Ep.2 - Deni Todorovic: Queer Ed, Fashion, Taylor Swift and Cancel Culture

BY SOPHIE CHUNG

This episode celebrates the life of the fabulous @stylebydeni who is not only a vocal activist for queer and human rights but also who I believe to be the Carrie Bradshaw of Geelong.

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21 SEP - 2021

People often say, “why do you need to spend your whole life talking about your identity online?”

Hi Chums. For our second episode, we have the most amazing and fabulous Deni Todorovic today. They are a vocal activist for queer and human rights AND they always without fail, educate and assert while looking good. As they are a fashion creative, the Style by Deni Instagram is like Carrie Bradshaw of Geelong. It’s super extra with loads of cute outfits, dancing Tik Toks and chit chat.

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Sophie: How are you? How is lockdown?

Deni: That’s the loveliest introduction ever. The Carrie Bradshaw of Geelong. I’ll take it. How am I? I’m doing OK. We’re in our sixth lockdown in Melbourne or in Victoria, rather. At this point, I feel like we’ve become such professionals at this. Or we’re so used to this moment, and yet, every time, it still feels just as foreign, just as emotionally taxing. For the most part, today, I’m feeling great. I decided to give myself a task this lockdown. What I thought I would do is review a Taylor Swift album each day of lockdown. Literally, it’s been so nice because I found that each day, I’ve just been waking up and creating this content and not getting too bogged down in what are the case numbers because essentially, it is what it is with Covid at the moment. What will be will be. I find that if I set some boundaries with myself and the news, it generally makes for a little bit more space in my mind for things that make me happy rather than anxious. You know?

Sophie: Since you’re big on words of affirmation, which I love, should we start by setting the mood with a goodie?

Deni: Yeah, sure. Everyday, I try to lead into my day with empathy, love and kindness. It’s a really simple one. It allows me to make space in my mind and in my life for really positive mindsets. Because, you know, the opposite of empathy is ego and being selfish. The opposite of kindness is being mean. And the opposite of love is hate. And we don’t want any of that stuff. So, a little bit of empathy, love and kindness goes a long way.

Sophie: How are you? How is lockdown?

Deni: That’s the loveliest introduction ever. The Carrie Bradshaw of Geelong. I’ll take it. How am I? I’m doing OK. We’re in our sixth lockdown in Melbourne or in Victoria, rather. At this point, I feel like we’ve become such professionals at this. Or we’re so used to this moment, and yet, every time, it still feels just as foreign, just as emotionally taxing. For the most part, today, I’m feeling great. I decided to give myself a task this lockdown. What I thought I would do is review a Taylor Swift album each day of lockdown. Literally, it’s been so nice because I found that each day, I’ve just been waking up and creating this content and not getting too bogged down in what are the case numbers because essentially, it is what it is with Covid at the moment. What will be will be. I find that if I set some boundaries with myself and the news, it generally makes for a little bit more space in my mind for things that make me happy rather than anxious. You know?

Sophie: Since you’re big on words of affirmation, which I love, should we start by setting the mood with a goodie?

Deni: Yeah, sure. Everyday, I try to lead into my day with empathy, love and kindness. It’s a really simple one. It allows me to make space in my mind and in my life for really positive mindsets. Because, you know, the opposite of empathy is ego and being selfish. The opposite of kindness is being mean. And the opposite of love is hate. And we don’t want any of that stuff. So, a little bit of empathy, love and kindness goes a long way.

I think gender is the next frontier of fluidity but I think it’s a frontier that’s going to be much harder to overcome because people like categories.

Sophie: I guess this is a bit fresh and topical - admittedly, I haven’t been following Australia’s politics too closely but the 2021 census randomly assigning gender to non-binary people? What would you say are the repercussions that will come about when you’ve got a queerphobic government that refuses to even acknowledge the existence of those who don’t identify as male or female?

Deni: Yeah, I mean you just hit the nail on the head. The first point is that very emotional affirmation. We just started this conversation by affirming the both of us. The fact that the government refuses to affirm our identities on a real emotional level is just very disappointing. It feels dehumanising and it just feels yuck, to be really simple. When we think about the repercussions of that; on the emotional standpoint, there’s a reason why suicide statistics of trans-youth, particularly, are so high. Because if they’re made to feel less than, or second or third class citizens by their own government, it’s not going to inspire much self love or a feeling of worthiness, right? So, there’s that whole aspect.

Then from the second aspect, is that the reason why we do this whole census and we only do it once every four years, is to collect data, which will then inform the lives of Australians. It will inform their education, healthcare, employment, benefits, and so many things. So how can you so ignorantly and foolishly just randomly assign?

First, there was the news, ‘oh they’re adding a new non-binary category’ and everyone was so happy about that. Then it’s like, ‘oh actually, this is the real truth. We’re just doing that to tick a box and we’re just gonna assign you at random.’ Well, that data then becomes invalid. It becomes inaccurate. It should be illegal in my opinion, so it’s just really really disappointing, to be honest.

Sophie: It’s so weird that they were so progressive and everyone was so happy about it and then they were like, ‘oh just jokes!’ But also overall, do you think that it’s quite toxic for everyone to live in a world where gender is fixed? Without borders and boxes, I feel like we would be able to really unlock so much potential in all areas when we can live with understanding and compassion and hopefully, we would have way less dickheads in the world who are trapped in a straightjacket of constant confusion and insecurities themselves.

