I’m not a podcast person. I have had more conversations about them than I can count, recommendation after recommendation pouring in, about which one to listen to next, or to try. “Trust me, you’ll love this one!” But let me just tell you: I’m not gonna fucking listen to it. I try and try but never make it past the five-minute mark. I can’t listen to audiobooks either. I don’t know if I’m too ADD, but they almost always bore me or I just end up tuning them out.
All that changed though, when I did give one podcast a chance. “Getting Curious” with Jonathan Van Ness is just what my little gay-gemini heart could want. The topics are a mix of everything and anything. As Willy Sanjuan for Out.com put it:
Every two weeks, Van Ness locates someone who’s either a professional with multiple degrees or someone who works in a specific career field to answer all of his questions about things that are happening in our culture. Do you understand the laws surrounding internet security? Do you know what’s going on with today’s HIV research? Do you know where Queer Eye cooking expert Antoni Porowski even came from? Well, put on some headphones and learn the answers to these [quandaries] and more right alongside Van Ness.
It’s curiosity explored all over the place, and curiosity doesn't have to end when the credits air. He even has an upcoming sold-out live taping at Boston’s Museum of Science.
I have many reasons to love Jonathan Van Ness, or JVN, as all of his social handles go. He first came into my periphery through his emmy-nominated Funny or Die web series called “Gay of Thrones,” a hilarious recap/retelling of each week’s “Game of Thrones” episode that makes the HBO show much more bearable – all while cutting a guest’s hair. From there, his presence has exploded with Netflix’s “Queer Eye” reboot, where he and four other too-precious homos try to improve the lives of people that may not have the time, or the means, to take care of themselves physically or emotionally. Another reason I love him so much is how fiercely himself he is. From his long flowing hair paired with a handlebar mustache, to his great selection of heels and fashion sense.
I read and hear a lot about the importance of queer representation, but with JVN, the message really hits home. When I was a young closet-case in grade school, I remember how afraid of my own voice I was – and I mean that in a figurative and literal sense. I walked the halls of school convinced that what would “out” me was the very sound of my voice. Around the few friends I had, and a family that was largely supportive of me, I was mostly okay, but every time I met someone new in school or in the real world, every time I ordered at a drive-thru, every time I answered the phone, every time I spoke to a teacher, every time I was forced to answer a question in class, I was convinced that my voice was too gay. Too high. Too feminine. Because what is being a gay man if not being too feminine?
So how did I handle it? Before others could mock or threaten me – I grew up in a Mormon religious town and they, as a religion, do not treat gay, queer, and trans people well at all – I ostracized myself. I spoke less. I tried less. I kept my voice to myself as much as possible. I even had to repeat 8th grade geometry because I was too nervous to ask my math teacher – who also happened to be a football coach – for help. I had this deep down feeling that if I kept my mouth shut, time would pass and I could get out. I could move to a bigger city and be who I knew I was at a young age more safely. It might have also helped, perversely, that in my head I felt too fat and unattractive to be gay – but that was just one kind of representation being reinforced in my mind in the worst way. I could survive the fag jokes heard around the halls, if I just kept quiet.
So when I look at someone as proud and unapologetically themselves as Jonathan Van Ness, even at almost thirty years old myself, I am reminded just how important it is to see someone like him. Someone who is largely welcomed and loved and praised, and, at least from my perspective, no longer worried how others may take him. Someone like Jonathan would’ve meant the world to me when I was in school, and I’m so grateful that he’s around for kids now and in the future.
My vision for writing this was to first highlight how awesome I believe JVN to be, and to explain that, after listening to a recent episode of his with guests comedian Michele Wolf and Florence + the Machine’s Florence Welch, he inspired me to listen to more of Florence’s music. I realized that after all these years of loving her hits, I’d never listened to an album all the way through. I was driving to Seattle while listening to the episode and still a couple hours away. I had time to devote to her, so after finishing JVN, switched from his podcast to Florence.
I was going to devote this blog to her and her music – I did, in fact, make it through her first two albums.
Instead, this has become a cathartic “I fucking love who I am now,” piece, and how far I’ve come. A piece to remember, recognize, and celebrate people like Jonathan Van Ness as a part of the representation puzzle. Accepting yourself, at least for me, is a work in progress, just like having others accept you, for you. If you notice everything around you is warped toward white, straight, and male, you’ll feel outside, you’ll feel othered. That’s the point. That’s why it’s so pervasive. But the more JVNs we raise up in the world, the better it will be for future generations, and the more we tear down ignorance and hate, the better we all will be. I’ll have time another day to write about Florence Welch.
Fittingly, the title of the “Getting Curious” episode with Florence and Michele, and the central question of the discussion was, "What's it Like Being the Voice of a Generation?" JVN may have meant for that question to apply to their music and their comedy, but for me, and maybe others like me, it also applies to Jonathan himself.
Bonus Moment: Check out Jonathan Van Ness as Bob Ross – yes that Bob Ross – for this Netflix promo.