Ben J. Pierce, also known as Miss Benny to hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers and music fans, is now in the big leagues. The actor, performer, and jill-of-all-trades was recently announced as the lead of The CW's upcoming (no date yet!) Glamorous, a potentially historic casting of a gender nonconforming person in a gender nonconforming role.
The series, which has been given a pilot order, centers around Pierce's character Marco, a gender nonconforming, recent high school grad who does makeup tutorials on his YouTube page. An unplanned rant bashing a cosmetics company for their shoddy products on his channel somehow lands him a dream internship at the side of the company's founder and CEO, Madolyn (played by the iconic Brooke Shields). On his own for the first time, this is Marco's chance to live, love, and grow to understand what it really means to be queer.
Pierce is joined by Pierson Fode, who will play Chad, the ambitious, alpha male son of Madolyn who also works at the company. Though openly gay, he's buttoned-down and unsophisticated, with a personality and wardrobe to match.
Out caught up with Pierce via email to discuss the role. Though he wasn't able to spill too much tea, he discussed representing gender nonconforming people, his YouTube days, and upcoming music.
First off, talk to me about how you show up and move through the world.
Honestly, your guess at my gender identity is as good as mine. The best way I've found to describe myself is with a blanket term like genderqueer. Most of the time people refer to me with he/him/his and so I tend to go with that. But I'll happily answer to anything if it's said sweetly.
I'm attracted to anyone who is attracted to me, but I'm very much homo-romantic. My heart loves men, which is such a drag.
Most people probably know you from YouTube. Why did you decide to start the channel?
I was on YouTube from 12 to 18. I think I started as a way of passing time and expressing myself when I felt like I wasn't able to do it elsewhere. I had no idea it would lead to touring internationally or moving across the country at 14 and meeting all the people I now call friends, boyfriends, and sworn arch nemeses. It's sort of freaky to trace the pillars of your life back to a common source. For me, it almost all comes back to YouTube which is kooky! I'm grateful for the experience.
The channel includes some makeup tutorials. What gave you the idea to start doing them? Any go-to secrets or products that you're willing to share?
I was doing strictly comedy on Youtube for like, five years, I think. Sometimes I would slip in a comedic makeup tutorial and then take it way too seriously. I would be turning myself into an avocado (literally, it's still online if you don't believe me) or impersonating a celebrity, but be really intentional and thoughtful about my process. Eventually, I realized that I wanted to explore makeup, and so I put away my rubber chickens and picked up my beauty blenders.
My two makeup mantras are: "Beauty is in millimeters" and "Minimum product, maximum blending," which basically all boils down to reminding myself to not cut corners in my application process. Cut creases not corners! Did I just coin that?
One of the great things we're applauding about your Glamorous casting is that you, too, are gender nonconforming. How did you discover your nonconformity?
There were a lot of small discovery moments leading to one big "a-ha" moment. As a kid, I loved playing dress-up in princess clothes with my sisters and having (temporary) permission to embrace my femininity in a safe space. When I was around eight years old, I grew my hair out past my shoulders and tied it up in a ponytail. By 10, I was having my friends pull "pranks" where we pretended I was a girl when we would meet up with the other boys in the neighborhood. Eventually, I was locking my bedroom door at night and putting makeup on and lip syncing to Marina and The Diamonds. I think the big moment came when I was watching an interview with Courtney Act where she dropped the word "genderqueer" casually. It led to me researching videos about gender and being introduced to the concept that identity isn't so black-and-white, but instead exists on a spectrum. And feeling somewhere in the middle is so much more understandable with that concept in mind.
Any details you can provide on exactly what the show is about, and how gender nonconformity will come to fruition in the script?
I can't say much right now. What I can say is that Glamorous is a dream project for me. I am so grateful to be apart of something that not only authentically represents a wide range of queer identities, but completely normalizes and celebrates their voices without unnecessary explanation or justification. My mascara has been running practically every day this month because I keep crying that an opportunity like this has come around. It's very special.
What do you hope people get from your visibility as a gender nonconforming person?
I owe so much of why I am freely able to be who I am, and feel as confident as I do, to those LGBT+ people that came before me and paved the way. So, my biggest hope would be to honor those trailblazers and carry on the torch in whatever way I can.
And then there's your music. How would you describe your sound?
Well, I want my music to let you step into my tiny gay shoes and feel what I feel at this chapter of my life. I just turned 20 and I feel like my life is just now starting. When you're gay, you sort of spend your teenage years running away and hiding, so now that I'm away from all that internalized drama and conflama, I feel like a Barbie that wants to try everything and look pretty as hell while I do it. So here I am kissing boys all the time and flirting way too much and getting my heart broken over and over and then doing it all over again next week because I can't get enough. It's a constant head-rush and so my music talks about all of that with a backdrop of glittery Charli XCX-style sounds with heavy Post Malone-type trap beats underneath.
I'm releasing a single in the first week of April called "Every Boy" that is basically a thesis statement for what I want to represent as an artist. It's my favorite thing I've written.
What is your overall goal with your career?
All I want in my career is to consistently be a part of things to be proud of with people that I care about and make a living that brings more joy than stress to my life. And if I like, fall in love with a rockstar or maybe make enough money to buy 50 mansions or something along the way, then I guess I wouldn't complain.