Deni: Absolutely. I think gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity have proved, time and time again, to be so harmful and in so many ways. Not just to queer people but actually, more so, to cis and heterosexual people. Because they’re the ones who feel like they have to live according to the rule book. ‘Blokes shouldn’t cry,’ ‘women shouldn’t be too emotional,’ ‘women are needy,’ ‘women only exist to create children,’ - all of these archaic belief systems that are just not true. I think the whole world could do itself a great service by breaking down those gender stereotypes. As a non-binary person, I’m not saying to anyone that we should erase gender. Not at all. That certainly isn’t my M.O., It’s about making space for a more fluid nature for us all to exist. A more equal nature for us all to exist. But sadly, that often really affects the fragility of masculinity and patriarchy and all those things. So, yeah, I think everyone could do with a bit of degendering of their mindsets, not necessarily their gender identity.

Sophie: But everyone’s on a spectrum and they move around. So being able to be alright with that would be a great start. I mean, even just in terms of creativity, we would see some amazing new shit.

Deni: I couldn’t agree with you more. And I think we've finally come to a place with sexuality in certain parts of the world, where we really approach sexuality in a really fluid way now. I see kids on Tik Tok or younger people that I know in real life, they have a real fluid approach to sexuality.

Last night, I was watching the new Gossip Girl. It’s so amazing to see sexuality explored in a really fluid way in that show and it’s not this big ‘coming-out’ narrative. It’s just this thing where they’re at a party and the girls will be hooking up with another girl, a guy will be hooking up with another guy, but then also with a girl. It’s just so fluid and I think we’ve finally come to terms with the fact that when it comes to sexuality, we all very much exist on a spectrum. I think gender is the next frontier of fluidity but I think it’s a frontier that’s going to be much harder to overcome because people like categories. They like to be able to label things black and white, male and female. Anything else is just a bit too confusing for some people. And I think, sometimes, the space in between, invalidates, people who are so head-firm in their cis identities. But what they really need to realise is that it doesn’t invalidate their existence whatsoever. It just makes more space for everyone to exist, really.

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Sophie: Focusing on your personal experience, at what age did you know that you were in the space in between?

Deni: I always say that I’ve known from as early as 3 and 4 (years old) that I wasn’t a boy and that I also didn’t want to be a girl. But I didn’t know how to articulate that. Certainly didn’t have any language to articulate that. And then I guess what ended up happening for me is I just chalked it down to the fact that I was always going to be this really flamboyant boy; a bit of a girly boy. I was always called, ‘too girly.’ So, that’s how I reconciled that as a kid. It wasn’t until far later that I even heard the term ‘non-binary.’ I didn’t know how to word it when I was little but I always felt it.

Sophie: What were you like as a kid?

Deni: To be honest, I was as a child, exactly how I am now. I feel like I’ve never been more true to my inner child than I am now at 33. I was a very expressive, loud, flamboyant, I loved dancing and music and fashion and art and hair and beauty. My aunties and cousins would come over and I’d sit them down and do their hair, reach for lipstick and stuff. But I think that that’s often a very visual representation of my identity.

I think internally, I felt things that I knew didn’t align with my gender that I was assigned at birth. I think sometimes as well, it’s really good to know that not all non-binary people are flouncing around in a tutu like me. That’s just how my identity manifests. As a little kid, I was just a flaming homosexual. Very camp in every way and quite unapologetically so.

Sophie: I love that. What’s your family like and what was it like coming out to your parents?

Deni: My parents are amazing, my family is amazing. We are an immigrant family. My family comes from Serbia, Romania and we’ve just done an ancestry test and we just discovered that we’re from Northern India. We’re not white. We’re very ethnic and traditional in our mindset in the way that we operate. My whole extended family is like that. We also grew up really religious. So these sorts of environments don’t normally foster the space for being queer.

So, I came out to my parents as gay at 19. That was really hard for them. I mean, it wasn’t surprising to them but it challenged their ethnic and religious belief systems. And I think, more so than that, it just really concerned them. They were really fearful of what my life would be like. But they really managed to wrap their heads around that and within 9 months, they were just like, absolute allies. The best allies ever. And then I came out as non-binary just over a year ago in lockdown, I was 32. That was really hard. That was actually much more challenging. They didn’t really have any reference point for non-binary. They didn’t really know what it meant and it really scared them. It scared my mother especially because she was just so concerned for what my life would look like. She often says things like, ‘your life is hard enough. People pick on you enough or being gay is hard enough. Why do you have to add a layer of complication and complexity to this? To your identity?’ But again, time heals all wounds and within 3 to 4 months... I mean now, they’re just awesome.

Sophie: I did read in another interview about that whole process and I want to get this bit right, did they have to decide and leave their Jehovah’s witness religion?

Deni: Yes! So, when I came out as gay, they… you know, it was framed in a way that was actually quite manipulative, the way that the elders of that organisation framed it to my parents. So, they came to my house. We call them elders, they’re like priests, basically, right? The priests came to our house and they sort of came to check in and heard the whispers that I’d come out. And they wanted to pray for me and sort of just essentially pray the gay away. Truly. And they sort of said, we can pray together and God will fix you, kind of thing. And I said, “well, I don’t really want any fixing.” And my dad said, “Deni doesn’t need fixing. This is who Deni is.” But because my dad had certain responsibilities within that church, they said to him, “if you’re going to support your son, you’re going to have to lose your responsibilities within that church.”

