TOMBOY’s second instalment for #PrideMonth is a special one, featuring former model and photographer, Lola Van Vorst and some nuggets of magic from her Mum, Sue who sat in on the interview in Sydney’s Palm Beach.
Lola possesses a unique energy and magnetism, incapable of description. She is warm. But enigmatic. When my editor first met Lola years ago, in a boutique where she was working in Paddington, she immediately decided she wanted to feature her, and we did. The first time I hung out with Lola, I sat on her couch and she instantly curled up beside me, placing her head on my lap. I didn’t know her well at this point but this didn’t appear to be a barrier. Now I do know her well , I realise photographing and writing about someone you care about is hard. But have tried my best.
TB: What does pride mean to you?
LV: To me, it’s simply being proud of who you are; as a person, what you do, how you communicate, how you love. It can be so many different things.
TB: Do you think that self-care or beauty can be political?
LV: As in, I don’t shave my armpits because I don’t give a fuck?
Sue: I would say no! In Lola’s case she’s not making a political statement, she’s just making a personal one.
TB: You don’t wear makeup or do your hair, or shave your armpits, which obviously has nothing to do with self-care, as we shouldn’t have that term go hand-in-hand with patriarchal beauty standards, but is not doing these things a political statement for you? Or is it just about comfort?
LV: It’s just me being comfortable and being myself. I don’t feel like I need it I guess, and I don’t want that to be something that people expect of me, because I can’t be bothered most of the time. When I do wear it, it’s a bit special. It’s also a lot cheaper.
TB: Do you have a self-care ritual that makes you feel good when you feel like things are getting the better of you?
LV: I get a massage or finally book in an osteopath appointment. Something that’s going to make me feel physically better and is going to be good for me in the long run. If my body is out everything else fucks up. Or I give myself extra sleep or something, veg out, give myself some me-time, eat well, After pay something.
TB: In my opinion one of the most beautiful things about the LGBTQI+ community is the acceptance and diversity of the bodies that exist within it. How do you think about your body, and how has it been received in a wider community?
LV: Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror naked and I think… Yeah girl, you look good. Sometimes I look at myself and I’m like… Ugh, did you eat too much dairy last night?’
TB: I know that personally when I’m with my queer friends, I feel a lot more comfortable with myself and my body because I am not surrounded by this undercurrent of hetero-normative patriarchal beauty standard bullshit where I feel like I have to meet certain expectations or standards with my body/appearance…
LV: Exactly, because there is no expectation.
Sue: I must admit, I did feel a lot more comfortable if when I was younger I’d go to a gay bar, because no one expected anything of me.
TB: So do you feel like because you’re gay, there is less pressure on you and your body to meet certain beauty standards?
LV: Yes, kind of. Partly because I know that women are generally just more accepting of flaws than men are which sounds horrible to say, and I know there are a lot of guys out there who don’t give a fuck but traditionally guys want a certain type of woman and that’s it. Whereas women understand when you’re bloated, or you’ve got a bit of cellulite, same, whatever. You know? It’s like ‘oh, you’ve got a hair on your nipple? I’ve got a hair on my nipple!’ It’s little things that just make you feel more comfortable because you know that they get what you’re dealing with. Gay men too, mostly because they are more comfortable with women as well, so they are just like ‘whatever’, whereas hetero guys are like ‘nuh uhh, oh you got you period? Do you need a thing?
TB: And how has it then been received in a wider community?
LV: I got shit when I was on Top Model. Which I feel like is a very dated thing for me to talk about.
TB: So has your perception of yourself which has been well-received within the LGBTQI+ community, been intersected or altered by so many years of being a model?
LV: Yes. It was pretty confusing for me.
Sue: You really just came tumbling out and did everything all at the same time. You were obviously ferreting around in the background before you went on Top Model, she never told me, but her sexuality was quite obvious to her a long time before it was public to me, not that I didn’t already know.
LV: I guess I actually had a lot of gay friends who kind of egged me on a bit because they loved skinny.
