However, now we face more intricate issues that can’t be blanketed over with a simple solution.

It is not a Marvel popcorn flick. It’s going to take some time to fully understand all of it. But more importantly, it’s about political correctness and not being a naive ignorant prick.

Which is where we are now.

How do we make Australia more inclusive? How did we educate those who might not be aware of the stories under the broader banner of LGBTI+?

Yes, there are more queer tales beyond ‘Jack’ from Will and Grace and the stereotypical lesbian at Bunnings.

Why do people know very little about intersex: the little discussed ‘I’ in the LGBTI alphabet?

Why does our trans community need more visibility?

Bisexuality remains to be seen as just a train stop away from gay-town. Nobody seems to respect an individual’s right to choose their pronouns.

Why is it still not ok to be a fem-top or butch-bottom? And why are gay relationships judged on whether they’re open or closed?

Please don’t think of the LGBTI community as a one-size fits all, we are actually more like the entire board of ‘Guess Who’.

While the world still turns beyond the 2017 marriage equality debate, we are still in many ways in desperate need of fighting for equal rights for all people, no matter what their sexuality, gender, race, religion and personal identity is. So let’s keep going!! And remember: it’s our differences that unite us, not divide us.

Benjamin Norris lives in Melbourne, Australia and is a presenter on JOY 94.9. He also hosts the podcast series, Word for Word and how could we forget? The previous winner of 2012’s Big Brother. You may of also seen him recently on ABC’s ‘You Cant Ask That!’

Guest Kween: YEN HOANG “How Miss Independent Learnt To Love.”

Guest Kween: YEN HOANG “How Miss Independent Learnt To Love.”

Hi, I’m Yen. I am a girl that’s super independent. I grew up believing in my strength, was taught to think that I am bold, that my words carry weight and can help change the world. I learnt that I am a force to be reckoned with when I’m standing on my own two feet, and when I must decide, for myself, I know what I want.

Throughout my early 20s, I had everything: a semi-successful startup brewing, found the greatest group of people I still call my best friends today, moved to the other side of the world, travelled alone and graduated in the top two percentile of my university. Yep, all before 22.

I always knew I was super independent, it probably came with being the eldest sibling and a Virgo (think Beyoncé, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Sheryl Sandberg: just to name drop a few). 😉

I was used to walking fast, spending my own money and opening my own doors. I learnt to trust myself and knew who I was through falling down and picking myself back up. I found my niche in the world, paving my own way, presenting my own smile and sense of self to whoever I met. I wasn’t used to balancing myself with another person. I wasn’t used to needing someone, or allowing anyone to help.

YEN

My independence definitely contributed to the destruction of my relationships in my early 20s too. I drove men crazy because I didn’t let them do everything for me. I didn’t let them cater to my every need. I refused to let them pay for every date.

I sometimes wouldn’t let them be the manly-man, the savior, the strong suitor that they so desperately wanted to be for me. It’s wasn’t on purpose; it’s just because I was used to being my own savior. Someone even told me to ‘pretend and be a little less independent, just so they can feel you need them’.

Somehow, something still didn’t feel right. And along the way, I lost my independence: I became that friend who disappeared off the face of the earth because she got a boyfriend. But I fell into this trap, of believing I had to dumb myself down just to make a boy feel better about himself.

My last breakup reminded me how much I needed to put myself first again and regain everything I knew about being independent. Although that breakup shattered my world, it was a sign that I wasn’t meant to be in a relationship with anyone else but myself.

Maybe it was a time for me to fix myself and change. Appreciate myself more and to never make the same mistake. To achieve more goals and more importantly find happiness. To hopefully one day understand, that I’ll attract the right things when I have a sense of who I am.

I had spontaneously decided to accept a job in London (the other side of the world) and pack up and leave within weeks. I had lived in London back in 2011 while studying there and had always called it my ‘home away from home’, so when the offer came through I couldn’t reject it. I called my best friend and told her I was coming, and recalled saying “I have nothing to lose”. I didn’t make plans to come home, or let alone have a plan? I was ready to accept whatever it was that the universe had installed. I felt so free.

yen 2

yen 3

The week my visa appointment with the UK consulate got booked: I met a guy who I never imagined would mean so much to me today. You see, I was so focused on my life that I was completely blind-sided; a relationship was the last thing I was looking for. On our second date, I had no choice but to tell him I was leaving the country. I felt like I owed this to him and was super nervous delivering the update. That’s when I knew, I really liked him.