So they weren’t exiled from the religion but you know, certain things were stripped away from them. And fundamentally, just to exist in that religion, you kind of can’t really support homosexuality. So they just took it upon themselves to remove themselves from that situation. They are still technically on paper, Jehovah’s witness, and my brother is a Jehovah’s witness. We believe in God in our own way. I still believe in God. I still call God, Jehovah. We believe in God in a way that doesn’t involve going to church three times a week. You know?

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Image Credit: Monika Berry

Sophie: How did that make you feel when they decided to completely go Team Deni?

Deni: You know, I’d love to sit here and say that I was so happy but I was actually really devastated for them because it’s a huge thing to lose. It was part of our lives for such a long time. It was part of their identity and as much as they’re my parents, they’re also people with their own goals and desires and belief system. I still, if I think about it for too long, get quite emotional at the sacrifice that they made. But of course, it’s so affirming and beautiful to know that I have such supportive parents that they would be so selfless in their love of me and that’s very much who they are as good parents.

Sophie: They’re just good parents.

Deni: They are.

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Sophie: This is for the younger generation. Growing up in the age of social media, I think there’s so much more anxiety around creating this perfect image from such a young age, which is something that you and I wouldn’t really have had to deal with when we were growing up. Tic tac toe, chalk on the concrete. So, even if there’s more and more exposure on topics like queerness and gender fluidity, I imagine it would still be very difficult to come out and identify their place on the gender spectrum. As you said before, we’ve got the highest rate of teen suicide with trans kids. So, for the young kids out there feeling out of place with no one to talk to about who they are, because I guess, it’s hard to talk to their parents as well. But also, there’s a 6 month waiting list for psychologists. So, in that time, what advice would you give to kids like that?

Deni: I think my advice is always a 3 step program in a way. The first step in this process, probably a better word, is to come out to and for yourself. As a queer person, whether that’s queer in relation to your gender or sexuality or both. As a queer person, you don’t owe anyone your identity. The only person you owe that to is yourself. And that’s often the hardest thing to do. To actually say, “I am non-binary” or “I am gay” out loud was such a big moment for me.

So, the first thing I would say to them is take that time to really do yourself the justice of coming out to yourself, first. And it’s not even about coming out, it’s about owning your identity. Then the second part of the process is finding a safe space in which you can share that information with. That can be your parents, it might be your siblings, it might be your closest friends. I came out to my friends first in both situations.

Once you’ve got that safe space, and don’t overwhelm yourself, pick 4 or 5 people. Pick 1 person. If you have a little safety net there, it’s gonna make this process easier. Now, if you don’t have those people, because not everyone has that idyllic situation. There are queer organisations you can reach out to. There is always someone on the end of the phone. I’m sure you have ‘lifeline’ over there as we do here. I’ve called lifeline many a time. Pick up the phone. There is always someone on the other end of somewhere, willing to listen to you.

And the third thing is when you really step into your truth in a public way. This whole notion of being trapped in a closet is really rooted in shame and guilt and you have nothing to be ashamed of, darling. So, when you get to a moment where you can step into your own truth and exist freely, publicly, whether that is in your workplace, whether it is coming out on social media. Your truth is contagious and it will be contagious to other people.

You know, people often say, “why do you need to spend your whole life talking about your identity online?” Well, I do so for two reasons. The first reason is because I live in a world that doesn’t allow me to forget my identity, sadly. And the second is that my truth will be contagious. Because other people’s truths inspired me to live my truth. So that would be the third part of the process for me.

Do it for yourself, to yourself. Find your safe space and just step into the world freely.

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Image Credit: Monika Berry

Soph: Who inspired you in the third step of the process?

Deni: Coming out as non-binary, I didn’t really even know what that identity meant, until I read an article that Sam Smith was interviewed for. They came out as non-binary. So Sam Smith was a real turning point for me. Then, there was a person that I met in real life, a non-binary person, for the first time. And suddenly, when they were in front of me talking about their identity, I could no longer ignore my own. So I will forever be grateful to Sam Smith and to that person for just being free and raw and vulnerable and speaking their truths. They paved the way to people to come out and do the same thing and sit with their own truths.

Sophie: It’s a really good way to use influence, hey?

Just going back to the first step of that. When you’re 10, 12, how do you even identity who you are?

Deni: I think we have a real misconception that like, kids are young, they don’t know anything… that’s bullshit. I was 5 when I first had a crush on a boy. Actually, I was 4. And, as a child, you can differentiate when a feeling is a romantic or sexual one and when it’s a platonic one. You love your brother, you love your sister, but that’s a platonic family love. When you are watching a TV show and feeling things that you probably don’t feel for your brother and sister, that’s a pretty clear fucking indication that those are sexual feelings.

So when you’re 10 and 11 and whatever, what I would suggest to you is, whatever you are feeling, just feel those things. Don’t reject those feelings. And I think the problem is we live in a world that says, ‘men should like women and women should like men.’ And there is no space in between. And because of all these stereotypes, we reject certain feelings because they’re framed to be bad or sinful or shameful.

