What’s common between Jonathan Van Ness (JVN) and Kimmy from ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’?  Besides being on the same streamer (Netflix), they share an overflowing optimism and an ability (or, a cultivated superpower?) to influence the energy of the room in a m-a-j-o-r way. While one is the real person, and the other, a fictional character- both seem to have stepped straight-out of Pharell Williams- happy, perpetually glowing with an effervescence, which to be fair, is one of the many attributes they possess. It is an element that infuses a peppy shade in their personality rainbow, when combined with the rest of the characteristics.  

JVN’s DNA make-up transgresses beyond his pep-factor.  Also called, “The Happy-Gay Jesus” (courtesy: his feathery, long mane), JVN serves lewks after lewks in every Queer Eye episode- and, on Instagram when he’s off-the show. With an infectious joie-de-vivre, JVN has yas-queened his way onto the hearts of the audience, and managed to land a Cosmo cover (He’s the only non-female British Cosmo cover star in 35 years) in no time.   

Queer Eye on Netflix, where he stars as one of the Fab-5, is a reboot of yester-year hit show, Queer Eye For The Straight Eye. Comprising a dream-team of five experts (called Fab-5); this feel-good show has managed to vibe, intensely, with the audiences across the globe. The rebooted version has an all-cast of : The dishy chef- Antoni Porowski (ah, his love for guac & corgi dogs!), The culture expert –Karamo Brown, The stylist- Tan France (the dude behind the famous French tuck), The interior expert- Bobby Berk and The grooming expert- Jonathan Van Ness (JVN, for short!)

In his biography, Over The Top (OTT), JVN lets a reader in the ‘fab’ and ‘not-so-fab’ parts of his life; the moments that shape him, as a person he is at present. “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll come away knowing that no matter how broken or lost you may be, you’re a Kelly Clarkson song.  You’re strong, and you’ve got this”, reads the summary of the book- a fitting description of what a reader can expect.

In the initial chapters, JVN talks about his formative years, the hatred and the alienation he experiences while growing up as a femme-guy in a conservative town.  In that sense, the book goes beyond his exterior into his interior. Further, he touches upon the events that sculpted his sense of identity, and defined his relationship with the self and the others around him. In a refreshing, unfiltered voice, he talks about the (casual and blatant) homo-phobia, he encounters at the work-place, his struggles with substance-abuse and how he comes clean!

A brave account by many standards, JVN who is considered a public- figure now, in and outside the queer community, comes out as a HIV positive person. In the process, he owns up his mistakes, his love for gymnastics (Interesting fact: he was the first male cheerleader in his high school) and more. “Just like joy and pain coexist, so can discomfort and humor. This is why you gotta buckle up buttercup, because I can go from comedy to tragedy in three seconds flat. And that’s not damaged or not normal. I hope culturally we can continue to normalize the idea that being a survivor is so much more common than anyone realizes and we all deserve to be heard, but more importantly are deserving of a recovery full of love, laughter, and light,’’ he says.

All of his parts – the good, the bad and the ugly – are scattered through-out the 250 pages of the tome. Up, close and personal, is what he promises. He makes us meet a version of him: one that is imperfectly perfect, beautifully broken, and most importantly, made of fragments. JVN beautifully picks up those fragments and pieces them together to share a crucial message of self-love and acceptance.

And, as one of his famous sayings goes, “You can’t selectively numb feelings. So, if you try to numb the vulnerability, you also numb joy, happiness, connection. There’s a rhyme and reason behind my effervescent spirit, and no, I did not wake up like this. It took a lot of trauma and tears to become the person you see today.” He acknowledges the non-linear nature of his recovery, the residual effects of the trauma, and how one needs to trust the process. One of the major take-away through this book, atleast for me, was embracing the continual nature of happiness and rejoicing every part of you: broken or not!

Final Words:

With an unflinching honesty, OTT covers the pain and passion it took for JVN to become a model of self-love. The book is a testament, to his spirit and rising up in the face of the odds.  It lays emphasis on his journey, transformation and less on how he manages to bag a breakthrough part in Queer Eye- the show that made him a house-hold name and catapulted him to fame.  


Vinay Agrawal