In season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Australian drag queen Courtney Act often seemed like one of the 2014 season’s most villainous characters — but that’s a characterization that has proven to be woefully myopic. Act’s ongoing appearance on the newest season of Celebrity Big Brother has only made that clearer.
Since the season began, Act’s been getting a lot of positive attention for the way she interacts with her housemates and it’s easy to see why: Simply put, she has consistently proven herself an incredibly articulate, masterful spokesperson for the queer community, even in the face of ignorance and bigotry.
For example, here’s a clip in which Act — spectacularly half-in, half-out of drag, a sort of perfect metaphor for her role as a liaison — helps her housemates understand the difference between identifying as transgender and being a drag performer.
The conversation started when several male contestants asked whether Act and another contestant, transgender journalist India Willoughby, were getting along. Almost instantly, it became clear that they weren’t well-versed in the intricacies of what being transgender means, or how it differentiates from performing in drag. Act answered their questions, gently correcting them when they used improper terminology and — marvelously — introducing them to the idea that gender, like sexuality, exists on a spectrum.
Below is another clip in which Act, very frankly but without condescension, explains to housemates Andrew Brady and Ginuwine that some women have penises and some men have vaginas.
“It’s a confusing and shocking conversation, but it is a reality for a small percentage of the world,” she said.
Throughout the conversation, it was obvious that Brady and Ginuwine were in uncharted waters. But Act’s frankness and willingness to laugh along soon opened the up floor for questions. They didn’t seem antagonistic in any way — they just didn’t know very basic things about existing as anything other than cis gender men.
Really, what Act’s interactions with her housemates demonstrate — well, beyond the fact that modern sexuality education is abysmal — is that so many people who might seem bigoted really just don’t know any better. Very real progress can be made through open, honest, frank and empathetic conversation.
As queer people, the idea that we exist at all — that we dare to live our lives — is a political statement, and it’s exhausting. When you live your whole life as a force in opposition to something else, those who don’t understand you can often feel like people who will never understand you — like enemies. Some of them are exactly that, but many more are simply ignorant and clouded with misinformation. The idea that we should try to educate the uninformed is something many of us already know, but actually seeing it happen is proof of how powerful it can be. That’s a message Act’s fans have been echoing on social media every time a new clip surfaces online.
“Courtney is so switched on and smart,” one commenter wrote on /r/RuPaulsDragRace. “I love how frank and open she’s been on ‘CBB.’”
“This is why whenever I meet a queen, I make a point to thank them for their part in queer history,” another commenter responded. “I’m starting to realize that ... these people are truly pioneers of the community, the next legendary children and I’m so proud to see it.”
Really, though, Act’s appearance on CBB is just the latest example of her outspoken, smart advocacy for the queer community. Recently, fellow Drag Race alum Willam Belli caught flack for making transphobic comments on her web show — comments that Act made a point of refuting as best she could.
I’m not saying that every queer person suddenly needs to go out and give their straight friends firsthand demos of how tucking works, but Act’s interactions with her housemates are a great model to study for anyone hoping to chat with their friends about gender and sexuality.
Moreover, watching Act’s housemates learn and grow from one conversation to the next is a reminder that queerness is a thing people have to learn about — that nobody’s born understanding the difference between the terms “genderqueer” and “transgender.” Sometimes, the most effective tool to increasing empathy for the queer community is simply to sit face-to-face with those who don’t understand you and talk.