So, if you’re 10 or 11, you know what you’re feeling. There’s scientific evidence to prove that you’re quite sexually active internally already. Welcome those feelings as opposed to rejecting those feelings.

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Soph: Like you said with being gay, that’s a bit easier to come out with, more than non-binary. Kids these days at 12, 13 - they’ve got (same gender) girlfriends and boyfriends - it’s really different to when we were in school. But with the whole gender thing, is it a bit more difficult when you’re a kid to identifying yourself as non-binary. Because with the feeling in your loins, it’s really easy to (understand) that.

Deni: I actually don’t think it is. I think knowledge is power, right? So when we know better, we do better. I have best friends who have children who are in grade prep and grade 1, like 5 or 6 years old, right? The mums will get a letter from the school saying, you know, Patricia in grade 1 is actually now Patrick. And we just need to advise the parents that that is their identity. So I think actually, you would be surprised to know how many children are stepping into their gender identity much sooner than we think.

In fact, any research that I’ve ever done, especially with trans people for example, it speaks to these feelings of trans-adults they had when they were like 4, 5, and 6. I just think it’s about creating a world that has knowledge and empathy and understanding, so that when those kids are feeling those things, they can freely tell their parents or guardians about those feelings, you know?

I do think though that any kind of transition, because being non-binary also sits within the trans-gender umbrella, any transition is going to take more time. And there are more layers to that transition. Because at 5 years old, you’re still under the care of your parents. It’s not until you’re 16 or 18 or 21, depending on where you live, that you have your own legal rights to your body and what you can do. But there are some really great resources and therapy that trans kids can undertake to help be guided during that process. We have an amazing department of gender at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, which I think is one of the first in the world, that has a whole department to facilitate transgender children. It’s amazing.

So, no I don’t think it starts any later than sexuality. But I think it’s again just not a space that we’ve created enough conversation around.

Soph: I think there definitely needs to be more around it.

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Soph: Let’s talk about Taylor Swift!

Deni: Sure! I’d love to!

Soph: I know you love her and talking about her since you’ve been doing these deep dive reviews into her albums. 1989 is obviously her best album. I actually went to Melbourne to see her VIP for that one and I actually got roped into it because I didn’t really love her but when I saw her like a metre away, I was just balling my eyes out going, “you’re so pretty~.” She’s just perfection. And then I went to see Reputation too in Melbourne and that was super fun coz we could dress up really edgy and I ended up wearing this tight high neck long sleeve see-through crochet dress. Did you go to her shows and what did you wear?

Deni: So, do you know what’s really sad? I’ve never been to a Taylor Swift concert. And I blame my ex-boyfriends for this. For 1989 and the Rep tour, I wanted to go to both. I had a boyfriend for each album. And each boyfriend was like, “no I don’t really wanna go to Taylor Swift.” And I should’ve just gone on my own or found someone to go with. I was living interstate and anyway, so I’ve never seen her live.

And actually, my obsession, my true Swifty obsession - I’ve only really invested in it for the last year and a half. I mean, I’ve always loved Taylor Swift, since Love Story. But it wasn’t until Red came out that… Red was the turning point for me. Red was when I fell in love with Taylor. Then 1989, obviously it’s one of the best pop albums of all time. Reputation, I’ve just spent the whole morning listening to it, it’s also a no-skip album. But, I never got into the nitty gritty of her life, the details, the messages in each song, the relationships or whatever.

I credit a lot of my fandom to Taylor because of Tik Tok and Swift Tok. All these incredible creators on Tik Tok who deep dive into her music. And then, at the end of last year, because concerts are not gonna be a thing for a really long time. I dunno in NZ, if you guys have had any of these yet but in Australia, there’s this group that started Taylor Swift nights at nightclubs where you just go and listen to just Taylor Swift for 8 hours. It’s all they play. And they get a specific DJ who knows her body of work who knows how to intertwine all the songs and whatever. So, these things went viral and mostly through Tik Tok last year. So this year, I went to one in Melbourne and I am dedicated to having one happen in Geelong. And it was honestly, one of the best nights of my life. Because, you’re in this club, surrounded by other Swifties. You’re all there for Swift. You love the music. You know every lyric. The music takes you on a journey. And I wore a reputation outfit to that party. I made it myself. And I basically made the outfit that she wears in the ‘Look what you made me do’ video. It’s so sick.

For sure Reputation is my favourite aesthetic moment of Taylor. It’s a moment that we’ve never seen her before. But I love her Lover era and I love the Evermore tweed jackets and country vocal vibes.

Soph: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. She’s kind of like, in her early thirties… feeling mellow.

Deni: She’s earthy. She’s connected with the Earth now.

Soph: I have to see that outfit. Is it all black?

Deni: It’s all black. So basically I got a jumper from Cotton On. I went to Lynn Craft and bought some black faux fur kind of thing. So, I sewed in a faux fur sleeve and I bought iron-on transfers that say ‘REP’ and I got diamantes and like crystalled it all together. And I tucked those into a high-waist pair of black briefs and I’ve got fishnets on and over the knee boots and the dark smudgy eye… and you’re just like, yes! Bitch!