I asked for answers “Why throw me a bone now universe? I am about to go on an adventure of a lifetime! Do you want me to stay in Melbourne?” I even went to church and a temple to find clarity. I have never felt so vulnerable in my life.

I still left for London and to my understanding we weren’t official. But the distance didn’t change how we both felt about each other. Sure the different time zones were hard but we made it work. Last minute, I booked a flight home so I could surprise this guy on his birthday.

I was super super nervous, I mean, who was I to him to do that? We weren’t even official or anything exclusive! I knew I was taking a big chance. I guess that’s the whole issue with being independent yet a hopeless romantic too. Naturally, we then agreed to a long distance relationship because he acknowledged my dreams and supported it no matter how tough it was going to be.

You see, when you fall for a girl that’s independent, you will get frustrated. She’s used to doing things for herself and by herself. She’s used to following her own rules, making her own decisions, being selfish with her time. It will take a bit for her to get used to putting someone else first, to moulding her life to shape both yours and hers together. Don’t get me wrong, she won’t have trouble loving you, but she might, at first struggle to let you in.

yen 6

A long distance relationship ended up being the best thing for me. I learnt to prioritise a relationship; scheduling in calls with confusing time differences, improving communication skills and letting someone into my life, knowing I can still continually work on myself.

I learnt to let the small things go, had to invest a lot of trust in someone, believe that not all guys are bad (something that doesn’t come easy for me), to compromise and have patience, extreme patience. And finally, I learnt that when time and luck crossed paths the universe would find me a guy who will fall in love with my driven, spontaneous, independent character.

Go travel the world, battle your demons, set up a business, find people who value your heart and yours will attract. Don’t apologise for working hard, for having goals and being independent: we need more girls like this.

When the right person comes along, they will support you unconditionally and when you do come across that person, know that you deserve them.

I hope you love yourself enough to recognise the things you don’t like about your life, and I hope you find the courage to change them. And I hope somewhere out of the unexpected, a person comes along who will love and support you on your journey too.

Yen started her career in public relations with aspirations to work in the fashion industry, she became curious with e-commerce and technology and evolved her career to where she is now. Awarded Australian Best Young Marketing Talent (2016) for spearheading numerous innovations in her field, she is a passionate marketer with an entrepreneurial edge focused on overachieving outcomes. Competitive at heart, she never wanted to settle for just a nine-to-five job and saw an opportunity start her own business while still working a full-time job. People often mistaken Yen to be quite timid on first impression, but little do they know that she enjoys confrontation, is super opinionated and will definitely shut down dickhead behaviour (if she sees it). Her upbringing has been quite colourful (a story for another time) but as a result she is now super passionate about raising diversity issues (in every form) and empowering young girls to chase their dreams through running mentorship programs and teaching at a university outside of her side hustles.

@yhoang

Kween Krush: ALICIA GARDINER “From Screen Dream To Dancing Queen.”

Kween Krush: ALICIA GARDINER “From Screen Dream To Dancing Queen.”

Kween Krush alert!! This is where we celebrate everyday women for being complete badass Wonder Women.

Alicia, we have a big fat crush on you! We’ve watched you from our living rooms for a while now; famously as ‘Kim’ in the Network Ten series Offspring but also in Wolf Creek, Redfern Now and Miss Fisher’s Mysteries. Over the last few months you’ve been touring Australia and wowing audiences on stage as Rosie in the musical Mamma Mia; sooo we’re not going to pretend that we didn’t go into complete ‘fangirl meltdown’ when you started following us on Instagram.

First of all, bravo, well done, hooray! How long have you been acting for? And most importantly, why are you an actor? 

Thank you! It’s nice of you to have me here.

I was always interested in performing growing up, thanks to Young Talent Time in the 80s, and ended up studying voice and drama at the Victorian College of The Arts but my first gig almost felt like an accident – I’d heard the ABC were looking for an actress, who could sing,  for their new mini series Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude with Ben Mendelsohn. Somehow, I landed the job and twenty years later I’m still here! I have no idea how or why. Part tenacity and part luck, I guess.

I’ve really focused on my acting work over the years, by choice. I’m fascinated by how people and relationships work, or fail, and there’s something very juicy about delving into a new character’s psyche and trying to bring it to life. Acting teaches me about people, and myself. It forces me to stay present. I also like playing dress ups and I like the on set catering!

Is making your mark in the world of acting and entertainment in Australia. as challenging as one might think?

