Queer Eye star Bobby Berk opens up about difficult past: ‘For so long I didn’t have a home’

Bobby Berk

Queer Eye star Bobby Berk has opened up about being homeless in his early life – and why it’s taught him the importance of having a safe space.

When watching the perpetually cheery Queer Eye, which sees Berk transform the lives of a struggling “hero” in each episode, alongside co-hosts Antoni Porowski, Karamo Brown, Jonathan van Ness and Tan France, it’s easy to forget that the Fab Five have been through many of their own trials and tribulations.

Van Ness recently opened up about his experiences of substance and sexual abuse at the hands of church members, while France has previously spoken about being “beaten and left for dead” in a racist attack when he was just five years old.

Over the course of seven seasons of the Netflix reboot of the show, the quintet have given their time and expertise to more than 50 people struggling to thrive – and that includes ensuring their clients has a safe space in which to live.

Now Berk, who is often found redesigning entire houses on the show while Porowski and France chop an avocado and master a French tuck on a t-shirt respectively, has revealed his own troubles to the Huffington Post – including how he learnt from personal experience about the power of a safe space.

“Being a queer youth at one time in my life, I understand the importance of having that safe space that feels like home because for so long I didn’t have a home,” Berk admitted.

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“I’ve been homeless, I’ve lived in my car, I’ve couch-surfed from house to house for a long time. It was very important to me to give our queer heroes a space that they felt really safe and secure in.”

Berk, who had a deeply religious upbringing and left home at the age of 15, has previously spoken about the homophobia he faced as a young child at the hands of his adoptive parents.

When the lifestyle makeover show was given a reboot by Netflix in 2018, the premise followed the same rules as the original, 2003 series – with the slightly longer title of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy – in which five advisors spent a week applying their expertise to a straight man to improve his life.

As the new show progressed, “heroes” of different backgrounds were introduced, with the second season featuring the first trans man, and first woman. In his interview with the Huffington Post, Berk also opened up about connecting with these heroes on a different level than the team’s cisgender, heterosexual clients.

“With our queer heroes like SkylerAngel and AJ, who have kind of been through what I’ve been through – the rejection in a place you thought was your home… then all of a sudden, literally in a day, it’s no longer that space, they didn’t know a lot about themselves, and they sometimes shy away from life, and we give them permission to not know and figure out by looking at the things you love,” he said.

Berk also took time to praise the original show for transforming his outlook as a young, queer teen.

“There was no real queer representation on TV, and up until that time I had been told over and over by family and co-workers that I was never going to be successful, I was never going to be accepted in the real world outside of the queer community, I was never going to find happiness.

“So, for me to see the original Fab Five as these strong, successful, out and proud gay men who loved each other, who were adored by the world, [who] were in healthy relationships – it really changed my life, the way I thought about myself.”

As well as being among some of TV’s most notable queer talent today, the current presenters are now widely considered positive influences for queer youth.

“I really feel that our franchise is able to do this new take for a whole other generation because between 2003 and now, there has been a lot more queer representation on television,” Berk said, before adding that the “visibility” of the original line-up – which included Drag Race‘s Carson Kressley – was “very different.”

He added: “It was fine, because they were decorators, they were fashion people and they were hair stylists and cooks. The world could wrap their head around these stereotypical ideas of what gay people are.

“But if they had tried to talk about their spouses or the things that they went through, the world would not have been able to accept that.

“They handed the torch to us and we’re now able to really talk about real-life issues and situations that, again, I think aren’t just helping other queers, but really helping create a new whole generation of allies.”

Season seven of Queer Eye is available to stream on Netflix now.