Soph: Ohhhh I love it! I remember wearing my thing and walking down the street, ‘oh my ass is out’ but it’s OK.

Deni: But you feel so alive, don’t you? I love it.

Soph: This might sound a bit creepy but I really want to know what you smell like. What’s your favourite fragrance?

Deni: Ooooh that’s not creepy at all. I love talking about fragrances. I can actually bring one to you. This is a really good example of how much I love this fragrance. The label is peeling. And you’ll notice that I actually haven’t used that much of it because you don’t need much of it. So, this is called ‘Not a Perfume’ by Juliette Has A Gun. I actually know a lot about this fragrance because I did a class on it.

‘Not A Perfume’ is made with this thing called anthrax. Anthrax, which sounds like something dodgy, but Anthrax is a note that’s put in lot’s of other perfumes. It doesn’t really have a scent. That’s why it’s called ‘Not A Perfume.’ It’s like a base note. It levels it out. So you can wear this on its own or you can wear it with other perfumes. It’s a great layering fragrance. And it kind of just smells really fresh.

Now, generally speaking, my favourite kind of scents are woody and dark and mysterious and generally veering onto the masculine. I really like strong masculine fragrances. So, one of my favourites is Aventis by Creed which is a beautiful *chef’s kisses* - it’s amazing. So, basically, I always say that when people smell me, I want them to feel one of two things. I either want them to feel like it’s a warm hug or I want them to feel like they want to take my clothes off.

Soph: A warm hug that leads into something else.

Deni: That’s exactly right. What’s your favourite perfume?

Soph: Oh, I’ve got a lot. I base it on mood. You like the ones that are super bougie. So, from that group, it would be Clive Christian, Vanilla Orchid. It smells a little bit green. And it just smells super expensive.

Deni: That’s what we love! That’s what we love.

Soph: Yeah! I’m trying to manifest being a rich bitch! So…

Deni: Exactly right!

Soph: Zadig & Voltaire Just Rock!, Narciso Rodriguez Pure Musc and I love Gabrielle as well.

Deni: Good choices. I used to be a fragrance loyalist. I used to wear one fragrance for years at a time. Now, I have 15 or 20 over there. Sometimes I wanna wear a really feminine fragrance so I have a bunch of ‘girl’s’ fragrances. I love YSL Dark Opium and I have another really beautiful one called Her Her by an Aussie fragrance house called Who is Elijah. Lot’s of really cool bits and pieces.

Soph: Yeah, you definitely like the ones where you step into the room - the head turners.

I was also wondering - how do you shop? What are your go-to designers? Where do you get your inspo from? Because each outfit that you don is quite different. I think it’s very mood based.

Deni: So I always say that I dress according to feeling. My ultimate style icon is Carrie Bradshaw, which you said earlier. What I loved about Carrie which obviously comes by Patricia Fields. Carrie had this way of you never knew what you were gonna get with Carrie but yet, every look is a Carrie look, if that makes sense. One day she’s wearing Zara with some fucking couture ball gown, the next day she’s wearing vintage. It’s this, it’s that, it’s masculine, it’s feminine. It’s so… ‘inappropriate’ isn’t the right word. Like, she doesn’t need to be wearing a ballgown to a date with Big at McDonald’s but she’s going to anyway.

People will often go, ‘Oh, I’ve got a wedding to go to,’ or ‘I’ve got a job interview,’ ‘I need to wear something for that thing,’ - if you strip away where you’re going and think about how you’re feeling, you’ll always look your best because you’ll exude a feeling. You could be wearing a ballgown to the supermarket but who the fuck cares, right?

So, how I shop is quite haphazard. I shop according to my feelings which sometimes is not a good thing. Sometimes, I can be a bit of an emotional shopper. I don’t shop as frequently as people would think. But also, I have moods where I’ll buy something weekly. Once a week, I’ll buy something so there’s a little delivery coming, especially in lockdown. But also, then sometimes, I’ll go for weeks at a time without buying anything.

Certainly, before this became my job, I used to shop very infrequently because I wasn’t so full of a social calendar of having to go to events or speaking engagements or being on tele, or whatever. Whereas now, because I have to go to so many things when we’re not in lockdown… and I have no issue rewearing things, by the way. I’m all about rewearing things. But I like to sort of step out in something that’s different or something that no one’s seen before. So, I find myself shopping a bit more. I’ll jump online and go, ‘that would be a really great dress for an event, so I’m just going to buy it now.’

What brand - I’m the biggest chameleon. I can camouflage and change with the weather. I shop from like, Kmart which is my go to - obsessed, obsessed, obsessed - so from Kmart, we go to Zara, H&M. I love a high-street thing. I used to live in London, so when I didn’t have a lot of money, I really became aware of how good high street can be and how you just need to filter through a lot of things to get to that really great piece. I love me a little Outnet moment because I can’t afford to shop on Netaporter. Matches always does a really good sale. I love department store shopping. I like walking into David Jones and seeing what’s around.

My favourite brands at the moment - I’m really feeling Dion Lee a lot. He’s really kinda doing the gender fluid fashion thing perfectly. I’ve got a couple of pieces of Dion which I love.

There’s actually a brand called Blanca which I’m obsessed with. They do really amazing shirts. I love Country Road - they slap. Best and Less.

