Jonathan Van Ness appeared on Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert podcast.
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Jonathan Van Ness Cries While Defending Trans Kids’ Rights On Dax Shepard's Podcast

“I’m so tired of having to fight for little kids because they just want to be included.”

by Kaitlin Kimont

Jonathan Van Ness is “tired” of having to fight for transgender kids who just want express themselves and feel included. During an interview on Monday’s episode of Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, the Queer Eye star broke down in tears during an unexpected, unplanned debate with the host about anti-trans rhetoric in media and politics, leading Van Ness to defend the rights of trans children.

The conversation between Shepard and Van Ness, who appeared on Armchair Expert to promote new spin-offs of their own podcast, Getting Curious, got off to a cheerful start with lighthearted banter about topics like washing Jane Fonda’s hair, Van Ness’ family, and Illinois geography. They then began discussing politics and whether The New York Times should be considered a left-leaning publication. Shepard said “it absolutely is,” while Van Ness argued it’s “anti-trans” after “platforming multiple anti-trans people,” referring to recent opinion pieces that have prompted the Human Rights Campaign to condemn the publication’s coverage on the transgender community, including a controversial op-ed by titled “In Defense of J.K. Rowling.”

Shepard argued there’s “a huge spectrum” of issues facing the community and The Times shouldn’t be considered “no longer left-leaning” because of its coverage on some of them. “How you do anything is how you do everything,” Van Ness replied.

“Some people are very uncomfortable about teenagers transitioning,” Shepard said. “How do we know that the person’s not gonna change their mind? Then there’s another counterargument. If they kill themselves, then that’s really f*cking permanent… 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, adding that “there are so many things to unpack here,” including attacks against transgender athletes and the many factors beyond biology that impact fairness in sports.

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

Jonathan Van Ness at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards in 2022. Michael Buckner/Variety/Getty Images

Shepard continued to push back about whether it’s safe or fair for transgender athletes to compete against cis-women, prompting Van Ness to cite data and facts about transgender athletes in elite level sports like the Olympics and the many hurdles they have to go through to be included. “Conservatives do need a boogyman right now, they need a scapegoat,” they said.

“I definitely think a lot of people who are anti-trans are using this as a trojan horse ... If you and I can’t have a conversation about it...” Shepard responded, to which Van Ness replied, “Well, we are. But we have to be careful. I’m a nonbinary f*cking trans person. When I talk to my dad or people who say similar things, it’s hard to be cool through that.”

“I’m not calling you a transphobe. You can not be transphobic and still have thoughts that espouse trans misogyny and espouse transphobic ideologies or beliefs and not be transphobic,” Van Ness said, adding that they have to be aware of and challenge biases of white privilege.

“I was really bullied for my gender expression as a little kid and there’s a lot of little kids who aren’t going to be Olympic gold medalists,” Van Ness shared, before adding that they just “wanted to come and chat about my podcast.”

“I did not intend at all to get into a debate with you about this,” Shepard said. “I didn’t want that at all. I adore you. I think you’re hysterical and talented and I love that you’re an activist.”

“I could just cry because I’m so tired of having to fight for little kids because they just want to be included,” Van Ness said through tears. “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.”

Shepard apologized multiple times and said he did not want or plan to “challenge” Van Ness on their position on trans rights. “I’m sure you’re disappointed in me,” Shepard said.

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

Specifically about excluding trans children from sports, Van Ness said the “punishment is so far outweighing the reality.” Indeed, across the country, laws have been passed or introduced to ban trans children from playing sports in school. Laws that directly harm trans youth, while the benefits of sports for kids are plentiful.

“Because we’re scared of people in the Olympics,” Van Ness added, “now kids — marginal, terrible athletes — who just want to learn about communication and team-building and how to work together, they don’t get that opportunity.”