On Friday, Queer Eye returned with a whole new season of makeovers -- this time, following the Fab Five as they transformed the lives of eight residents in and around Kansas City, Missouri. One of those “heroes,” as the hosts refer to the person at the center of each episode, is 23-year-old Jess Guilbeaux, a self-described “lumberjack lesbian” who was disowned by her adopted parents after being outed at age 16.
On the show, the hosts -- Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk and Jonathan Van Ness -- help break down the barriers Guilbeaux built up around herself after years of struggling with what it meant to be a queer black woman without having much of an understanding or connection to where she came from. Feeling isolated and afraid of being pitied, she even cut herself off from her biological sister. She also reveals that she was forced to drop out of college due to mounting debt, having to support herself.
Slowly but surely that changes as Guilbeaux discovers her black girl magic, wearing a dress for the first time since going to church as a child, hosting a potluck for her friends, visiting an Alvin Ailey dance center to talk to other African American women about race and identity, and spending time with her sister to learn more about her biological family’s deep roots in the area. By the end, she appears lighter, happier and more confident and hopeful about the future as she goes from “rejected to feeling fully accepted.”
Speaking with ET Live’s Lauren Zima, Guilbeaux recalls the emotional journey she went through watching the episode after it debuted on Netflix. “I probably cried just as much as everyone, if not more,” she says. “I didn’t remember looking like that. I didn’t remember sounding so down on myself and saying those things.”
Of course, that transformation is all thanks to the Fab Five, who Guilbeaux calls her “five dads.” “They have been so supportive and a constant part of my life since filming,” she says, perhaps helping her adjust to all the attention she’s now getting.
“It’s so surreal because I’m just me and I still feel the same but everyone knows exactly who I am,” she says, revealing that she’s still single despite a few overtures from fans on social media.
And speaking of social media, her episode even caught the attention of Janelle Monae, who Guilbeaux says is one of her icons on the show. “You are my hero,” the singer tweeted on Monday.
A friend hit me & told me to watch ep. 5 on @QueerEye 😭😭😭 This entire season is special . Please watch . Also @jesslayica you are my personal hero
“I cried for 30 minutes straight, literally,” Guilbeaux says of learning about Monae’s reaction, adding: “I can’t believe she knew I existed and was touched by me.”
Sadly, she is still estranged from her adopted parents. “It’s the same and that is OK with me,” Guilbeaux says. However, she has tons of new fans who want the best for her future.
Over the weekend, a GoFundMe campaign was launched to send Guilbeaux back to college, with supporters contributing over $10,000 so far. “I’m so overwhelmed with emotion and I thank everyone who has contributed,” she says, adding: “I’m so ready to go back to school.”
Summing up her entire experience, she says Queer Eye was life-changing. “I think about my experience with them every day. It goes into every single facet of my life now. Everything I learned from them -- it’s the energy that I put into every action that I do,” Guilbeaux says.