Tonje Frøystad Garvik, you were the winner of the Farmen (2018), which is the Norwegian version of The Farm reality television show. The format consists of twelve contestants who are chosen from the outside world. Each week one contestant is selected as the Farmer of the Week. You and your girlfriend Lene Sleperud both participated at the Farmen, Lene finished fourth. How was the experience of being a lesbian couple at The Farmen and how were you perceived by other contestants?
We were 14 contestants, and we had a farmer of the week first one (me) was chosen by the group to lead the first week and after that the loser of the competition of the week selected the head farmer. We knew going in that the longest period of time that a couple had been able to stay at the farm was for 2 weeks and any kind of relationship friends etc, the record was 5 weeks. Because of this we got recommended (but not forced) to keep our relationship a secret until we got close to the end. We always played openly on the same alliance and were perceived as BBFs to the other contestants. When we finally told them we were a couple in the end of week 7 they all reacted with major surprise. With me I have my tomboy side and I came out as a lesbian in week four which I felt like most contestants was okey with, but Lene is so feminine that nobody had even a suspicion. Also Farmen is a show that airs for 700.000-900.000 norwegians (1/6 norwegians), mostly in the districs and 40+ audience so we knew we would get some negativity from people due to our sexual orientation. But to us openness is so important that we were and are willing to take the crap to contribute with normalization.
I saw the videos of you two from the Farmen and it was beautiful to watch how much love was between you two. I read, that you haven't received attention only for the victory, but also for your relationship with Lene: some people have been really supportive and many thanked you, especially lesbians, parents and friends of queer young people, however some people have accused you as imposing your sexual orientation on to the others. The latter response is quite surprising considering that Scandinavian countries are believed to be one of the most diverse and inclusive countries in the world. What is your opinion of all these?
Scandinavia is absolutely one of the better parts of the world when it comes to openness to sexual orientation. However, going back it was still illegal to be a lesbian in 1972 and was considered a decease up until 1978 (pshycological)/82 (state). With an audience on 40+ and the districts as the main viewer group we knew that we would receive reactions. Because even though most people are growing to be accepting of the LGBT community there still are a lot of people that are holding on to the old beliefs or the religious view that being homosexual is a sin. Going in we were basically aware that we would get a lot of negative attention in the commentary fields but as far as response directly to us we have gotten 99.9% positive feedback and have had the humble chance to help people out of the closet by “moving into” their parents living room and let them get to know us through the screen and see gay love up close “forced” to a relationship with us. Knowledge leads to empathy and the more people who come out of the closet the more we help our fellow LGBT still in the closet. Visibility is so important for change in perception of the gay and knowledge.
You and Lene are now also role models for other lesbians and LGBT people. I watched the inspirational and empowerment promotional video of how was being a lesbian and growing up in a small Norwegian town and about Lene's first same-sex relationship with you. You both clearly think that it should be more done for raising awareness regarding acceptance of lesbian and bisexual women.
Raising awareness and acceptance is so important! It is actually stated that the bisexuals have a harder time in Norway than the gay/lesbian does as they are kind of “closed out” of both communities. A lot of bisexuals claim they are straight or lesbian in order to avoid being judged. I identify myself as a lesbian but in the battle of normalizing our love and have people accepting that I also believe that we should have bigger respect for the bisexuals out there who struggle. Love is dynamic and if we want to fight for our rights and acceptance we should have respect for other peoples love who doesn’t necessarily fit how we perceive love. Love it not black and white and some research claims that up to 90% of women have bisexual tendencies (not to say they could fall in love, but have sex with other women). I personally struggle to believe in a 100% lesbian or 100% straight community only, and I think we should be more open to the grey zones of sexuality and understand that some people don’t necccesarily fit into a box and that’s fine. Another very important thing is that with visibility the butch lesbians and the feminine gay men has fought at the front of the battlefield for us, and I have a major respect for them! However it is also super important to break the stereotypes. Both Lene and I often get that “you don’t look like a lesbian”. My question is “ what is a lesbian supposed to look like?” We all come in different flavors and colors and only what is inside of us can define our sexual orientation. Not what the community is expecting of us on how to look and act. Love is love.
You have been also a part of the “KT family” for many years as an ambassador. Not for you sexual orientation, but for your positive energy, unpretentious attitude and sporty approach towards life. However, you feared to lose all that when you were about to come out as lesbian. Can you elaborate this a bit further, please? What were you afraid in particular?
For me coming from a small town the shame of coming out as a lesbian was pretty big and I had to work through a long process in my own head to be comfortable to express and talk out loud on my sexual orientation. I know Kari Traa is a super including community and would support me in any way, however still the fear inside of you and your own voice can hold you back. Kari Traa when I came out was super supportive and has helped me a lot dealing with my sexual orientation and self worth as they have been backing me all along and helped me gain my confidence to go on a national show and be “a lesbian” with my head held high. Here is a link to the Kari Traa video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCtwCwpMx4s.
I read that since Farmen finished you and Lene got married On prime time on TV 2 during the gullrod broadcast in early May, then went to New York and after you came back you bought an apartment in Oslo. You also set up a cabin on the mountain. So many things …, how come and how do you feel being married?
We didn’t get married there, but I did propose to her there. It was a very fun experience and we had talked up front about a public proposal as we truly wanted to show that love is love. We just got done redecorating our apartment and we are super excited about our future together even though this year to say the least have been very hectic.
What is your biggest inspiration and what is/are your plans for the future projects?
What inspires me a lot right now is to help the LGBT society and help people that are still in the closet to come to terms with themselves and be happy in their own shoes. I am working on an exciting project related to this and I hope the result will be public by June (pride month) next year.
