Queer Eye's Karamo Brown gets real about celebrating Pride every day, authenticity & loving yourself
He is known to be audacious, funny and frank, whilst making waves on the silver screen on Bravo TV’s Queer Eye reboot alongside Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Jonathan Van Ness, and Tan France; known as the new Fab-Five.
Karamo, being the natural charmer that he is, can quickly build a rapport with all kinds of people and is tasked with changing the mentality and hearts of the people they encounter on the show. He cites his vulnerability as a strength when it comes to helping individuals grow.
His tenure in Hollywood as one of the most well-known personalities has reached a global scale. Following his success on Queer Eye, he has landed acting gigs on shows such as Dear White People, The Thing about Harry, and a guest-starring role on TBS’ Miracle Workers.
His other projects are not just limited to the silver screen, as he entered the podcast realm with his show ‘Karamo’ on Luminary, which deals with life’s thorniest issues. He also launched a new skincare brand for men, called MANTL, as well as being a published author with his books “I Am Perfectly Designed” and his memoir, “Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope”.
As we leave Pride month and still continue to honour one of the most celebrated times of the year, it seems only fitting to have a chat with one of the world’s most renowned members of the LGBTQ+ community; the one and only Karamo Brown.
Who are the three people you look up to, how have they shaped your character, and why?
I am beyond inspired by my mother and my sister. They are both strong women who have shown their kindness, compassion, and strength through the good and the bad times.
I have looked up to them my entire life. They have been there for me always. They have shown me what family is and how to show up.
And the third person I would say that I look up to is myself. The reason I would say this is because I look back at the fact that we have made it through 100% of the challenges that life has thrown at us. In that regard, I like to look and just be thoroughly impressed by the fact that I discover something new about myself almost every day. I live my life knowing that I have not given up on myself by not learning as I grow. This goes for everyone too, don’t give up and pat yourself on the back more often. There’s no ego behind me saying that I look up to myself as an inspiration. It’s something that I acknowledge because I have done a lot to succeed in life.
If you were to go back in time and give yourself a piece of sage advice, what would it be?
Oh, my gosh! That’s a good question. You’re making me think about that; it’s so good.
One of the things that I would try to say to myself now is that comparison is the thief of joy. In saying this, I would take myself back to the age of 15. I’ve talked about this before but not in detail; back then, I was a bit of a kleptomaniac. I would steal because we couldn’t afford anything, and I stole new shirts to wear to school. I did this since I was scared of the notion that people would judge me since I was not as well-off as them.
My best friends know about this, and until this day, I still think about how lucky I was that I didn’t get caught. That whole thing lasted for four months of my life. It stopped because my mother knocked some sense into me, asking me that one question: “What are you doing?”
Now, whenever I think about that time, I wonder how my life could have been different if I got locked up. I could’ve been on a different path, and to this day, I am thankful I didn’t get caught.
I would tell my 15-year-old self, “Nope, no one’s going to be thinking about this outfit you had on in the 11th grade. What’s important is the man that you are today and how kindness always prevails. Stop comparing yourself to others. It will lead to you stealing your joy and, ultimately, the future in store for you. Focus and love yourself.”
Throughout life, what have been the key lessons you’ve learned and still apply today?
I have come to understand that vulnerability is my strength. Being more open about my experiences and sharing everything relieves me of the pressure of needing complete perfection, wherein I tell myself this isn’t enough. Another plus side to this is the fact that I can connect to people more.
Another important lesson I’ve picked up on is that boundaries are my best friend. Yes, it’s ok to set boundaries with people in your life, especially family and friends. It’s never ok to put up with a particular behaviour just because it might be your mom or dad.
The truth of the matter is, even when you’re five years old, you’re human, and you have a say about what is ok with you and what isn’t. We need to encourage this way of thinking more, especially for future generations.
Let me tell you something about this as an example. One of my best friends, Ray, has a little girl. I remember some family members were coming to their house for a visit. I watched as his little girl was crying and saying she didn’t want to hug them since they were strangers to her. Culturally speaking, as first-generation Americans, it’s been ingrained in us that we have to hug our elders. I told my friend, “Stop it. Look at what you’re teaching her. You’re implying that her boundaries aren’t important.”
There are many lessons I’ve learned, and probably one of the most important ones I have picked up is growing at your own pace. Don’t be afraid of it. I try to remind people that it’s ok to falter or fall off the wagon. What matters is picking yourself up the next day. I always tell people that this is part of their journey and what also ties into this is being more patient with yourself. Growing slowly is vital to accomplish what you want.
Let’s talk about your career, from Queer Eye to creating the Luminary podcast. What do you think are the major transitions you’ve made as an out and proud gay man throughout your journey in the industry?
