‘I never belonged to the group of cool guys. Instead, I was an extremely shy, studious boy who had his hair parted and threw balls like a girl. I felt uncomfortable and I was constantly aware of the way I walked and talked. Because of my Greek heritage, I did not fit the stereotypical image of an Aussie guy. All surfers were blond, muscled, and Nordic. So instead of going to the beach, I hung out at home and studied. I was friends with the nerds.
My bisexuality has never been an issue to me, but my shyness has. My first male-to-male sex was with a sex worker, because I did not have the guts to go to a bar and interact with people. I spent my twenty-first birthday on the beach, where I got cruised by a really handsome guy. Without talking to each other, I knew we would hook up. But I chickened out and went home alone instead, where my parents had thrown me a surprise birthday party. I remember looking in the mirror in the bathroom, I never felt so miserable in my life.
Little by little, I came out of my shell. When I was twenty-three, I left my parents’ place and moved to Sydney. I had sex with men in saunas and cruising areas, but the gay community still felt alien to me. A year later, I quit medical school and moved to Adelaide, where I moved into a big shared house and met Stewart, another bisexual guy, and Francis, who was just her fabulous self. We smoked grass, opened a café, and for the first time in my life I felt a sense of freedom.
I decided to take a big step. My older brother lived in Amsterdam, and on 1 December, 1990, my plane touched down in what would become my new hometown. There is a sense of liberty and openness here that is unparalleled in the rest of the world. From the moment I arrived, I felt safe enough to explore who I am.
‘She is a loud, outspoken and rather tacky Greek-Aussie social butterfly who loves being the center of attention’
Together with my friends, I made art, which we sold at local markets. Most of my friends were queer, and I finally had the guts to get myself involved in the gay scene. We started doing drag, mainly as a joke, until I realised it triggered something in me that I had never felt before.
Jennifer Hopelezz is my drag alter ego. She is a loud, outspoken, and rather tacky Greek-Aussie social butterfly, who loves being the center of attention. She is shameless. Not only is she a well-known socialite, she is also a fierce political activist, who speaks out against injustice, discrimination, and violence. In drag, you can be someone else, but at the same time it is also very much you. Drag is a mask that shows who you really are.
Gender is something that is continuously at the back of my mind. In a way, I still think about how I should sit or hold things, as a man. I know a lot of gay men do. We all carry these expectations and narratives with us, even though we know they are heteronormative and oppressive. That is how deep it goes.
As Jennifer, I break free from that and shake things up by doing the other side of the binary. I like to show both clichés in one body, so Jennifer not only has big hair and a big ass, she also has a beautiful butch beard.
I will never shave off my beard. When I am not on stage, people see me as quite masculine, with my beard and hairy chest, but I have never felt very masculine at all. I do not feel like a man, although I am now fifty-eight. I feel like a boy. A fabulous boy.
‘Contrary to popular belief, a back room can also be a place where you can make friends and find love’
In 2008, I opened Club Church here in Amsterdam, a cruising club where marginalised groups can live out their fantasies in a safe space where there is no judgment. There are so many rules and taboos in society, and most people have nowhere to go with fetishes that do not fit into the dominant realm. In Church, people can walk around naked if they want to and have sex with whomever they like.
I have always liked cruising and group sex. Places where eyes and hands are everywhere, and you feel like you are floating in space. I have many fetishes. Spanking is my oldest one. Once you overcome the pain, you get a lot of endorphins. I like the game of humiliating and being humiliated. It can be very liberating to surrender.
Darkrooms are my natural habitat—when you are in the dark and you cannot see someone’s face, you just imagine the person you want him to be, which is the sexiest thing ever. Contrary to popular belief, a back room can also be a place where you can make friends and find love. When I just arrived in Amsterdam and hardly knew anybody, I went to a darkroom, and had sex with a stranger. After all these years, we are still together.’