Jonathan Van Ness of Queer Eye opens up about being nonbinary

Jonathan Van Ness is the grooming expert on Queer Eye. He is also the perennial fan favorite for those who watch the show. One of the reasons fans love him is because he lives every thought and emotion out loud. In addition to being emotive, Jonathan has a very feminine energy about him or, as Fran Tirado who interviewed Jonathan for Out said, “in addition to being very publically queer, you are very publically femme — like the femme-iest femme-femme femme.” Jonathan wears whatever he feels like and that includes dresses, skirts, heels and shawls. He will wear makeup when the mood strikes him and he always has beautifully painted and manicured nails. Because of his nail art love, Jonathan is partnering with essie nail polish with Pride-themed colors. In the Out interview, Jonathan discussed being non-binary and how he didn’t come to realize that was how he identified until they had a name for it.

So, are you feeling ready for Pride? I feel like I’m still catching up on sleep from last year’s Pride.
Totally — are we ever ready? I’m so ready for Pride. I love being able to celebrate it, and I love all the fun, but I also feel like Pride is a great opportunity for all of us to like, not only celebrate ourselves but also bring new people into the fold of allyship and into the fold of awareness — the people that were really excited to get away from when you moved out of your hometown — like, when you see them next or on Facebook, reach out and make some contact with folks that may not look the way you look, or act the way you act. Let people celebrate you that are maybe not in your community.

How do you feel about being a spokesperson for a brand that is predominantly marketed toward women?
It’s really cool! The older I get, the more I think that I’m nonbinary — I’m gender nonconforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman. I don’t really — I think my energies are really all over the place. Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I’m here for it. I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide. It’s this social construct that I don’t really feel like I fit into the way I used to. I always used to think “Oh, I’m like a gay man,” but I think any way I can let little boys and little girls know that they can express themselves and they can like be — like, making iconic partnerships with brands like essie no matter now they present is really important and exciting.

I know you never came out, but did you ever have an “a-ha” moment of any kind where you realized your femme identity?
Growing up, I definitely put on every nail polish, every heel, every scarf — I definitely had my mom’s knock-off Hermès scarves in my hair and around my waist — those were my skirts, and I loved it.

But when I was really young, I had really femme-shamey, gender-shamey [comments] when I would dress like that. When I would play with those things, I knew it needed to be before the sun came up or after the sun came down, like, in the basement and it needed to be something I couldn’t wear to school — like when I would do it, it had to be behind closed doors. As an adult, I really busted out of that, but it didn’t occur to me that when I was doing dances in heels — but I didn’t really put that together with “gender nonconforming” or “nonbinary” or owning that as an identity until recent because I think I just thought that I loved skirts and heels and like a kind of Whole Foods Face.

Some days I’ll just wear like, little high tops and little short-shorts and a little croppy toppy. But then other days I’m like in a heel, and then other days I’m like in jeans and a sweatshirt, and then other times I’m in like jeans and a poncho. I just am either like gender-bendy or nonconform-y or nonbinary and somedays I feel like a boy and somedays I feel like a girl. I didn’t think I was allowed to be nonconforming or genderqueer or nonbinary — I was just always like “a gay man” because that’s just the label I thought I had to be.

Is the label of nonbinary one you’ve come into recently?
Well like, no. I just didn’t know what the name was. I’ve been wearing heels and wearing makeup and wearing skirts and stuff for a minute, honey. I just like didn’t know that that meant — that I had a title.

[From Out via Towleroad]

My family and I were discussing this over the weekend, about kids being allowed to identify who they are. My husband and I did not experience that growing up. You were straight until you got to college and then you were either straight or gay, like Jonathan said. Any child claiming otherwise would have been told it was a phase or they didn’t know what they were talking about. I can’t imagine what that was like for them. Thank god we’ve evolved as a society. Not just for the children, but for the adults like Jonathan who grew up with only the gay label to place upon himself. During the interview, Jonathan said that his femme-shaming came not only from the straight community but from the LGBTQ community as well. He noted that, “either it’s getting better, or I just don’t care as much.” I would argue it’s both. I think the more comfortable we grow with ourselves, the less we care about what others say about us, but I also think we’ve grown culturally to embrace the many facets of what makes up people.

I also really appreciated Jonathan’s first answer, about using Pride to invite new allies into the fold. I especially love his comment, “Let people celebrate you that are maybe not in your community.” I just love that.

Side-note: Jonathan’s Gay of Thrones is a treat you all deserve.

Photo credit: WENN Photos

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