I’ll shop anywhere. Give me a market, give me a vintage store, give me an op shop. I don’t care, I’ll find something in there, don’t you worry.

Soph: So, you’re very much a brick & mortar, you like the shopping experience rather than the online scroll.

Deni: So, I used to be. But two things have changed that. One, the pandemic. And two, being non-binary. It can be really uncomfortable shopping in certain women’s spaces. I get really uncomfortable trying shoes on, for example. And heels are my crutch. Like, I could wear Kmart for the rest of my life, as long as I could still have access to nice shoes.

But I get really uncomfortable walking into a women’s shoe store and trying on heels. I find that I feel less comfortable at a David Jones or a big department store. There’s so many people in there, people aren’t staring at me. But when I walk into a small shoe store, I get really self-conscious. So I pretty much buy all my shoes online. I know my size, I know generally what I’ll fit in. And I’ve started buying clothes more online for those same reasons. If I buy a dress and don’t like it, I can just send it back and return it. And I don’t have to worry about the sales assistant giving a weird look. I will say that I will always prefer real life shopping to online shopping.

Soph: I do like it. It’s so much effort though. I get so tired.

Deni: Yeah, it’s a whole thing. As kids, we used to have these amazing shopping days where we would drive to Melbourne and you would spend the whole day shopping. We would shop til we drop. We’d stop for lunch and get dinner on the way home. Those days are really exhausting so I don’t really shop like that.

I have this theory that any emotion that is forced doesn’t work. Forced fun doesn’t work. That’s why I think Christmas Day is a crock of shit because Christmas Day always ends in arguments and people getting drunk and really not fun things. New Year's Eve - forced fun. Forced fun doesn’t work.

So forced shopping, like, ‘I’m going shopping today.’ You could have all the money in the world and I guarantee you will not find what you’re looking for.

Soph: Yup, you end up buying other things.

Deni: Exactly right! Whereas when you just shop according to your mood and feeling, I find it always works better.

Soph: So dangerous. The designer outlet warehouse sales in Melbourne.

Deni: Oh sis. But I can tell you when I went to New York, they have this whole designer outlet village an hour and a half out of Manhattan.

Soph: Woodbury?

Deni: Maybe? There’s a Celine there, a Prada, a Gucci - mum and I went to that venue and I bought sick Celine sneakers and a bunch of things. But even on those sorts of days, there’s so much pressure to find good things. So annoying.

Soph: I couldn’t make that one so I only did the other outlet at the very bottom of Manhattan.

Deni: Century 21? I love Century 21. But also, I never buy designer at full price. Pretty much, never. There are 2 or 3 things in my wardrobe that I’ve bought full price and actually, all 3 of them, in the most recent times, have been things I bought from Dion Lee. But I will never buy full price. That’s what I love about online shopping. I am the QUEEN of getting things on sale. Reduced, reduced, reduced to clear. I’ll walk into David Jones and I’ll be like, “yup, can I have those?” And there’ll be one left in my size and they were like a $2000 pair of shoes that I ended up getting for $310. It’s my gift in life I think, truly.

The only full price shoes I have are my Manolo’s. They were a really special purchase. Otherwise, everything else, every pair of shoes I’m looking at, I’ve bought on sale.

Soph: So, since you do a million and one things, what does a typical day look like for you?

Deni: It’s really different. I try to allocate time throughout the week to create content for me and my own creative soul. So, whether that’s something related to queer education or maybe it’s a Taylor Swift album review or a random fashion thing. Or, whatever it might be. So I try to do soul content for me. That’s then always balanced with sponsored content and paid partnerships. The paid partnerships allow me to do 5 hours of queer education for free. So, it’s balancing the sponsored content with the non-sponsored content. It’s working with my management team. I speak to my manager pretty much every day. We’re constantly brainstorming and it’s like a constant game of tennis. Here’s an idea, here’s an idea.

In a non lockdown situation, generally speaking, every week or if not, every two weeks, there’ll be some kind of event. Whether that’s just me going to an event to support a brand or an organization or a friend, or it’s speaking at an event. My months have become quite consistent with media, things like this, podcast interviews, radio interviews, whatever that might be. And it’s also working on bigger picture things behind the scenes, which at some point, I’m really excited to start talking about. Coz there’s a lot of things that are happening behind the scene. The bigger picture goals. And then trying to balance actually having a personal life. Spending time with friends and family and dating, maybe. Trying to fit in all those things which I’m not very good at. I’m an Aries so I’m all or nothing. I’m either going hell for leather on the work stuff and my personal life is falling by the wayside. Or it’s the other way around. Lately, it’s just been work and not enough fun. Not enough personal Deni time, because my work is really fun.

Soph: So how many hours of sleep do you get a night?

Deni: Darling, not many. I have chronic insomnia. Always have. But it comes in seasons. I could go for a year, and have the best sleeps ever. And then I could go for 6 months and have really bad sleeps. My sleeps have been not too bad. But to give you an idea, I fell asleep at maybe 1:30? And I woke up this morning at 8.30 which is late for me. I hate sleeping in, it’s like, against my religion, I hate it. But sometimes, my body just needs it. I actually had a dream that I was going to miss this interview! But I can operate on 4-6 hours of sleep. It’s obviously not the ideal amount of sleep. It would be lovely to get 8-10 hours each night but that’s just not gonna happen.

