Lawrence woman has life-altering experience on Netflix series ‘Queer Eye’

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Jess Guilbeaux stands outside Lawrence's Mad Greek restaurant, 907 Massachusetts St., where she is a server, on March 18, 2019. Guilbeaux received a total makeover on an episode of the newest season of the Netflix series “Queer Eye."

After a total makeover on the newest season of the Netflix series “Queer Eye,” Jess Guilbeaux continues to wait tables at Lawrence’s Mad Greek restaurant, but with a fresh mindset.

Guilbeaux spoke to the Journal-World about her new-found confidence in between serving customers Monday afternoon at the downtown eatery at 907 Massachusetts St.

Season 3 of the show is based in Kansas City and features five men — Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk and Jonathan Van Ness — who each episode help different people to outwardly and inwardly improve their lives.

People who might benefit from such a makeover are nominated for the show. Guilbeaux, 23, was nominated by a high school friend.

While the show aired March 15, Guilbeaux’s confidence has been building since August, when her episode was filmed in Lawrence and Kansas City.

She took a week off work to do the filming. The five men created a wardrobe, changed her hairstyle and spruced up her home, but most importantly they helped her come to terms with emotional issues she has dealt with all of her life.

Guilbeaux has been on her own since she was 16 after her adoptive family threw her out of the house when she tried to tell them she was gay.

“I can’t blame them,” she said. “That’s how they were raised. All I can do is be powerful, strong and live my life.”

However, a family connection is what she had been missing for so long. The cast worked with her to realize she could in many ways choose her own family.

Her mantra became “I am a strong black lesbian woman.”

After her parents kicked her out, she was able to live with friends and get through high school. She then began putting herself through the University of Kansas, majoring in computer engineering. But when the student debt got to be too much, she dropped out.

She had been walking through life feeling rejected. The cast of “Queer Eye” helped her connect with her biological sister and even took her to a genealogy center, where she traced her roots back to pre-Civil War days. All of this helped her feel connected and rooted.

“I had been through so much,” she said. “I didn’t have time for self-work.”

On the show, she learned that she needed to do more than just survive.

“They taught me how to thrive,” she said.

Guilbeaux poured her heart out on what became a very emotional episode as she was brutally honest about her life. She admits she was anxious about how people would respond to the episode.

“I am a queer black woman,” she said. “I wanted that story heard.”

Since Friday, she says, the response has been overwhelming. Strangers have been reaching out, recognizing her in the restaurant, contacting her on social media.

Plus, someone has started a GoFundMe page “Send Jess Back to College!” As of Thursday afternoon, more than $38,000 has been donated to send her back to KU to complete her degree.

At the Mad Greek, owners Theo and Deb Tagtalianidis hosted a watch party for Guilbeaux and about 30 friends on Friday night.

“She’s one of ours,” said Deb Tagtalianidis, who sees a much more confident woman since Guilbeaux taped the show last summer.

For Guilbeaux, the experience has been unforgettable in more ways than one.

“It was the best time of my life,” she said.


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