Karamo Brown ‘Shares All Of His Identity’ With Packed Alumni Hall
There’s no easy way to write about Karamo Brown and capture all of the charisma and wisdom he has to offer. Some of the notes I took during his talk in Alumni Hall seem like such a poor representation of his life, his achievements, and his ideology:
“Good relationship with mother, but father chose religion over relationship with Karamo”
“Impactful and crazy shift from former career as psychotherapist to TV host”
“Crashed Oprah Winfrey Network audition for hosts and got the job two weeks later”
That last one may draw some attention, but not nearly as much as Brown got from doting fans and students Tuesday night. The Queer Eye reboot star opened up about his own journey to self-acceptance with the same compassion that makes Queer Eye guests cry when they speak to him.
Brown spoke about growing up with immigrant parents in Florida, which created struggles for him despite being openly gay since the age of 15.
“I struggled with my identity in a community that didn’t celebrate anyone who was different or special,” he said. “Check the people around you. It’s okay to reevaluate your tribe and see who’s around you and is there serving you to grow into your best self.”
He developed a motto that he still repeats today (and asked audience members to repeat to a neighbor): “I am perfectly designed.” Brown says this acts as a reminder that “every part of who I am is okay…I’m not ashamed of who I am.”
Brown used this mantra when he dropped the phrase “coming out” and started “letting people in”:
“I think that the term ‘coming out’ gives the power to someone else to accept or deny you and the only person that should be accepting or denying you is yourself. You should never be denying yourself; you should always be accepting and love yourself,” he said. “I think it’s completely unfair that we have trained the LGBT community to feel as if they have to make these grand announcements and gestures regarding their sexuality, their gender identity to complete strangers.”
Through a lifetime of change and growth, Brown has maintained the boldness and humor fans have grown to love him for:
“If I did come out of a closet, I want to find this closet because there better be a pot of gold for all the bullshit I’ve been through. I want to go there…get my reparations, and burn that shit down.”
That bold behavior was present at that Oprah Winfrey Network audition for women of color and white men when Brown, who is neither a woman of color nor a white man, arrived without an appointment and a stroke of luck. After sitting in the waiting room for two and half hours each day and bringing the woman running the auditions something to eat, he was allowed in after a cancellation.
Brown attributed some of his success to a refusal to let “no” stand in his way. “Never be afraid of the word ‘no’…either receiving it or giving it.”
When it came to discussing the Emmy-winning Queer Eye and its Fab Five crew of experts, a glowing Brown, who revealed he uses an ice cube a night and sunscreen as his skincare routine, was all smiles.
“You want my skincare routine? [Queer Eye grooming specialist] Jonathan [Van Ness] hates when I tell this shit. He’s like, ‘You’re going to put me out of business, bitch.'”
Brown’s biggest revelation about the show was how he used his skills as a psychotherapist and social worker to connect with the “heroes” featured on the show. Many viewers struggled with “culture” as a broad term for his area of expertise, but Brown said that the newly-released third season and beyond will emphasize his clinical background.
The psychotherapist Karamo Brown and Real World housemate Karamo Brown he was before he was Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown are still parts of who he is, albeit small parts. Recalling his first steps into television again, Brown shared how he presented all of who he was in order to find the next piece.
“Just like that Oprah audition, I have one opportunity…to tell you who I am and share with you all of my identity so you get a true understanding of who I am,” he said. “I brought every single part of my identity. I have one shot, so I’m going to tell you about my career, I’m going to tell you my family background, I’m going to tell you I’m a father, I’m going to tell you every part of me…so that you’re aware of…what I’m about.”
Brown’s identity is made up of so much more than that. He wanted to be a backup dancer for Jennifer Lopez as a child. He (and co-host Tan France) loves fanny packs right now. He is a soon-to-be podcaster with a show in which people can call in and speak to him directly. He believes that the Facebook algorithm has “fucked us all up.” Above all, though, he is firm in his belief that every individual can be on their own path to becoming a better version of themself. That’s why the new Queer Eye gives “make-betters” instead of “make-overs.”
“You don’t have to be on anyone’s timeline but your own timeline,” Brown said in closing. “Part of that ‘perfect design’ is the ability to ask for help. There’s always somebody there that wants to help you and help you get to where you need to be.”
Tonight, I’ll throw out my notes and rub an ice cube all over my face. Thanks, Karamo.
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“To any current underclassmen reading this: learn the fight song, cheer loud, and tailgate early. You’re lucky to be a Nittany Lion.”
“Do you guys like Teen Beach Movie?”
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