Soph: How do you manage your time each day?

Deni: I, especially in lockdown, take each day at a time. Sometimes, each hour at a time. I live by a calendar. I’m quite forgetful. So, I have a photographic memory and I will remember things in detail. But I won’t remember what time this interview was supposed to start today, unless I’ve seen it in my calendar, for example. I’m very visual. I remember things like crazy.

So, I wake up, I look at my calendar, that’s the first thing I do every morning. And then I go, ‘okay cool, so you’ve got this interview at 11 o’clock. So maybe for the first few hours, you can work on this. And then in the afternoon, you can treat yourself to a movie and just switch off for two hours or go for a walk or whatever. Yeah, I just kinda take things a day at a time. I probably need to get better at looking at my weeks and going ‘these are the tasks for the week and how are we going to allocate some time accordingly to each of those tasks.’ But at the moment, because life is so unpredictable, things that I have in my calendar this weekend for example, may not happen. So, it’s kind of easier to take it a day at a time.

Soph: Sorry, you have photographic memory?

Deni: It’s really weird. I thought everyone did. Until people started pointing out to me, “Deni, something is not right here.” So, my photographic memory has honestly been one of my biggest assets in terms of my work. It’s wild. Ever since I was little, I’d look at something, whether it’s an image or a movie, a moving image… When I listen to a song, I can see the lyrics in front of my eyes so I can memorise song lyrics really quickly. And I see the story as it’s unfolding. I had a conversation with a mate the other day, he listens to songs all the time but he doesn’t really know what the songs are about. Whereas my mind is instantly decoding things. And when I read for example, I don’t read word by word, I read line by line. Sometimes, even sentence by sentence. So I’m a really quick reader.

I can remember what people are wearing. If someone is in my life and they’re of value or in my daily life, I will remember exactly what they were wearing the first time I met them - without fail. My mind just takes a photo of that.

Or I can go, in 2011, the Prada collection in Spring Summer looked like this.

Soph: Yeah, I was gonna say. So if you’re front seat at a catwalk show, you’d remember the whole show?

Deni: And I’ll remember it in 12 years time.

Soph: So, what about studying? Did you just ace everything?

Deni: I’m always a very last minute person. Always. So with studying, I would study the night before the exam - always, always - and then I’d walk into that exam with a fresh image in my mind of what those things look like. Weirdly, my photographic memory stops when it comes to numbers. It’s really interesting, numbers actually scare me. Visually, when I see a bunch of numbers, it freaks me out. So, I’m not dyslexic at all. But when I see numbers, my mind goes ‘no, no, no, no, no, that’s not for me.’ They overwhelm me. Math overwhelms me. Anything that’s too sciencey and stuff. I dunno if it’s the left or the right. Whatever the creative side is, that’s the brain that I am.

Soph: So, all the movies, all the TV shows that you’ve seen, you remember?

Deni: Yeah. And it’s not even just that. I will remember having a conversation with my best friend and we were 18 and we were sitting in this car and she was wearing this thing and this song was on the radio and I felt this way at that moment. Whereas my best friend doesn’t even remember the day I came out to her. And I’m like, ‘what are you talking about! How can you not remember such a fundamental moment?’

Sometimes, I wish I could forget things. There are chapters of my life or moments in my life where I wish I could have forgotten them. I reckon I could probably ID by face, every person I’ve hooked up with - and trust me, there’s a lot. Can’t tell you their names but if they were all standing in front of me, I could remember exactly when I hooked up with those people.

Soph: Do you have a list?

Deni: I used to keep a list… but then it just became, there was no point in keeping a list anymore.

Soph: I remember on my list, I had ‘train guy’... Don’t remember. I had to delete it coz I was like, ‘no I can’t do this anymore.’ It makes me feel bad and it doesn’t matter.

Deni: Do you know there are people on TikTok who have excel spreadsheets with like, the people they hooked up with, where it was, a rating out of 10, a sentence on how the experience was. It’s so wild.

Soph: Where to from here?

Deni: I had a realisation last year that actually, my passion, the thing that wakes me up everyday, is storytelling. In whatever way that is; fashion, identity, music; just the human experience. We are more full, well-rounded people when we come together and share stories. So where to from here? All I wanna do is keep sharing stories for the rest of my life. What medium that exists in, will change and be evolving in the next 12 months. It might be TV, it might be podcasting, writing… it will continue to be all those things and social media. For the next 12 months I really want to work on facilitating stories that really matter. I think there’s so much that needs to change in the world and if I can help change any of those things or at least, shed a light, more so, on certain people’s stories. I’d be a very happy person if I could keep doing that for the rest of my life.

Soph: That’s cool. Actually, I want to ask you one thing. What do you think about this whole cancel culture thing?

Deni: Sure~. So, I think there’s a difference between cancel culture and accountability. I think accountability is really important. I think cancel culture can be really problematic. With any of these things, I think we need to understand, where is the intention coming from? People tend to cancel things or people because there’s an intention behind it. So, what’s the intention? Are they hurt? Do they feel invalidated? Do they feel like they’ve been attacked in some way? Has a group of people been attacked by this act or this thing?

