It’s no secret that here at The Everygirl, we’re completely head-over-heels obsessed with Queer Eye. It swooped in and saved 2018 with moments that made us laugh, cry, and since the very first episode — can anyone ever forget You Can’t Fix Ugly? — it’s made our hearts overflow with emotions we didn’t even know we had in us.
All of Queer Eye’s features have made us cheer them on from the moment the Fab Five waltzed through their door, but one person’s story stuck with us far beyond the closing credits: Jess Guilbeaux. As the first lesbian featured on the show, she stole our hearts with her story — and even more so, her endless resilience.
We spoke with Jess about how the show helped her find her voice, how her life has been since, and what her plans are since fans raised over $100,000 to send her back to college.
Your story on Queer Eye resonated with much of America — but sharing your story must have taken a lot of courage. What made you decide to share the intimate details of your life on TV?
At the end of the day, I wanted to make just one person feel like they were heard. We exist in a time of information where storytelling is important and I knew my story wasn’t unique. I wanted to tell my story so that if there was someone in a similar situation, they would know that they can make it and thrive.
You were adopted, and when your adoptive parents found out you were gay, they disowned you at age 16 — as Karamo described it, “it was like a one-two punch.” How did the Fab Five help combat your former feelings of inadequacy?
They showed me that vulnerability and asking for help are not weaknesses. Opening up and allowing people to help you is a strength, and doing so gives you the ability to find your inner beauty. They each highlighted a part of myself that they already saw in me, and by allowing them to do that, I experienced the true beauty and power of vulnerability.
When you experienced what you did with your family, how would you have preferred others to show support for you? What advice would you give someone on how to support a friend or family member experiencing something similar?
I don’t think it’s about what others didn’t do for me — the people who supported me did everything they could and I am forever grateful for them. If someone in your life is going through a difficult time, be patient and be present. The biggest battle is creating an environment where they feel like they can come to you. To do that, try nurturing an environment free of judgement or pressure. The way you do that is with your constant presence and patience.
On Instagram, you wrote, “This experience was life changing for me. I learned how to love my natural curls, love my highly melanated skin, and all of who makes up who I am (a fiercely gay kween).” How did the Fab Five bring your newfound confidence out of you?
The Fab Five is supportive in every way. They’re literally like five dads. They are encouraging and welcoming and so positive — it’s hard to not feel confident when you have a support system like that in your life!
On the show, you explained that you often felt “too black,” “not black enough,” “too gay,” or “not gay enough.” What would you say to someone currently feeling the same things?
I would say YOU ARE PERFECT. Throw yourself into self love and self care and just be yourself because that’s all you can be. When we spend time drowning in those sayings, we’re thinking of everyone else’s ideas and opinions except our own. Find your own voice by grabbing onto things you love about yourself, because those things are perfect. Labels don’t make us beautiful — loving yourself and investing in your own happiness is where true beauty is.
Do you think those feelings were sparked from your personal experiences, or from society as a whole? How do you think we — as a society — can work to prevent others from feeling similar ways in the future?
I think it was a combination of both. I think we need to stop picking people apart and putting them into boxes. If we nurture an environment free of labels and embrace each other’s differences, we can finally focus on the real issues. Nobody can be completely defined by one word, box, or label — people are complex! Let’s embrace that beautiful complexity and stop limiting each other.
Throw yourself into self love and self care and just be yourself because that’s all you can be. When we spend time drowning in those sayings, we’re thinking of everyone else’s ideas and opinions except our own. Find your own voice by grabbing onto things you love about yourself, because those things are perfect.
On your episode, you said, “You all just showed me that it’s beautiful and sexy to care for yourself.” How do you continue to care for yourself now?
All kinds of ways! I love playing with my hair and learning how to take care of it. I’m patient with myself when it comes to my mental health and I have healthy outlets for when I’m not having the best day. I also communicate to those around me when I need them instead of trying to tackle everything on my own all the time. I’m human and I give myself space to be exactly that.
You recently did your first drag show — congrats! How else have you embraced your new identity since Queer Eye?
Doing drag was such an eye-opening experience because it allowed me to express myself in ways that I didn’t think I could. I presented as hyper-femme, which as a cisgender woman, I didn’t think would be well received. However, drag is an art form for everyone! I was so welcomed by my community and it was such a freeing experience for me. I love presenting as more femme some days and more masculine other days. I am who I am and I cannot be solely defined by either!
You explained that you had to drop out of college and stop pursuing your computer science degree, but since your episode’s debut, a Go Fund Me page has been started to send you back to school. How did that feel? Are you planning on going back to school? What do you hope to do with your degree?
It was overwhelming! School wasn’t something I was even thinking about doing and I’m so grateful by the public’s kindness. I will be going back to school and I want to work as a software engineer upon completion of my degree in computer science.
What is the best thing that came out of being on Queer Eye for you?
Honestly, meeting and talking to all the people that were touched by the show. The Queer Eye fanbase, The Fab Five, crew, and everyone in between make up a loving and accepting community that I am so honored to be a part of.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Be patient with yourself.
If you could tell your 16-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
I would tell her to keep pushing, because it’s hard to be a person who never gives up.
Jess Guilbeaux is The Everygirl…
Favorite item in your closet? The black leather vest from the episode!
Bold lip or bold eye? A bold lip with a touch of glitter!
Go-to karaoke song? Any Janelle Monae or Nicki Minaj song
Last show you binged? Besides Queer Eye, Schitt’s Creek and Pose!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why? Janet Mock! She’s such an inspiration to women everywhere but especially to the queer community. I would love to hear her wisdom in person!