Tan France speaks at Smith College

BY OLIVIA MARBLE ’21

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia  Tan France spoke at Smith College on March 7.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Tan France spoke at Smith College on March 7.

Designer, author and “Queer Eye” star Tan France spoke at Smith College on March 7 about “Queer Eye” and his life outside of the show. 

The event was held in John M. Greene Hall at 7 p.m. It started with a moderated Q&A, which was hosted by Smith College Assistant Professor of the Study of Women & Gender Jennifer DeClue. France then took questions from the audience. 

France is best known for his role on Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” the 2018 reboot of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” which first aired in 2003. It is a makeover show in which five gay men make over people, primarily straight men, in five areas of their lives: fashion, personal grooming, interior design, food and culture. France’s specialty on the show is fashion.

France’s co-stars on “Queer Eye” are Karamo Brown (culture), Jonathan Van Ness (personal grooming), Antoni Porowski (food) and Bobby Berk (interior design).

“I love it so much,” France said about his role on the show. “I get to see my boys [his co-stars] and I love them so f***ing much.”

In the moderated Q&A, France spoke in length about his relationship with his co-stars, who he said were “like brothers” to him. He described the cast as “the biggest bunch of dummies you’ve ever seen.” According to France, they are such good friends that the show had to hire a “talent wrangler” to make sure the cast does their job, because they often hang out and cuddle with each other instead of working. “I feel like a teenager again,” he said.

France briefly talked about his childhood, which he said was difficult as a Pakistani gay man living in Doncaster, England. He mentioned being verbally and physically assaulted on the streets, but did not reveal any details. France acknowledged that he is not open about his life and his background, especially on “Queer Eye,” explaining that he purposefully does not open up on the show because he doesn’t want his life story to be “cut down to a sound bite.” 

France mentioned that he talks more in-depth about his life in his upcoming novel, “Naturally Tan,” which will be released on June 4, 2019. He is glad to tell his story as a Pakistani gay man, since he has “already heard the white stories” of gay men, and he feels that the world needs to hear the stories of queer people of color.

France also told the audience that he still feels in awe of his newfound fame. He owned a fashion company before “Queer Eye,” which he sold at age 32, but he was not known to the general public until “Queer Eye” was released. “I was you a year ago,” he said, referring to the audience. “Now I’m like, ‘holy s***, people know my name!’”

He did not reveal much about the third season of “Queer Eye,” which was released on March 15. He did say that he thought it was the “best season yet” because the cast has formed stronger bonds with each other, so their banter is better. “You are not ready,” he said.

After the moderated Q&A, France jumped down from the stage and personally took questions from audience members. He determined who he would take questions from based on who screamed the loudest on his cue. He hugged each of the chosen audience members before they asked their questions, which varied from “What is your favorite movie?” to “What advice would you give someone who is self-conscious?”

Nadeen Jumai’an, a first-year at Smith, asked France what influenced him to be more comfortable with himself, to which he responded that it wasn’t one thing and that it was a long journey for him, like it is for anyone. 

Jumai’an was grateful for the opportunity to ask her question. “I among other people have self-confidence issues and I was just really lucky to even see him,” she said. “I needed that positive energy to rub off on me. It was incredible… I haven’t felt like that in such a long time.”

France ended the event a half-hour after it was scheduled to end, saying “If you take anything away from this… please be an ally for the people who need it [in marginalized communities].” 

The event was sponsored by Smith College’s Student Events Committee (SEC), a student-run organization that coordinates various events for students at Smith throughout the year, according to Smith’s website. SEC tries to host a famous speaker every spring. Ali Bergeron, one of the co-chairs of the SEC, said that they host celebrities because they know these events will reach the most people on campus. 

“We know it’s the kind of event that will bring everybody together,” Bergeron said. “When we get to do big events like these, it really feels like something the whole campus can bond around and get excited about.”