Long before Drag Race Down Under was even a gleam in RuPaul’s eye, US audiences were treated with a fabulous performer from the land of kangaroos and Vegemite. Courtney Act made it to the top three of season six, thanks to her outstanding performance in Shade: The Rusical and some stunning runway looks. Before Drag Race, Courtney showcased her impressive pipes on Australian Idol and post-season six, she wowed with her fancy footwork on the Aussie version of Dancing with the Stars and took the UK by storm on Celebrity Big Brother.
As a gender-fluid, queer person, Courtney uses her public profile to educate audiences on issues such as gender identity, sexuality, marriage equality, anti-racism and more. As a singer-songwriter she has released a pop EP and entertained audiences in her cabaret shows throughout the world. She currently splits her time following Pride parades and chasing summer between London, Los Angeles and Sydney.
In addition to her already voluminous body of work, including her hilarious podcast with Vanity, “Brenda, Call Me!”, Courtney is adding author to her resume. Caught in the Act: A Memoir, which is being released on Tuesday, September 13, tracks her rise to fame and her own voyage of self-discovery. Told with Courtney’s trademark candor and wit, the book is a hilarious, often scandalous, and at times heartbreaking, peek into the entertainment icon’s journey towards understanding gender, sexuality, and identity.
Courtney, a/k/a Shane Jenek, writes about growing up in Brisbane, Australia in the 80s and 90s and how adolescent Shane’s unconventional angst was pitted against the love of his traditionally wholesome parents. She shares tales of the thrill in discovering the Sydney drag scene and then unflinchingly recounts her adventures into its seedier side that led her to dabble in methamphetamines and multiple sexual encounters with a broad spectrum of sexualities and genders including straight-identifying men.
Of course, Courtney also dives deep into her wild ride into the world of entertainment, losing so many TV reality shows and finally winning one. Drag Race fans will also get their fill of piping hot tea, including tales of her shaky introduction to Adore Delano and oh, the time RuPaul blocked her on Twitter. The book is also packed with “Courtney Facts”, taking a closer look at definitions key to the LGBTQ+ community.
Caught in the Act: A Memoir showcases Courtney Act doing what she does best: dazzling and titillating fans and audiences across the globe. We had the chance to discuss this new book and more with Courtney in our exclusive interview.
What made you decide to write a book now?
I’ve always loved writing and I was scheduled to start writing the book on the 17th of March, 2020 and then obviously the world stopped turning and it actually provided a great opportunity to really focus and write a memoir. It wasn’t planned that way. I was meant to be doing other things and other work, but lockdown ensured that I had plenty of time to write the book.
Was it difficult to share so much about your personal life?
Not really. I’ve always been an open book, pardon the pun. And, also, in my live cabaret shows, I’ve often shared a lot of personal stories but usually those stories start out as multiple pages and then I have to edit them down to a paragraph and a punchline. This was a really great opportunity to allow those stories to breathe and have more space and give more insight.
You cited so many influences in your life from your parents to Vanity, pop culture, Priscilla, Spice Girls, etc. What do you think was the biggest one for you in your career?
I don’t think you can really choose one. I think that’s the point is that we’re not just one thing or the other, we’re a huge concoction of all of those influences.
I love the “Courtney Facts” peppered throughout the book. How important was it for you to include this information?
It was really important because I know that people have different understandings of different terminology. And I wanted to make sure that everyone was literally on the same page. There’s also a lot of people reading who might not even understand what some of the terms mean. A lot of people in the queer community even don’t understand what the other letters in the acronym are – and there’s so much assumed knowledge that sometimes people are too scared to ask the question. So, I wanted to provide the answers for them.
I appreciated your honesty discussing your experience on Drag Race. Was it hard for you to put that in print? Were you afraid of any repercussions?
I’m not really afraid of repercussions. I think I’ve already experienced those from voicing different ideas in the past. Really? I just wanted to write down about my experience of being there. There was a lot of stuff that I wrote that didn’t make it in. I think I was writing it from a hurt place, but through the writing and through the process of rewatching season six, again, whilst writing the book and talking to producers and people who worked on the show, it really helped to heal and understand a lot of the stuff that happened back then.
Did you discover anything surprising about yourself while writing this book?
I discovered that a lot of my life experiences, which I may have told many times in funny stories actually come from a very deep place that there’s so much more to them than just, you know, my first kiss with a boy. Wasn’t just that fun moment. It was the 18 years of confusion that led up to that moment and coming to understand that was really power.
What’s your favorite story from the book?
The first story that I wrote for the book was about Oscar, the boy in Indiana, Indianapolis. That was the one I was most excited about writing. I don’t know, maybe because it was such a fun time and a fun experience. I was like, where am I going to start? And I was like, “Oscar” – and I sat down and I actually think I wrote 20,000 words about what was a 12-hour experience; and so that had to be edited down because the whole book was only 80,000 words.
You talked about the influence the Spice Girls had on you growing up. What’s your favorite Spice Girls song?
Mine is “Who Do You Think You Are?” I just always loved it. I mean, I love them all, but “Who Do You Think You Are?” is always one that I loved.
What are you hoping people will take away from reading the book?
I hope people will have a better understanding of themselves, even though my experience might be different to theirs. When you read a memoir, I always love that you went on the journey with the person and you saw how they dealt with different things and understood different things. And then you learnt for yourself in that. And I always just loved reading memoirs, especially when I was younger. I remember reading Jenny Boylan and Kate Bornstein’s books and Janet Mock and Chaz Bono. I loved reading all of their memoirs when I was younger and just sort of understanding different nuances of the queer experience.
You’ve had such a background in the arts – singing, dancing, acting, drag and now writing. What is your favorite artistic endeavor?
My favorite thing is performing live. My ultimate dream is a band, backing vocalists, dancers, and me singing and performing…costumes, production, like the full moment. Probably my favorite thing that I’ve done to date, I mean, Dancing with the Stars is pretty amazing… and then also my Christmas special on Channel 4 in the UK, the opening number of that – I mean the whole thing, but the opening number of that was, was so amazing. We had this original song and dancers and production and it was just a career highlight. I can’t wait for more of that.
Is there anything that you haven’t done that you’d like to tackle?
Well, I would love to do that old school variety show as a regular sort of thing, because that one-off of the Christmas special was amazing, but I’d love to create seasons of that.
What’s next for you?
Actually, I’m working on a second book at the moment. It’s a fiction and as such, I’ve been reading lots of fiction, which I don’t normally do. I always liked reading nonfiction, but actually now I’ve started reading so much more fiction and I love it. I just finished reading a book called Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, which I loved and another one called Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor, which I enjoyed. And I’m halfway through Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, which is so good. It’s such a good book. It’s about the Prince of England falling in love with the son of the President of the United States. So, yeah, I’ve been reading lots of fiction to try and map out my characters and my story for my book that I’m writing.