It’s always about being audacious for me! Many people have told me that the things I’m doing now wouldn’t be possible. There are not a lot of images of the LGBTQ+ community who have accomplished so many things. Having the courage to go after my dreams is crucial because others can see that whatever they want to achieve is doable.
When looking at it from the entertainment industry, it’s like having a double-edged sword. This is where people get a lot of their inspiration from. They feel that ‘can do’ attitude.
I still feel that there are a lot of under-represented individuals out there. This is something that should be highlighted. A majority of people: Latin, Asian and Trans, should access their dreams and earn their success.
When it comes to my personal success; I’m proud of myself because I was told I couldn’t achieve any of these things, but at the same time, I also know there’s more work to be done and a lot of people to help out regardless of their background and identity.
Now, we’re going deep with this, the world has experienced an influx of issues that has rattled the very core of human rights, such as the discrimination of Black Americans and the rise of identity politics. How do you think the world will turn out in the next few years due to this?
I mean, I’ve got to say, I think that it's going to be progression, not perfection. You’re a woman, I'm a black gay man. We know that we've been dealing with this stuff. We’ve seen some progression, but we know there's still sexism and BS.
There’s still a lot of racism, homophobia, and prejudice. There's so much. But you know, when we talk about how it will be two to three years from now, I would say that I am optimistic for change since people are collectively awakening to the reality of things.
It won’t be a smooth process getting there, nor would things change overnight.
Let’s take a look at our Senate, for example. The collective of lawmakers now is no different from how it was years ago: all white men. So we need to start thinking collectively about the change we will see.
The Black Lives Matter movement highlighted a lot of layers of racism interlaced in American politics and society. What do you think is the implication behind the movement itself and do you think that this will genuinely help remove centuries of inequality amongst all races?
No, I do not think it's going to help erase the inequalities. But I believe that the Black Lives Matter movement and the Stop Asian Hate movement here have woken people up from the lull of ignorance and helped them understand the experiences of different races that most white Americans don't have to experience and have never had to confront. You know, seeing people die. And during the BLM movement, which is still going on, die in the streets.
Seeing people die during the BLM movement was on repeat on everyone’s social media feeds. No one could run away from it. At this very moment, we’re at the cusp of understanding that there is racism against Asian people, questions like, “who would abuse an 80-year-old Asian woman?” are being asked.
A lot of people didn’t know about this. But if you were to ask me if I knew about it, I would tell you, yes I know. But then again, many people are blind to these atrocious actions. I think this is why these civil rights movements are helping a significant majority get out of the social bubble they are in. Finally, we have people saying this is not ok, and that’s when we see this shift of change.
According to the New York Times, you’ve been called the Talk Therapist with a fashion bomber jacket. How do you think your sense of relatability to others helps highlight relevant issues?
As I have mentioned, my vulnerability has become my strength; my ability to talk about all the things I've been through openly. I think that’s what helps people to feel like I am that person you can talk to.
I’m never going to judge since I've been through it all. I’m not afraid to share that I've made a ton of mistakes, and I’m not scared of those. Because I know each one of those are stepping stones for me to learn, to educate myself, and I'm never going to stop learning.
So it feels good that people feel connected to me because they know that they can talk about anything.
What is your mantra when telling people to be comfortable with their identities and being able to express themselves during a time like this?
It’s about evaluating yourself. I always ask myself what’s stopping me from feeling comfortable with these parts of my identity? Was it something that was said to me growing up by a family member, friend, or strangers on TV?
The first step in this is to start thinking critically about where that fear stems from, the one that stops you from loving yourself authentically.
Growing up in my household, colourism was one of the things I had to go through. My grandmother used to tell me that I shouldn’t go outside because the sun will make my skin darker. I used to listen to her thinking, “ok, I can’t get darker because it would make my grandmother unhappy.”
As I got older, I realized I wasn’t as proud of my skin as I should be. I had similar situations occurring in different parts of my life that I can tell you about. Once, I had teachers mispronouncing my name on so many occasions that they had to give me a nickname, which I refused to accept. Again, you need to evaluate yourself as you move on through life, loving yourself for you.
Lastly, with Pride month here, what does it mean to you, especially in this day and age?
Pride has always meant the same thing to me, which is knowing that the world will challenge you and make you feel like you’re not enough, especially as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
It’s an ongoing battle, fighting against that mentality and telling myself that I am beautiful and perfect the way that I am. That’s the message of pride for me. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a pandemic or not. It’s all about finding the courage in yourself to fight against those narratives and love yourself.
Photography by Nate Jensen
Fashion by Star Burleigh
Interview and words by Cyan Leigh Dacasin
Contributing Writer, Lifestyle - Vingt Sept Magazine