Jonathan Van Ness on breaking the binary, pronouns and what cows can teach us about gender norms

By Patrick Kelleher | Pink News via PrideNation

Jonathan Van Ness is a little distracted when he appears on screen. He’s just stumbled upon a clip of gymnast Sunisa Lee on Instagram, and he is obsessed. 

“I just made a fatal mistake of looking at my Instagram and Sunisa Lee’s new college floor routine came up,” Jonathan, who uses he, she and they pronouns, says. “I’m being such a straight man with football, wanting to watch it, but I am turning it off, I am putting it down, I will watch her collegiate floor routine a different time. That is maturity, and I’m proud of myself.”

Jonathan, or JVN as he’s affectionately known, is here to talk about his new Netflix series Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness. It’s a spin-off of sorts from his podcast of the same name, and it sees the Queer Eye icon exploring a variety of topics, from skyscrapers to snack foods.

There’s also a powerful, deeply moving episode on the gender binary, which looks at just how rigid our society is when it comes to identity and self-expression.

Jonathan came out as non-binary in 2019. In one particularly striking moment in his new show, he reveals that he only heard the term “non-binary” for the first time when he was 30. 

“It was a really defining moment,” he tells PinkNews. “I think I had maybe heard the word in passing before that, but it was just being 30, starting to meet and hear of people like Alok and other people that were living their truth out and proud, and being like, ‘[Gasp], that’s why I’ve always been feeling like this – that’s what I am too!’ – I just think it felt very much, kind of like as Alok says, I came into a community that I’ve been waiting to join my whole life.” 

Fashion designers have refused to work with Jonathan Van Ness

Coming out as non-binary has been life-changing for JVN, but being open about his identity has also also made him more aware than ever just how rigid society’s views on gender really are. The fashion industry, you might think, would be ahead of the rest of us – but that’s not the full picture, Jonathan explains. In fact, he’s had fashion designers refuse to dress him for events. Some have even refused to let him buy their gowns outright.

Pioneering queer designers like Christian Siriano and Christopher John Rogers are changing the industry from the inside, but there’s still a lot of work to do to make the fashion world more inclusive, JVN says.

“For me, it never feels good being rejected,” JVN says. “It never feels good having someone dehumanise you or not honour your dignity… Especially when it has something to do with your gender expression, it just doesn’t feel good. It does suck that it’s going on, but I do think the world’s getting…” 

He trails off unexpectedly, weighing up his words. “I was about to say the world’s getting better, but then I realised I was only saying that because I wanted to make myself feel good or make myself feel better, because it sucks that it’s still out there. But I do think that we are making progress – hard fought progress, but we have to keep talking and staying open to these conversations because it’s not over. The fight’s not done.” 

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