Few people have so perfectly embodied the spirit of Queer Eye as the show’s first lesbian hero, Jess Guilbeaux.
When the Fab Five—food and wine specialist Antoni Porowski, interior design expert Bobby Berk, grooming master Jonathan Van Ness, culture guru Karamo Brown, and style authority Tan France—first meet Jess, she looks lost, sad, almost hopeless.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead.]
Jess had come out to her religious, adoptive family at 16 years old. They shunned her, and she’s had to take care of herself ever since, while also struggling with coming to terms with her identity as a black lesbian woman.
At 23 years old, Jess appeared reluctant to trust people and let others see her vulnerabilities.
“I just feel like, maybe, family is not something that I’m going to have,” she said in a particularly emotional exchange.
By the end of the week, the physical difference is minimal, but the mental change is impressive.
Jess has found out who she is—a confident, strong, black, beautiful lesbian woman—and who her real family is.
PinkNews spoke to Jess about her life-changing experience ahead of the Queer Eye Season 3 Netflix premiere on March 15.
She had yet to see her own episode, which was filmed in August.
How do you feel about other people seeing the episode?
After the trailer came out at first I was kind of shocked because it’s been so long … I didn’t necessarily remember what I used to look like before the makeover.
You go back to the place where you were at before and you’re like, “Oh goodness, am I ready for the world to see me like that?”
Now I am just really excited because I am excited for people to hear my story and maybe get some sort of inspiration off of it.
Did you know of the show and did have any expectations of how the experience was going to be?
I love the show. I love the Fab Five. I wanted to be a part of the Fab Five!
Expectations? That’s the funny thing. I didn’t even know what to expect. I had zero expectations. I knew of them but I never really imagined that they would be as warm and gentle and kind and down to earth as they were.
When I thought about the Fab Five, I was like, “Oh, they’re just going to come in, do a couple things and be out.” And that was the complete opposite of what happened!
And so my expectations were literally zero and and obviously they were exceeded.
What were the moments that had the biggest impact on you that week?
The first one that sticks out to me is the time that I spent with Karamo in the dance studio.
But the second would have to be literally any moment that I spent with Bobby, because our stories were just so similar.
How does it feel to find someone who has had such a similar experience to yours?
It’s bittersweet because it’s sad that there are people who go through this kind of thing at all.
But to see someone who’s so successful and inspiring have the same background as me was all the more validating.
“I still chat with literally all of them and they’re amazing and I am so grateful to have five new dads.”
— Jess on her relationship with the Queer Eye Fab Five
It validated the decision for me to be on the show to tell my story, because I want to be like Bobby, where I’m an inspiration, maybe to, like, one person.
It makes it all worthwhile to be vulnerable to millions of people, if I can inspire them the way that Bobby does.
Can you talk about your coming out journey? In the episode, it says you were outed in high school, but also that you came out to your parents at 16.
The difference between the two stories is, I was outed in in high school. So like, when you think about it, I came out to everyone at school before I was ready to come out.
I was at a small school, and people did whatever they could do to fit in, and I was outed, so everyone knew I was gay, and I couldn’t do anything to fit in at that point.
So you go to school every day, for seven hours a day, and everyone knows you as the gay girl, and then you go home and you can’t talk to your parents about it.
When I say that I came out when I was 16… I told my parents when I was 16, because it was like [living] a double life.
Some people say that [coming out] was a relief because they got it off their chest, but for me getting it off my chest led to so many terrible things.
I felt awful for a really long time. Now I can look back on it, I know I did this thing for myself, and it has led me to be the beautiful woman that I am today.
If I could go back, I would still go through it the same way, because I wouldn’t have learned the lessons that I learned. And I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. So I have no regrets.
How has the Queer Eye experience changed you?
The thing that Queer Eye has changed for me the most would have to be my own self-confidence, like, I believe firmly that I can do anything that I could.
Part of it is spending time with guys like Jonathan and Karamo and Bobby and Antoni and Tan, but part of it is just allowing myself to be vulnerable in front of cameras.
Part of it is just putting myself out there and speaking my truth and not being afraid about it.
In the episode we see you reconnecting with your sister and celebrating with your friends, but it also looks like you formed a strong bond with the Fab Five. Have they also become part of your family?
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Oh, absolutely. I actually call all of them “dad.”
I’m positive that I have five new dads. I definitely consider them part of my family.
I think that’s one of the misconceptions of this show. People don’t realise that they don’t just come into someone’s life, hang out with them, and then dip and then they’re like, “Goodbye, good luck!”
I’ve been interacting with them and they have been checking in on me and supporting me and it has felt like a family.
They invest in the people that they makeover, it’s not just for the show, they genuinely care.
I still chat with literally all of them and they’re amazing and I am so grateful to have five new dads.
What did you learn from this experience you’d like to share with others?
Be active in your community and speak up for what you believe in. It’s never too late. Whatever has kept you from speaking your truth and being active in your community, put her to bed.
Actions speak a lot louder than words when it comes to the queer community. So just make sure that you do that. I’m definitely in the works of getting a queer space in Lawrence.