Whenever it comes to cancel culture, I get really wary of cancelling that person or that thing. I’m more concerned about what are the reasons behind it? What’s the solution? Because just cancelling someone is really not going to provide any solution. It’s a very temporary sense of gratification or validation, right? ‘Let’s all cancel this person because they’ve done this’ - yeah, that feels really good, because it’s a very ego-driven thing. They’re wrong and we’re right. Whereas I think accountability generally has more solutions. And I’m a very solutions based person.

Here’s a perfect example. This morning, I was looking at those images of Kanye calling Taylor off the stage. Then like, everything that happened with the phone call or whatever. There are various things that have happened with Kanye over the last 18 months. I am a die hard Kanye fan. And I understand that Kanye has bipolar and he is manic depressive. There are many variables at play here. So, that’s why I could never say, ‘I’m cancelling Kanye because of the things that he’s done.’ Because it’s not as simple as that. Let’s go further, why did he do those things? Why did he jump on stage and treat Taylor like that? I wanna know the ‘why.’ And what the solution is before I just go ‘nah.’ And of course, there are instances where cancelling is the only option. And we look at people like R. Kelly or brands like Chick-fil-A in America being really homophobic. So there are certain things that I will say ‘no, I’m not going to support that.’ Like someone told me recently that the Salvation Army is really homophobic. I’ll just keep that in the back of my mind. But I think you also have to have an element of empathy.

Soph: Second chances!

Deni: I think everyone deserves a chance to be held accountable and to do better. Let’s put an emphasis on doing better because otherwise, people get really scared of doing anything for fear of being cancelled. And you also have to provide some context to when these things happened. When we look back at things historically, of course things that were done and said in the 90’s - should they have been done and said? No. But did they have the context on topics that we have now? Also, no. So you just have to be aware of all of this.

Soph: I’m thinking that even for the younger generation, when it’s always this toxic black and white [approach]. Kids in their 20’s, they noticeably drink way less and party way way less and socialise way less, have sex way less, than we did. And I think it’s because they’re constantly concerned that you’re gonna do something dumb and be filmed and then later on, it pops up. There’s always this anxiety of ‘I might be held accountable for just being young and dumb,’ which I think is a phase that we’ve all got a right to be in at some point.

Deni: Couldn’t agree more. It’s a conversation that would merit its own podcast episode. Because it’s so layered. Where do you draw the line? I also think that when it comes to social activism and educating people, I will never cancel anyone who comes to me with pure intentions. I always say on my Instagram, no question is a dumb question, as long as you ask it with empathy and respect and love. It’s all good. But if you come and you are like purposefully being a dickhead or homophobic or transphobic or racist. That’s a whole different story. It’s much easier to go, ‘well, you don’t even care to know.’ But I think if we approach things with a level of empathy and care, then people will just learn. Again, we give people a chance to grow. I think it’s really important.

Soph: I mean, we’ve all done horrendous stupid things. We’ve all got to make mistakes. You live and you learn.

My last question for you is, what is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?

Deni: I’m gonna give you two. One’s gonna be about relationships and one’s gonna be about life. So on relationships, my dad always said to me, “Deni, when you’re choosing your partner. Just observe the way that they speak to and treat their parents. Because the way that they speak to and treat their parents is the same way they’re going to speak to and treat you. And I was always like ‘what are you talking about, dad? You’re full of it.’ But he was so right. Every single relationship I’ve ever had, that person has had a pretty fragile relationship with their parents and projected that onto me. Whereas every partner I’ve ever had who’s come to my house has gone, ‘Oh my god, the way that you and your parents are… there’s so much love there and respect.’

So, that’s a piece of advice from papa Todorovic. Observe the way that your boyfriends and girlfriends and partners are treating their families. Rocky’s always got your back, honey. My dad is always a fuckin’ wealth of knowledge.

And then I think my second piece of advice actually comes from Oprah Winfrey. She doesn’t know that she’s told me this. But Oprah Winfrey says that on the subject of life, you must always listen to the whispers. Listen to the whispers before the whispers becomes a shout, before that shout becomes a slap in the face, before the slap in the face becomes a brick wall that’s standing right in front of you that you can not ignore, right? The whisper is your intuition, your soul, it’s your spirit. Had I listened to my whispers many many years ago all throughout the course of my life in various aspects of my life, my life could’ve been far less traumatic. So, never ever lose sight of your whisper, intuition, your higher power - it will speak to you in times of need. If you listen to your whisper, you’re going to avoid so much heartbreak and unnecessary trauma.

Soph: That’s a scary thing to do though.

Deni: Of course it is. It’s the scariest thing to do. Back to Taylor, I was listening to her yesterday. I can’t remember which one it was. But it’s like, sometimes the red flags in life, regardless of category, they are right in front of us. They are literally right in front of us. And yet we still go in. Why do we do that? Why? And there are many reasons why. But it’s like, we as humans just need to get better at leading with vulnerability. Because fear and vulnerability are often one and the same. I just watched this amazing thing on Netflix. It’s called ‘Brené Brown: The Call to Courage.’ It’s a Ted Talk essentially that Brene Brown does about living in that space of being vulnerable. Doing things that scare you. Her and Oprah, we can learn a lot from those two.

But yeah, listen to the whispers. Sorry, that’s a really long answer to your question.

Soph: Oh, thank you so much for that. I had such a good time today.

Deni: Me too! This has been lovely!

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