In an interview with Out magazine published Monday, Jonathan Van Ness labeled his gender identity as non-binary.
“The older I get, the more I think that I’m non-binary — I’m gender nonconforming,” Van Ness said.
Van Ness also described himself as “genderqueer” and said that even though he does not identify as a man, he prefers “he” and “him” pronouns.
“I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide,” Van Ness told Out magazine’s Fran Tirado. “It’s this social construct that I don’t really feel like I fit into the way I used to. I always used to think, ‘Oh, I’m like a gay man,’ but I think any way I can let little boys and little girls know that they can express themselves ... is really important and exciting.”
Last week, Van Ness also announced he is partnering with nail polish brand Essie as its first non-female ambassador. “For me, polish has always been a form of self-expression,” he said.
Van Ness is the hair and makeup expert from the heartwarming Netflix show, in which five gay men set out to teach hygiene, fashion and confidence to clients in need of a pick-me-up. He also joins a growing and diverse group of Americans who are rejecting the gender binary, sometimes using “they/them” pronouns and identifying as neither male nor female — or as a bit of both.
A growing number of states and jurisdictions — including California, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, D.C. — have begun offering gender-neutral options on identification cards. Even airlines and school districts are allowing people to identify with “X” gender markers instead of “M” or “F.” These changes have also triggered a backlash: This week, the Vatican released a guide to sexuality for Catholic schools, describing non-binary gender as “fictitious.”
In April, Van Ness told The Washington Post’s gender columnist, Monica Hesse, that he has begun to feel non-binary or gender nonconforming over time.
“I’ve definitely never felt comfortable in traditional masculine clothes,” Van Ness told Hesse. “The pressure of that really started to wear on me in my 20s, so I’ve really tried to get rid of the shame. For me, it’s really about celebrating clothes that make me feel good. I think I’m feminine. I’m masculine. I’m both.”
Van Ness’s gender expression varies from one day to the next. Some days, Van Ness wants to wear short-shorts and a crop top, other days a pair of heels, and other days a simple pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, he told Out magazine.
“I didn’t think I was allowed to be nonconforming or genderqueer or non-binary — I was just always like ‘a gay man’ because that’s just the label I thought I had to be,” he told the magazine. “… I just didn’t know what the name was. I’ve been wearing heels and wearing makeup and wearing skirts and stuff for a minute, honey. I just like didn’t know that that meant — that I had a title.”
Van Ness, who grew up in rural Illinois, said most of the people he has looked up to the most since his childhood were women — his mom, grandmother, and of course, “Gloria, Celine, Aretha, Shania, Mariah.”