I don’t think I’ve ever tried to ‘make my mark’. Things really have just evolved over time in terms of my work and there’s been no method whatsoever. I’d like to say it’s all planned but, really, nope! I think a lot of people get to this ‘middle aged’ point in their lives and think “how the hell did i get here?”. That is me. Most days.

Did you have moments where you wanted to give up and do something else? If so, what gave you the strength and courage to keep going? 

A few years ago, I remember questioning the relevance of what I was doing. I had two little babies on my own and life just suddenly became more meaningful!  I remember thinking that perhaps I should be doing something with a deeper impact; something which made a difference to people’s lives and something less self focused. But over the past ten years I’ve really been reminded that there’s a side to this business that is far greater than any of us – most recently in fact, a girl came up to me on the street to tell me she is living with stage 4 terminal cancer. She told me she watches Offspring religiously and that my character ‘Kim’ makes her laugh and reminds her of the nurses who helped her in hospital. I could see how much the show has meant to her during her illness. Stories like these make me realise that what we do actually does make an impact; helping people feel and think and laugh. It’s important and, I guess since becoming a mother, I get that now.

You’ve played some gutsy, witty and glorious characters, are taking on these kinds of roles a conscious decision? 

Sometimes. I actually prefer working on drama than comedy, believe it or not. Overall, I’m more likely to want to play roles that are different to others that I may have played in the past, so it’s more about contrast and challenge than anything else. But there were certainly times, long ago, where I had to say yes to whatever work came along just to pay the rent.

📸: Giovanni Lovisetto

Bear with us but we need to get a few burning Offspring questions in. What was the best part of playing Kim Akerholt? 

Playing ‘Kim’ was a huge adventure. We never really knew what the writers were going to throw at us at any given time, so there was a lot of joy in that. I also really valued the freedom we were given from our directors and producers. So much of the final cut was born from the playfulness that existed on set; we were encouraged to take risks and make bold choices – an actor’s dream.

Kim is funny, sincere, brutally honest, a lesbian, a working mother, a devoted partner and beautiful friend. How did it feel to cover the sensitive and complex subjects she dealt with? 

We really did cover a lot, didn’t we?!  Cleverly, Offspring was able to flow from absolutely heartbreaking storylines to ones with mayhem and hilarity, sometimes within the one scene. We felt supported as actors with the directing and writing team so I knew the balance between ‘Kim’s’ bluntness and heart was always going to be kept in check. The comedy/drama line can be a tricky one to find, sometimes. I just feel very lucky that I was able to discover and develop this as ‘Kim’ over such a long period of time.

📸: Sarah Enticknap

What was it like being on-set with such a diverse cast and are there any cast members that have become like family? 

In many ways, the cast and crew did become like family. I guess that happens after 8 years of long hours making television together! Many of us had children during that time, got married, got divorced, got pregnant! Huge milestones.  This industry is quite unique in that you can work extremely intensely with each other for years but, next minute, you start a new job and inadvertently become part of another ‘family’ with similar intensity! So, yes, we stay in touch but this business means we are not always in the same city or country at the same time. Thank goodness for social media!

Seriously bear with us. Did the death of Patrick devastate you too? Haha. 

I do remember the first time I read that particular script and I gave Matt LeNevez (Patrick) an extra big squeeze at breakfast the next morning! We knew it was going to upset the audience but had no idea it’d be to the extent it became. I STILL have people telling me they haven’t recovered! Many liken it to when ‘Molly’ died in A Country Practice and I remember that sadness myself so I can feel how much this particular storyline meant to people. It’s a great testament to the show and to actors like Matt and Ash (Keddie) to have people respond like they did to their work.

📸: Giovanni Lovisetto

We get the impression you’re a proud feminist, is this true? 

I guess so! I’m the daughter of a strong minded women who was very independent and outspoken and I almost feel as if I am becoming more like her, the older I get.  My Mum was always about fairness and, growing up,  I never had the feeling that I couldn’t achieve or do anything different than my two brothers. There have been relationships along the way that have challenged me and these beliefs but, in hindsight, I’ve only come out the other side even stronger and more determined that I can have and do anything I want.

If so, does this change how you raise your children? Does this change how you are at work? 

I hope my kids don’t feel a difference between their genders. I’ve taught them that Princesses can slay dragons and that Kings can cry too and my daughter knows very much that her worth is not tied up by her looks or the dress she wears. I guess when my kids leave the nest and step out into the world they’ll come across experiences and attitudes that will contradict their own but hopefully I’ve given them a solid enough base.

