Jonathan Van Ness spoke out about being bullied for his gender expression and sexual orientation as a child in a powerful new interview with The Trevor Project. Van Ness, who is non-binary and uses he/him pronouns, explained that growing up, he was shamed for his gender expression.
He explained, "I wanted to wear tights, and I wanted to wear [off-the-shoulder] sweatshirts, or thigh-high boots, or a velvet evening gown with big gold puffy sleeves that my cousins had that they would play dress-up with. I didn't understand people's intense visceral reaction to my wanting to express myself in this way."
Van Ness’ father had “an intense negative reaction” to his child’s love of makeup and dresses. “It made me feel like my gender expression was something I needed to hide from a very early age,” Van Ness said. Later, when Van Ness began to realize he was attracted to boys, there was even more that he felt he needed to hide.
During middle school and high school, Van Ness was bullied. “It was very pervasive, and it had a verbal element to it, and it had a violence element to it,” he said. “It was a feeling of having your safety stolen, constantly feeling like you have to look over your shoulder for your safety, for your space, and that is something that is kind of second nature to me. Even as an adult, that has never really left me.”
Learning how to develop tools to process his anxiety and depression in a healthy way has been vital, Van Ness said, as has been his passion for both his career and for his hobbies, like gymnastics. However, he added, joy is not enough. “Depression is not as easy as saying, ‘Just find your joy and you’re going to become happy.’ That was never my experience," he said. "When we’re identified fully with our depression, it will say, ‘You have no joy, you have no way out.’ There will be a negative, internal critic in our mind that we need to be able to dissociate from and pull ourselves away from.”
He added that having someone to talk to about what you're going through is so important — for him, it was his mother. “When we’re able to share with someone who we do feel safe with, we can realize that these things that are happening to us don’t make us unloveable and aren’t anything to have as a huge secret and don’t make our future dark and dreary," he said. "Actually, we have a really gorgeous future and we deserve love and safety."
Watch the full interview below.
The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, contact The Trevor Project's TrevorLifeline 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. Counseling is also available 24/7 via chat every day at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting 678-678.