‘Queer Eye’ star Jonathan Van Ness on the thinly veiled homophobia behind criticisms he’s “too much”
Queer Eye season two is upon us. That means that as we all gather around our televisions to sob once more as its contestants realize the magic of a good pomade, so too do we fight over our favorite members of the Fab Five, who grace the show’s guests with life-altering makeovers, both inside and out.
At some point, surely you’ve been a part of a conversation that goes something like the following: As soon as someone (usually me) is done scream-crying about Bobby Berk not getting enough credit for literally remodeling entire houses in a week, someone tries to come for Queer Eye’s most flamboyant member: the grooming expert, Jonathan Van Ness.
“I like Jonathan, but don’t you think he’s a little... much?” is something that some terrible and wrong person might say.
As the show’s most visibly (and audibly) gay personality, Van Ness — who, of his own admission, looks like “big gay Jesus” — has a tendency to elicit these kinds of comments. Between his habit of dropping a casual “yaaass queen” in conversation, his gender-bending wardrobe and his long, flowing hair, Van Ness makes no attempts to pass for anything resembling a straight person, and confidently charges into conservative spaces in the same way he might strut into a gay bar.
In the first season’s seventh episode, there’s a moment that sums up what I’m talking about: To help Joe, a budding stand-up comedian, gain some confidence, Van Ness and co-star Karamo Brown take him to a smoke-filled club in Georgia, where the average patron seems to be no less than 65. Most of them are military veterans. For the occasion, Van Ness is wearing a long sleeved, shoulder-less black shirt and a knee-length plaid skirt.
He gets a lot of looks, but seems unphased standing at the front of the room, introducing Joe as “absolutely gorgeous [and] doing the most.”
It’s a confidence that’s infectious — but it can also generate knee-jerk reactions.
“I have definitely seen the look register on people’s faces when I do start talking about politics or any other subject that I may be very well-informed on and get passionate about,” Van Ness said recently by phone. “Like, I can go from very gregarious to extremely serious really quickly, especially when it comes to talking politics.” (Such a turn occurred recently in an interview with Vulture, when Van Ness poked fun at Brown for meeting with Karen Pence’s chief of staff.)
Van Ness said he rarely has long-term issues with people taking him seriously, saying he does his best to only speak about subjects he’s knowledgeable in. That said, he didn’t mince words on where criticisms that he’s “too much” come from: It’s homophobia, pure and simple.
“It is,” he said. “I’ve gotten that response ever since I started doing Gay of Thrones. If I’ve ever had any criticism in general, it was always along the lines of those internalized homophobia sorts of things.”
So, what’s Van Ness’ advice for people like him, for those of us with a swish in the hip or a penchant for the occasional crop top?
“One thing my stepdad taught me, God rest his gorgeous soul — that a lot of what people say and think about you is not only not my business, but it’s not my issue to pick up or take on,” he said. “I think selective permeability, especially for people that are more effusive and have personalities more like mine, being more selectively permeable to what people say and think is really important. Like, not taking on what people say about you for your well-being and your literal survival. That’s how I’ve gotten this far.”
“When people do say those things,” Van Ness added, “when they say that I’m homo-normative, or that I’m just a stereotype, or that I’m ‘too much’ or whatever — people can think whatever they want to think all day long, and if I focused on it, I wouldn’t be able to be who I am. It’s just not my focus and it’s not my battle to pick up, and I choose not to.”