Tan France Visits Vanderbilt

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Tan France Visits Vanderbilt

Jacqueline Pittman

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Tan France, witty wardrobe wiz for Netflix’s renowned television series reboot, Queer Eye, spoke in Vanderbilt’s Langford Auditorium as a part of Vanderbilt University Speakers Committee last night. Outside of his star role on an award-winning TV show, France worked as a fashion designer for over fifteen years and opened several companies in his young professional life including Kingdom & State and Rachel Parcell Inc. More recently, he released his own memoir titled Naturally Tan and launched his own web-series, “Dressing Funny.”

France spoke to a sold-out auditorium about his childhood in England and his discovery of fashion, his intersectional identity as a gay, South Asian man, and his views on LGBTQ+ advocacy. Speaking colloquially and even mirthfully about an emotional range of topics, France’s words of wisdom and anecdotes were met with loud cheers and “I love yous” throughout the moderated conversation. France eagerly jumped into conversation by recounting his hesitancy when auditioning for Queer Eye, as he noticed the absence of people who look like him in Western television. In approaching the show France stated, “I really don’t want people to think I speak for all of us. That if Tan says something it means something to a larger community.” As Tan embodied television roles, he insisted on not being depicted as “a doctor or a terrorist or a taxi driver.” While he successfully avoided these stereotypes, an entire new set of expectations was set forward for France—one that “allowed two spaces” but prohibited him from being his true self. France effectively conveyed to the audience these restrictive and harmful stereotype prescriptions and the ways in which he attempts to break these molds by refusing to filter himself in his everyday life. 

“Those marginalized groups never, ever got to the place we’re in now without support from allies, the people who have more opportunity than we have.”

When asked about advocacy roles for those not in the LGBTQ+ community, France praised the audience for “coming to see a gay speak”, noting solemnly that many would not have only twenty years ago. The enthused speaker continued to encourage his straight listeners to act as allies in stating, “Those marginalized groups never, ever got to the place we’re in now without support from allies, the people who have more opportunity than we have.” Tan went on and urged people to work alongside the LGBTQ+ community and openly announced, “when someone says something homophobic or racist, check that bitch.” France gave to the audience what many diversity workshops and Vanderbilt advocacy programs lack—an effective way to stand up to the bully. Rather than stifling frustration or mustering politeness, France told the room full of university students to not be afraid to say, “why do you think it’s okay to speak that way?” and even, “Jesus didn’t hate that way bitch.”

Within his stories of childhood struggles—because of what he calls his “double whammy” of being gay and South Asian in England—France addressed his changing awareness of his identity and how “The Fab Five” have affected him. While his four colleagues are often described in interviews by their skillsets and roles on the show, rather than their religion or their skin color, Tan often found himself as being described as, “Muslim, immigrant, or Pakistani.” Expressing his frustrations, Tan said, “We’re putting so much pressure on this bitch that he can’t possibly succeed.” Despite this, an influx of comments from young boys in Middle Eastern and South Asian countries have come into France’s social media inboxes, thanking him for showing them the possibility of who they might be for the first time in their lives. France humbly told the audience that if that is the only impact he has in his life, he will be very proud.

France’s closing statements at the event encouraged students to surround themselves with positivity and pushed minority students to recharge and take care of themselves outside of the exhausting role of being the “bigger person, the happier person, and the jollier person to make people feel uncomfortable around them.” The infamous creator of the “French tuck” made joy, earnestness, and messages of kindness and equality of beauty salient in his speech, leaving students on a high as they get ready to leave for Thanksgiving break.