TB: Is the fashion industry a ‘safe space’ for queer identities, and do you think it’s more of a collective thing or certain people who have helped carve this out?
LV: Probably yes but I can’t think right now. I will never forget seeing Andreja (Pejic) in person and thinking that I had a shot with her, which I clearly didn’t, haha. But I thought that was amazing, that we were truly and honestly embracing her. You know?
TB: So it’s less about powerful industry people and more about fearless individuals being themselves within the industry?
LV: Exactly, it’s us as a collective just being ourselves and representing ourselves for better visibility. We are the ones that are advocating for ourselves, especially in the beginning.
TB: Pride month is obviously about pride, and there is a lot of happiness and celebration around it. But what do you think about the validity of anger and the use of anger as a catalyst for change?
LV: Ignorance. Always. You know what I mean? People that aren’t even willing to try and open their minds to the idea of the queer community. I’ve definitely had it a lot easier than most, in terms of discrimination, being cis and white. But even the ignorant straight man will be like ‘oh, but you’re a hot lesbian’ so you’re gay, but you’re hot, so whatever.
TB: You get afforded that ‘can I watch?’ privilege because you aren’t often immediately read as queer?
LV: Exactly. They never believe me that I’m actually gay… ‘yeah, but you’re not ‘full-gay’ you’re just saying that.’ Hetero guys say that I’m just saying I’m a lesbian, so I don’t have to talk to them. It’s like, seriously? I’d come up with a better excuse. I think it’s fine to be angry and passionate about something, it just depends how you channel it. We’re not going to get anywhere if we just fucking yell ‘ACCEPT GAYS, WE ARE PEOPLE TOO!’ You know what I mean? It doesn’t work for everybody, rubbing it in their faces.
TB: So for you, anger is valid, but violence and aggression is not the answer.
LV: No way. You need to find a way to channel that anger and perhaps aggression into some kind of tool.
TB: Do you do have a way of doing that?
LV: When the plebiscite was happening, and I found out certain family members had voted no, I was fucking angry. However, I had to put it down to the fact that some of them were too old to wrap their head around certain concepts that is just about what they have grown up with, and likely aren’t in a space where they are very capable of changing their frame of mind. You just have to put it down to ignorance or the way they’ve been brought up. Especially with the people I love, I don’t agree with it, but when they’re that old, fuck man, they’re going to die in the next few years anyway, there’s no point in me ignoring them. I may as well just show them who I am, that I’m still a good person, and maybe hope that they might change their mind one day. But then with younger people, I feel like there are some points where I have to say something. I pick my battles. If I see that there is going to be any kind of breakthrough with somebody, I don’t give a fuck about my relationship with them, I’ll tell them what I really think, but even still, if I love and care about someone, I’ll also tell them what I think because I want them to know that this isn’t a fucking joke.
This isn’t for fun. I’m not doing this to get a reaction out of anyone. You think I’d choose to be gay? I’m not going to choose to be gay. Maybe in this day and age, because it’s a lot easier, but back then? No fucking way would I choose to be gay, are you kidding?
At school, I told my most trusted teacher that I thought I was gay and she said, ‘well you know, in the bible it says that that’s wrong.’ I was like fine, I’ll just get really dark, I just pushed it all down, it was fucked. I thought this person that I really looked up to, was saying that the bible was saying I’m a bad person. Fuck that. I can still believe in God and have these great values in life and treat people how I would like to be treated and all this shit without being judged for what I feel in my sexuality. I didn’t choose to be this way. If I could be with a guy, fuck yeah, I would, that would be so much easier, imagine, straight privilege! But fuck that, boring. I’m actually really glad that this is who I am.
TB: When you were coming to terms with your sexuality, what is something you wish you had heard at the time?
LV: Everything is going to be ok. Don’t listen to anyone. Nobody had good advice for me back then, or I was too scared to actually ask for it. Just, please be more self-assured.
Sue: It’s ok to be you.
Words and photography: Ella Jane