Do you wish to say anything else to the readers of LL Passion?
I hope for anyone still in the closet to know that you are not alone, people are having the same feelings that you do and your friends and family will most likely grow to accept your sexual orientation with time even though it might be a tough pill for them to swallow in the beginning.
Seek social media channels, seek groups, try to find people in your own situation to talk to and find support in. The shame, guilt and fear you are feeling inside are all in your head, your sexual orientation does not make you less valuble than anyone else.
You are worth peoples love and respect! I am rooting for you!
Samantha Sidley, you are a young talented singer from Los Angeles who just released your beautiful jazz song “I like Girls”. Can you tell us about the inspiration for the song? Is it about any girl in particular and/or girls you have liked and loved or it is a general statement of saying you are a lesbian?
My song “I Like Girls” was originally written for a one women musical I wanted to create based on my life story. I’m a lesbian so although that is just a piece of the pie, I wanted something that celebrated that. It is a celebration of women and being a women who falls in love with them. When Barbara Gruska and Alex Lily were writing the song, they asked me, “what kind of girls do you like?” I said “I don’t know I think I like them all!” I’ve always been that way. I think a lot of songs about women have to do with celebrating their sexuality in explicit ways and although I’ve never come across a women without sex appeal it’s such a small part of who women are. I love women for ALL that they are. For their gifts, which everyone has. And I wanted that to come clearly across in the song, AND still have the hints and nods of sensuality.
And I think at the end of the day- anyone who loves women in whichever way can relate to the song. Also, getting back to the original point, yes I’m gay, proud, I like to flaunt it, and this song is about that!
Unlike many jazz singers, your attention to the lyrics seems front and center. as you sing ‘I like girls who don’t know they like girls ... I like girls who really like girls a lot’. This really tells the whole story of being a lesbian and recognizing a being one. Is that important to you, to be out and proud? Lesbians all over the world long for representation of their experiences, experiences being told across all genres and fields, be it in music, film, painting, even science, like philosophy, anthropology, sociology.
I always say “singing is the Olympics of talking”. Singing and music is about communication. I’m so lucky I can communicate my feelings through music and lyrics. So yes, lyrics are very very important to me. When I am creating a show- I try to string all of my songs together to create a story, be it direct or indirect the stories you tell individually as songs will relate to the other songs you choose- because they are a part of you, YOU chose them. Communication is extremely important to me. I’m not great at getting my feelings out by just talking but I can live in a song and have that speak for me. I consider myself an interpreter. A lot of the singers I learned from were not song writers. The songs were written for them. They were the story tellers. It’s a bit like acting. You make the experiences real for you in the song. I am always telling a true story when I sing. It’s funny because sometimes people think that is a persona I am playing. But it’s one of many I suppose- personas. It’s my truth.
People have had to hear songs from the straight perspective for so long. I always sing from my gay perspective. I always change pronouns because that is MY truth. I would be lying if I stood on stage and sang about men! That would be so weird! We all need a torch singer! Lesbians need a torch singer! I’m here to fulfill that role! But also love is universal and if I can relate to straight songs because they are about love I hope straight people can do the same about my songs about love (that only happen to be from a lesbian perspective).
Your debut album, “Interior Person” will be released on September 13th. Can you tell us what is the main theme of the record? I read that some of the most important women in your life came together to craft your debut album; you sing songs that features both adaptations and original co-writes from Inara George from The Bird and the Bee, Alex Lilly from the band just by her name Alex Lilly, and your wife, Barbara Gruska. You are going also open the show of the The Bird and the Bee show in August.
The main theme of my record “Interior Person” is about hope, triumph over pain, and self love and acceptance. Every single song on the record is personal. Every single song is true! Yes my wife Barbara Gruska, my two best friends Alex Lilly and Inara George wrote me songs based on stories I’ve told them and what they know of me.
It has been such a gift working with them. They are literally my favorite musicians and song writers so not only is just that part exciting- they see me and who I am. I don’t think there is any better feeling than being seen in your authenticity. And I’m going on tour with all of them! Playing in Bird and the Bee and opening!
How do you combine your professional and private life with wife Barbara Gruska who had a band called the Belle Brigade and has drummed for KD Lang and Fiona Apple. You both are very creative, how this works out and benefits to your marriage and to your music career?
I LOVE WORKING WITH MY WIFE!! We know how to give each other space when we both need it and we know how to talk to each other. YOU HAVE TO BE HONEST. You have to try and communicate your feelings to each other and you have to listen to each other. We work hard at that. But it actually also feels effortless at this point. I feel so lucky we work together. She has been a source of inspiration for me even before I knew her! Because I have always been a gushing fan of hers. I met her sneaking in backstage to one of her shows. She was playing her own set at a local club. She’s an incredible artist. It’s so fun making music and traveling the world together. We take care of each other. It’s a perfect set up. She’s not only my drummer, she is my producer and produced my record!
Do you think that lesbian themes should become part of the mainstream culture? If yes, why?
Lesbian themes should be a part of the mainstream culture because they ARE the mainstream culture. I will argue to the day I die there are as many LGBTQ people as there are straight people. There’s just a lot of repression and oppression in this world.
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
I am inspired by people being authentic when they sing. I always think of Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Judy Garland, John Lennon, Anita O’Day, Ray Charles. And my wife, Barbara Gruska. I get so much joy from listening to them or watching them. It literally fills my heart with joy. FILLS MY HEART. And at the risk of sounding cliche, I am inspired by love and its healing.