Jonathan Van Ness breaks down in tears defending trans rights on Dax Shepard’s podcast

Jonathan Van Ness, a bearded white person with long hair, stands in a black shiny dress at a Netflix red carpet event.
Jonathan Van Ness Photo: Shutterstock

Jonathan Van Ness’s appearance on the most recent episode of Dax Shepard’s podcast, Armchair Expert, took an unexpected turn, veering into the debate around trans people’s rights. At one point, the Queer Eye star broke down in tears, revealing the mental and emotional toll taken on trans people who must constantly defend themselves in the face of anti-trans misinformation even from ostensible allies.  

During a discussion about media misinformation, Van Ness took issue with Shephard’s assertion that The New York Times is a “left-leaning” newspaper.

“They’re anti-trans,” Van Ness said. “They platform multiple anti-trans people.”

The Times has been widely criticized recently for its reporting on trans issues like gender-affirming care for minors. Earlier this year, both GLAAD and a coalition of hundreds of current and former Times contributors sent two separate letters to the paper, demanding that it improve its coverage of trans issues and hire more trans journalists to cover them. Trans advocates like Chase Strangio have long criticized the Times for quoting anti-trans activists without noting their affiliation with anti-trans organizations and for reinforcing the discredited “social contagion” narrative around trans youth in their coverage.

“To be against trans liberation and queer liberation in the year of our lord and savior 2023 makes you absolutely not progressive and left-leaning,” Van Ness said of the Times.

Van Ness went on to note how platforming misinformation and disinformation about trans people has real consequences for actual trans people, while Shepard defended the right to “question” gender-affirming care for minors and trans people’s participation in sports.

“Some people are very uncomfortable about teenagers transitioning. They’re challenging that. How do we know that the person’s not gonna change their mind?” Shephard asked, repeating an argument often made by those opposed to young people receiving gender-affirming care. “To even question it makes you an enemy. I don’t think that’s the way forward.”

“I feel like I’m talking to my dad,” Van Ness replied.

They went on to pretty exhaustively dismantle many of the arguments for excluding trans people from sports, particularly trans women and girls.

“All I’m saying is, what we know about misinformation and disinformation is when you have an outsized reaction to something there’s a good chance that you’re being exposed to misinformation and disinformation, and a lot of the rhetoric around anti-trans inclusion and the anti-trans backlash does have a lot of misinformation and disinformation in it,” Van Ness said.

The conversation continued for about 20 minutes, with Shephard repeating anti-trans talking points and repeatedly returning to his point that any disagreement on trans issues would get him labeled an “enemy.”  

“I’m not calling you a transphobe,” Van Ness said. “You can not be transphobic and still have thoughts that espouse trans misogyny and espouse transphobic ideologies or beliefs and not be transphobic.”

At one point, Van Ness noted that they came on Shepard’s show intending to talk about their podcast, Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, not debate trans rights. Shepard replied that he hadn’t intended to get into a debate either, expressing his admiration for Van Ness as well.

“I could just, like, cry, because I’m so tired of having to, like, fight for little kids because they just want to be included,” Van Ness said, breaking down into sobs. “I wish that people were as passionate about little kids being able to be included or grow up as they were about fictitious women’s fairness in sports. I have to tell you I am very tired.”

Shephard apologized while acknowledging that the conversation sprang up spontaneously and that Van Ness must be “disappointed” in him.

“I’m not disappointed in you. I’m just, like, emotionally exhausted,” Van Ness replied. “I’m scared of the vitriol that trans people face every day.”

The hosts apologized again and changed the subject. They also included a trigger warning at the top of the episode.

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