03/11/2019

Over The Top | Jonathan Van Ness

I‘ve been a fan of ‘Queer Eye’ since the very beginning and, after meeting Tan France in Manchester earlier this year, my love for the Fab Five has been amplified. My fellow fans will undoubtedly be knee-deep in the newly released ‘Queer Eye: We’re in Japan’ special as we speak. I smashed through all four episodes last night and yes, I ugly cried through at least two of them.

Last month, Adam surprised me with a signed copy of Jonathan Van Ness’ new autobiography, Over The Top. I snuck off to run a long, hot bath and disappear for an hour with my new book. An hour soon turned into two and, as I dragged myself to bed, I kept the book in my clutches, vowing ‘just more chapter’ until hours had passed by and my eyes finally got too heavy to focus.

This book surprised me. Firstly, JVN’s style of writing is truly enchanting. They manage to share tales of heartbreak, love, trauma, recovery, and loss in a way that leaves you feeling like you’ve known them on a personal level for decades. Secondly, they give us an incredibly candid look at a side of them that we rarely – if ever – get to see through their role on ‘Queer Eye’.

If fact, the topic of JVN’s ‘Queer Eye’ fame only appears at the very end of the book, instead, talking us through their childhood, teenage years, career paths, and a life-long love of gymnastics and figure skating. Most names in the book have been changed to flamboyant Russian aliases, which made me smile every time I read them. I also have a sneaking suspicion that JVN and I may be soul mates, purely based on a mutual adoration of cats, donut holes, and pleated skirts.

But there is so, so much more to JVN than high heels, incredible memes, and a top knot. They emulate a level of wisdom, self-awareness, and acceptance that echoes their turbulent journey and the work they have since carried out in order to truly heal. The kind of person who wears their gorgeous heart on thier sleeve with the inner-strength of a warrior.

This book was written by JNV themselves, no ghostwriters or co-author, which is a rarity in the world of celebrity autobiographies. Their words are relatable, hilarious, and heartbreaking, all at the same time. I’m not ashamed to admit that this is the first book that has made me involuntary shed a tear in a long time.

From accounts of sexual abuse as a child to getting lost in the dark, dangerous hole of hardcore drug use, eating disorders, grief, bullying, and discovering that they are HIV positive, it never feels as though these chapters have been orchestrated for the ‘shock factor’ or to simply sell more books. They share them without blame or shame in a beautifully raw and powerful manner.

Intertwined with anecdotes about their time working as a hair assistant, their fierce momma, first love, and accidentally adopting a cat named Bug, JVN certainly doesn’t hold back with this story as a whole, however, the raw authenticity shines through each page, along with encouraging words for readers who may have found similarities in JVN’s life experiences and their own.

At the very beginning of this book, JVN ponders: “Would you still be excited to meet me if you really knew who I was? If you knew all the things I’d done? If you could see all my parts?” and for me, the answer is a resounding yes.

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