Everything that Jonathan chose to include in his memoir is important to readers who are not familiar with the LGBTQ+ community, as much as it is to the people who identify as part of the community.
In this tender and heartfelt review, Manoa Ralte talks about the importance of Jonathan Van Ness’s 2019 memoir ‘Over The Top: A Raw Journey to Self Love,’ and how reading the book made him want Jonathan to be his new best friend.
A memoir that is uplifting, relatable, honest, humorous and heartbreaking, Jonathan Van Ness (JVN) shares his life story with an earnest candor that would move even his harshest critics. The reader is immediately drawn in by his trademark charm, and his honesty and openness in telling his truths, even those that could jeopardize his celebrity status, for example, sharing his HIV status. Everything that Jonathan chose to include in his memoir is important to readers who are not familiar with the LGBTQ+ community, as much as it is to the people who identify as part of the community. One questions if a reader would be able to grasp the charm of the book if they’ve never seen Jonathan on Queer Eye, the hugely popular Netflix series that he stars in. The answer is both yes and no, and it is really up to the reader to decide if a heartfelt memoir is indeed an eye-opener or not. It doesn’t hurt to have watched Queer Eye, but it isn’t a prerequisite either.
As expected from most gay characters that are famous, Jonathan is absolutely hilarious. He has a comedic timing for everything, and this echoes well in his book. Jonathan also echoes the plight that most gay kids would have gone through – falling in love with your straight friend. The friend knows how much you love them; you would do anything for them, including moving mountains and telling lies to your mother. So the friend keeps you around for validation, and freely marinates on your love and devotion, while also refusing to put a label on things. After all, who wouldn’t want to have someone whose whole existence is based on doing absolutely anything for you, while they’re happy with just the bare minimum you give them in return? Your wise mother, who has seen through your lies, also lets you manipulate her, because she knows how hurt and confused you are by this ‘relationship’. The ‘relationship’ leaves you with deep scars, including mental health issues and using drugs and sex as coping mechanisms. This experience, as Jonathan and all gays who have gone through it would know, is a pinnacle moment in life; it either makes or breaks you. Jonathan decided to be stronger out of it but not without mentioning that his economic and social privileges were huge factors. The sad truth is that other gays who do not have a support system like Jonathan does, end up dead.
I understand that is probably très jarring to read. But the reality is that LGBTQ+ people face challenges at disproportionately higher rates than their straight counterparts-drug use, sex work, and financial instability can be an unfortunate result. My privilege as a young cis white man whose parents weren’t going to let me down afforded me the ability to make those mistakes and live to talk about it. (Page 118)
Jonathan goes on to shine light on various topics that unfortunately do not get much mention on everyday baubles; these topics include the epidemic of drug use, particularly Meth in the LGBTQ+ community;
And then I tried meth for the first time. That’s hard for me to write. What I really wanted to do in this book was give it a nickname from Harry Potter, like Voldemort-because meth is that one thing that I never thought I could, or would, do. Where I grew up I had seen those mugshot pictures of people’s faces ruined by the drug. That could never be me. But as it turns out, it could be me, and would be if I didn’t get myself to a place where I could learn to quell the demons eating at me. My life was spiralling before my eyes. I’m writing this now because meth has been and continues to be an epidemic in the gay community that we still don’t talk about. My life and the lives of so many other, has been irrevocably changed by the stigma and shame attached to how gay men use meth, and the silence surrounding it. (Page 172)
While this book might seem like it is all dark and made of lines to “make the gays ask for pity” it is blessed so much with stories about overcoming adversity, come what may. The beauty of people like Jonathan Van Ness is that they don’t take their privilege for granted; instead they choose to help others by sharing their stories, so it won’t be true to form if we say that this book isn’t uplifting. It is also not true or rather an act of taking away what this book really is if being labelled as an LGBTQ+ book because it is so much more than just that. This book is a memoir about families, death of loved ones, how a step father can change your life, overcoming bullying, and of course, an honest tale of a gay boy growing up in a small town and how he chose to tackle the real adult world that follows.
It is important to note here that real life stories of being bullied have many intricate layers to them, and being gay adds to the whole factor of being a bully’s target. Jonathan, with the book targets this topic. However he does not claim to be introspective from a psychological point of view, as that wouldn’t be the wisest thing to do; after all, he’s not a psychologist. There’s always a theme of ‘if you express yourself you become an easy target’ especially when he looks back on his school days, the sad truth is that this rings true to every kid all around the world.
“Because when you have this much personality, there’s a fear lurking just below the surface: if you knew all of me, you wouldn’t love me anymore. You would no longer want me as your new best friend.”
Jonathan knew the possibility of a polarizing reaction from being open when he wrote the lines above but as a reader, it’s fair to say that I want Jonathan to be my new best friend.
Manoa Ralte reads everything from instruction manuals and trashy novels to best sellers and classics. He has happily embraced his dirty thirties, and is trying to consume less carbs, not forget sunscreen, live the clean life and all of that. He is currently based out of Aizawl, Mizoram.
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