I think we are progressing slowly, in Australia, with content for women in our industry and you only need to look at what’s happening in the states to see how much this will change over the next few years. Thank goodness! So, this is exciting and I’m happy that my children are growing up in a period where equality and attitudes within the workplace are being so widely discussed.

📸: James Morgan Photo

What women are you krushing on at the moment? 

I’m currently working on Mamma Mia! The Musical which is produced by three incredibly, strong women – Louise Withers, Linda Bewick and Phillippa Gowen. I’ve known Louise and Linda for almost 20 years. They put their whole heart and soul into producing these mega musicals and run an incredibly tight ship yet, at the core, have a genuine love for bringing beautiful stories to life on stage and bringing good to the world. I’m learning a lot from them and the way they operate. I’m also working alongside two amazing actors; Natalie O’Donnell and Jayde Westaby. We are touring together for 13 months and I have major crushes on them both! It can be a tough gig but these two slay it every single night and I watch them in awe, not just as performers but how they just tackle their days as working women and mothers. We spend a lot of time together; mostly in fits of laughter in our dressing rooms but also propping each other up in support. It reminds me daily of how important it is for women to be there for each other. I don’t have sisters, but I’m glad I have these two.

Is it an absolute thrill being back on stage? 

It really is! Musical theatre can require so much more of you, especially vocally, and I’m enjoying that challenge. Our physio calls us athletes and when you see what our ensemble do, you wouldn’t be surprised. We need to be meticulous with our sleep and food routines and coffee is now my new best friend! The challenge is real but the buzz of working live is so worth it.

What’s the whole experience of rehearsing and touring been like so far? 

It’s quite intense. I’m a single Mum and my kids tour with me. I’m not exactly sure how we are making it work, but we are – and that’s all that matters right?!  We’ve toured to Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney already and each city has been full of new adventures for us. I’m looking forward to bringing the show to other states over the next few months.

Touring a show like this is a lesson in logistics and the company is like a well oiled machine in regards to the crew. The work we do on stage is only the tip of the iceberg.

Is it possible to prefer performing on stage over being on-screen? Or is it like having to choose your favorite child? 

It’s hard to say. If I look back on past jobs, my favourites have always been the ones who have had great people involved. Yes, the piece itself matters, but to me it’s also about who I’m collaborating with and what they stand for. There’s nothing worse than working in a toxic environment. It stifles creativity and prevents people from doing their best work. My life is too short for unenjoyable experiences!

Speaking of favs, ready for another tough one? What’s your favourite ABBA song? 

We sing Dancing Queen twice in Mamma Mia! and it’s now becoming my favourite – which is surprising because it’s actually quite a killer song to sing. ABBA were tricky like that. Many of their songs are quite easy to listen to but once you pull them apart they’re often really bloody difficult! Our audiences are absolutely going off during Dancing Queen though so that softens the blow!

How did you do/feel/think when you heard that after 35 years ABBA have reunited and are making music again? 

The first thing I said was “I need to be in the front row!”. It’s going to be one of those tours – everyone will want to go to. I met Bjorn 17 years ago when I performed as ‘Ali’ in the original Mamma Mia! musical. He seemed like a great guy but we have barely kept in touch so it’ll be great to see him again (haha!).

📸: Richard Dobson

📸: James Morgan Photo

Why should we come and see Mamma Mia!? What makes this show so special? 

Firstly, you should come and see it because it’s great to support live theatre in Australia. That’s a no brainer! Secondly, this show is like a delicious cupcake! It’s story is simple and beautiful, focusing on love and family and friendship – but it’s blended with kick ass ABBA tunes and some incredible spandex costumes. We genuinely want people to come along for a laugh and a cry and let loose a little!

And finally, you must be super chuffed with everything you’ve achieved in your life. What’s one thing you would now tell your younger self? 

Oh, gosh!  I think I would tell my younger self that life is not always lollipops and rainbows; you’re going to win friends and loose friends, you’re going to fall in love but it will hurt like hell too, you’re going to miss out on that gig you really want and society is probably going to tell you you’re no good or ugly at some point – so just ride it out because one day you’ll see that none of that really matters at all.

Carmela has been a ridiculous fan of Alicia Gardiner for like a gazillion years! So she was thrilled when Alicia turned out to be an absolute treat and gem of a human through out this whole interview process; reaffirming once again that it’s ok to meet your heroes guyssss.

📸: Peter Brew Beven

MAMMAMIA NATIONAL TOUR DATES

PERTH

Crown Theatre From May 15th 2018

MELBOURNE

Princess Theatre From July 10th 2018

ADELAIDE

Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre From October 9th 2018

TICKETS ON SALE NOW!

