Tan France went from a boy from Manchester to being the stars of Netflix’s critically acclaimed and hugely popular reboot of Queer Eye. Here, in an exclusive extract from his memoir Naturally Tan, France talks about never seeing himself reflected on TV and the responsibility of representation he now has.
When I was younger, I distinctly remember feeling quite alone. My family wasn’t the kind of family that talked about feelings. Well, we told each other if we were mad, but not if we felt something more complex. It’s not really the South Asian way to talk about feelings, so it didn’t even dawn on me that I should chat to my family or friends about feeling lonely because I never saw our people represented in the media.
I didn’t see myself reflected anywhere in popular culture, and a lot of us get our feelings of normalcy or approval or validation from what we see around us. Everywhere you look, you see a lot of Caucasians, and you think, It’s great to be white. You see black people and you think, Okay, the tides are turning. You see lesbians and you think, Good, we’re shedding light on this. But I do distinctly remember thinking, Holy shit! I don’t see anybody from South Asia on TV who’s gay, and that really started to freak me out.
I longed for the day when I’d see a bunch of gay South Asian and Middle Eastern men and women on TV and in movies, but it never came. Where were their stories? Where were our stories? Had we been forgotten? Did no one want to hear what we had to say?
It took a very long time for this to change. It’s shocking that I’m one of the first people to do it, but I’m glad things are finally starting to evolve.
When I first considered being on the show, the very idea of representing a community scared the shit out of me, and that was just the LGBT+ community — adding on the responsibility of representing the South Asian community caused me even greater fear. I worried that everything I did and said would be seen as my speaking for the entire South Asian community.
Beyond this, I was so worried about how I was going to tackle religion. I knew that no matter what, I was never going to be just Tan France. The press was always going to refer to me as Tan France, the gay British Muslim. They never introduce Antoni as the gay Polish Christian.
What I’m doing is a job I love. A job that makes me happy and that just so happens to offer a perspective that’s never really been shown before. No statements are being made. There is no political or cultural agenda. There is just me, being visible and unapologetically authentic.
I hope it provides comfort to kids who have never seen any version of me on TV before. I hope they think, Tan managed to make things work, and he’s happy and open about who he is. I can be, too.
I hope I give them some hope.
Naturally Tan by Tan France is out on 6 June (Virgin Books, £16.99).