Every time I go to a party (so like once a year), my ice breaker is usually, “which one of the Fab Five is your favourite?” It’s like a personality quiz for your friends. If you don’t watch Queer Eye, I leave immediately. If your favourite is Antoni, you’re hella thirsty. Me too. Bobby? You appreciate hard work because he f-cking renovates an entire house and no one gives him enough credit for it. Tan? You probably have a full length mirror and walk down every hallway like a runway model. Karamo? You’re the mom friend. (PS. Buzzfeed, @me if you want me to turn this into a quiz.)
In personality tests, there usually isn’t a correct answer. In this case, there is, and that answer is Jonathan Van Ness. JVN, or Gay Jesus as he calls himself, is hands down the best character on the show. It’s probably why he’s arguably the show’s biggest breakout and most beloved member. His bubbly energy is infectious, his mannerisms and vocabulary are endearing henny, and his self-care and overall positivity is gentle and kind. What’s not to love?! Right?
Over the weekend, The New York Times published an interview with JVN in anticipation of his new memoir, Over the Top, that comes out today. It’s a drastic departure from the effervescent JVN that we see on Queer Eye, but one that provides a much deeper insight into the traumatic, troubled past that JVN has come from. As the Guardian puts it, “His memoir, Over the Top, could have been a ghostwriter’s gift, packed with his witticisms and mantras for self-care. Instead it’s a lightning bolt – devastating and stirring, powered by years of anguish and humiliation.”
In the interview, JVN reveals that the memoir goes deeper into his past, when he was sexually abused as a young child by an older boy from church. He carried the trauma of that event throughout his adolescence and young adulthood, and it led him to self-destructive behaviours: drug use, unsafe sex, prostitution, culminating in his diagnosis of HIV when he was 25.
In celebrity gossip, it’s often easy to forget that celebrities present a version of themselves to us, usually a version that is polished, clean, and marketable. The NYT interview is interrupted twice by fans who want to greet JVN. He graciously obliges, but comments afterwards, “If you’re having a terrible moment or in the middle of a conversation about something serious, people don’t care…They want their bubbly J.V.N. and to get that major selfie.” Behind those constructed exteriors exist real people, with real problems, experiences, and even trauma. In fact, it’s usually the bubbliest and the happiest exteriors that hide the darkest parts. When Robin Williams passed away suddenly, we learned that he had been suffering from depression and mental health issues for a long time.
Jonathan Van Ness chose to lift up the exterior and make himself vulnerable. That’s terrifying. Being vulnerable means revealing the innermost, deepest parts about us. On a celebrity scale, that can seem impossible. But being vulnerable is the key to making connections and inspiring people. In owning his past, JVN has created a way for others to see that change and improvement are a possibility. That living HIV positive doesn’t have to be a stigmatized death sentence. In sharing his pain, he has potentially saved so many others from it. In the final line of his interview, he says, “I want people to realize you’re never too broken to be fixed.” That is the work that Jonathan Van Ness is doing with this new book. That is the work that I know he’ll continue to do. And that’s why, he’s my Fab Five Favourite.