@mammamiainoz

Carmela’s Mum and Aunty Maria went to see the show at the Crown Theatre in Perth and they had an absolute ball! Do yourself a favor… 😉

Guest Kween: BENJAMIN NORRIS “Australia RSVP’d Yes To My Wedding!”

Guest Kween: BENJAMIN NORRIS “Australia RSVP’d Yes To My Wedding!”

Five years ago I proposed to my partner in front of the country and today, Australia has RSVP’d ‘yes’ to our wedding invitation! So exciting!!

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to grow up in the 60’s and 70’s and be a gay man. Would my choices in the way I expressed my sexuality be different? Would the impact of ‘gay hate’ felt in that era and the suppression of my true self, have made me different?

Then I think about the 80’s and 90’s, the decades that I grew up in, and how I was affected. At school, the teachers were just as damaging with their comments as the students. I learned to lie about my truth and mastered the art of hiding my sexuality. Inadvertently I taught myself that lying was okay because it was about protection. More importantly, I masked my private self-loathing which made me not believe in myself. Still, I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as what I imagined it had been for the gays before me.

Then I think about the following generation that grew up with Glee and Dawson’s Creek; where girls had the gay best friend at school. It felt like the world was changing and in some ways I was jealous.

I can tell the difference between the way I was affected by homophobia compared to my elders and I know my story is different to how Graham Kennedy felt years ago and how Joel Creasey feels now. Different battles at different times and we are making progress but it has been a journey.

Today I found out that my country will allow me the right to marry my fiancé. The marriage equality debate was served, like a final dish in Masterchef.

My partner and I have been together for eight years, engaged for 5. I have had offers from magazines to pay for my wedding due to the fact I stumbled across some media notoriety with my winning of Big Brother in 2012. You may not have watched the show but you probably remember the ‘gay proposal!’ Yet I said no to those offers because I wanted to wait for my country to give me their blessing. I am a patriotic Australian and I love my country. In some ways I could have just had a party and said it was marriage but it didn’t seem right, not without a certificate and official recognition. It was no longer about marriage; it was about equality.

In some ways I wonder if we hadn’t exploited our sexuality with explicit sexual content (like in Mardi Gras) and we had focused on words like ‘love’ and ‘equality’ earlier, maybe we wouldn’t have repulsed people so much? Which makes me realise how much this journey has really affected me, looking for blame within myself, within my community. So I waited for the answer, not wanting to be too loud with my inner monologue because I couldn’t bare to be hurt and I wouldn’t leave myself open to do so.

The plebiscite was put in place and I was mortified about what my country was actually going to say about my sexuality. It’s a direct example of my upbringing and the scars of being treated unfairly in my young adult-life. I watched on as they wrote ‘no’ in the sky and people fought aggressively in the streets, as a basic civil right was discussed openly- like a reality TV show ‘Who is going to win?’ I heard someone say.

I asked myself, why I am so scared? I asked myself, will this be our Brexit or our Trump?’ Why had I lost faith? As a breakfast radio host, I was told I was too gay by senior management. I was asked to tone it down. I cried for two weeks and tried to push it aside. I thought my sexuality wasn’t something of an appropriate conversation. I felt like a freak and I began to overthink everything. How had I allowed myself to be so badly hurt? It took months to lift my head to face level with other Australians. My confidence rocked to the core. My partner at times saw me reduced to a shadow in a room full of people. I had fallen apart.

Will the same-sex marriage result bring me happiness? I hope it will… today I feel like I could fly. I will never forget that time I didn’t know if Australia was willing to say that I was equal and I will wear these scars for my lifetime. However, I will continue to remind myself that is was worth it. So many people played a role in that and I thank everyone, LESBIANS, GAYS, BISEXUALS, TRANSGENDERS, INTERSEX and QUEERS. Also those allies. I just hope that my tears and my struggle will mean that your children won’t hurt the way I did. Most of all I hope Australia realises that I waited for their ‘yes’ and now I invite you all to my wedding and this new beginning. The beginning of acceptance. What we fought for was equality and love won.

Benjamin Norris is a reality TV star known for winning Big Brother in 2012. Ben has gone on to have a successful career in radio with a number one show in Queensland. He’s a serial blogger and has had TV roles on Foxtel and channel Nine as a guest presenter. Catch Ben next as he embarks on a 16-part podcast series interviewing LGBTIQ influencers on Joy Fm 94.9.

@BenjaminJNorris