Season 3 of “Queer Eye” and a new season of “Arrested Development” will be on Netflix for March.
Karamo Brown is the “Queer Eye” culture expert, doling out life advice on the hit Netflix series that would make even the coldest person tear up. And now he’s written a whole book on it − with his wild life journey front and center.
In “Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope” (Gallery Books, set to publish Tuesday), Brown chronicles everything from finding out he was a father 10 years after his son was born to his stint on “The Real World: Philadelphia” to landing “Queer Eye” and a lot more in between.
Brown spoke to USA TODAY about his memoir, the LGBTQ+ community, his love for Ariana Grande, his political ambitions and more in a wide-ranging Q&A, below.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What are you most excited about with this memoir coming out? Is it something you always wanted to do?
I think what I’m most excited about with this memoir is the fact that people are gonna elect to learn more about me and see the struggle that I’ve been through to get to this place: a successful happy family, amazing career, life being what I’ve always dreamed it to be. But showing them that it wasn’t always pretty or easy. I wanted to make sure this memoir was a takeaway, not just about my life, but also something that people could tangibly say: “oh, this is the way I could approach the situation.”
You have a route to fatherhood that honestly reads like it could be the plot of a soap opera − like finding out that you have a son years after his conception (in 2006), getting sober and then adopting your son’s half-brother as your own. Can you talk to me a bit about how you look back on that time and what was it like writing through that experience?
It’s funny, you’re the first person to say that’s a soap opera and now that you’re saying it, it totally is. Yeah I guess my life has been a soap opera in a sense. When I was a kid I did love “All My Children.” So maybe somehow I kind of like put it out in the universe that my life could be like a Susan Lucci plot line.
But looking back on it, I’m thankful for every moment of it. Not many people have an opportunity to be parents and not many people have an opportunity to find purpose through parenting. And for me, that was my truth. I was in a very dark place before I became a parent. All the negative narratives I heard as a child were starting to really affect me. I was using drugs. I was depressed. And finding out that information that I had a child that I didn’t know about, (it) caused me to sober up and say, OK, I have to step up not just for myself but for someone else.
There’s a lot of talk about abuse in your book … You wrote about a cycle of abuse going back to your father, who you said used to hit your mother, and was it multiple sisters?
Just one sister. The other two sisters would not discuss it or confirm or deny it.
I’m curious if you’ve talked to your sons about this before and then explained to them that you yourself were abusive in past relationships, and how you explain that to them?
Oh definitely. The history of domestic violence in my family, I knew that the only way that I could stop it from continuing on to another generation is to be open about it, discuss it, so that they could learn the tools on how not to continue that behavior. It’s something I share in my book as well for the audience, for people who read my book on understanding how to help someone who is in a domestic abusive relationship either as the abuser or who’s being abused.
And with my sons, I literally talked to them from day one, in a digestible way, because I think there’s some topics that are too heavy for children, but I think there’s ways that you can talk to them. And one of the ways that I did early on when they were 9, 10, 11 (years old) was to describe when you feel anger, what is the physical reaction that you want to do? Do you want to scream? … Do you want to punch someone? And helping them to identify that when these feelings come: anger sadness, betrayal, that it’s not healthy to want to react physically to them. And I would share with them that that is how I reacted.
As they got older I let them know that reason I shared that with them was because I learned a pattern of abuse from my father and then started abusing a couple of my partners, for which I’ve been apologized to and made amends with and haven’t been an abusive relationship since.
But I think one of the big takeaways that I hope that people also get from that chapter is not only how to help people who are in these situations, but also the fact that domestic violence relationships in LGBTQ relationships are not discussed even though the numbers are higher than in straight relationships. And I think a lot of that goes to the fact that people still don’t know how to handle same-sex relationships – police officers, firemen, nurses, they’re not trained on dealing with same-sex relationships.
You say that you never went to rehab for your cocaine addiction. How did you develop coping skills without a rehab program? I’m wondering if you’ve ever been formally diagnosed as an addict? I know you credit your “addictive personality” in the book.
I never went to rehab, though I wanted to. In my family and in my culture, a lot of times rehab is looked at as something for rich people … When I was going through my addiction, rehab wasn’t an option because who was affording that? And it is an option for many people, I think we just have to switch the way that we’re promoting it to people to let them see that there are services available to them at their income right where they are. And not think of rehab as this big large-scale thing.
Because it was not something that we thought was available in our home, it was more so about rallying around me, family members, it was about church and prayer. And again, I advocate for rehab. I wish I would’ve went through it. Luckily with the support of my family and with my training I was able to (get clean) and because I was able to identify what stressors caused me to feel like I wanted to use. And for me, any time I feel too much pressure I was able to say “oh, me feeling pressure makes me feel like I want to use.”
When (“Queer Eye” was) winning our Emmys, I had a friend come to the hotel room who (offered me cocaine) and I was thinking well “nobody would know, it’s been years, why not, what is that gonna hurt me” and I had to stop myself and say: I’m feeling pressured right now and that’s why I’m even contemplating it, you’re one of those people who has encouraged me to leave my sobriety. I asked that person to leave and immediately rallied people who I know around me. And yes, I’ve never been clinically diagnosed as an addict. I just know that I do have an addictive personality.
The makeover team from “Queer Eye” discuss the massive success of the TV reality show and float the possibility of filming a future season outside the U.S.. (June 8)
You talk about your time on “The Real World” and you write: “Truly, I wish everyone in their twenties could see their behavior recorded and played back to them, because I grew so much from that experience.” Do you think people are getting that chance now because of social media? Or would you maintain that your experience was particularly different?
I believe that the experience that I had on “The Real World” was completely different than the experience that people get on social media right now. On “The Real World” you’re taken out of your comfort zone for a matter of four to five months at that time. All of our actions were edited. A lot of times people on reality television might say “Well, I didn’t do that or say that.” And I’m like, well if it’s coming out of your mouth, you said it. It doesn’t matter if you said it on a Tuesday and they edited it like it came out on a Friday, you still said it. It was your action. I was able to realize that no matter where they edited in the story, it still came out of my mouth. And I got to see people’s reactions to what I did. And when you get to see how people react to what you do, it causes you to … think about the way that you approach people and the way that you treat people and the way that you show empathy and love.
You say that your parents interchanged God as both a man and a woman during your childhood when they were discussing God … how did you feel when Ariana Grande’s “God is a Woman” came out, and did that resonate with you?
First of all, I’m in love with Ariana Grande. Like I’m not gonna lie for about like .1, .2 seconds I tried to hit on her and was like “who’s this new Mariah Carey” and all of a sudden I just got like sucked into the Ariana Grande train and I’m riding it, I’m conducting it.
When I heard that song I was screaming “yes” just like everyone else because it’s a great song. And I think there is something amazing about us changing this narrative that spirituality does not have a sex and can be interchanged when we think about our gods or our deities or whoever. In other cultures they are both male and female, for some reason here it’s all male … I never thought there would be a time that I would compare my Jamaican-Cuban parents to Ariana Grande, but you just found the through-line and I appreciate you for that.
You say that you dreamed about being Oprah but that you couldn’t be her (editor’s note: Brown worked for the Oprah Winfrey Network), that you could only be Karamo. This reminded me of something that Shonda Rhimes has talked about, I believe it was in a Dartmouth graduation speech, about being Toni Morrison. She said: “And I thought I could dream about being Toni Morrison, or I could do.” And I’m curious if you’ve ever met Shonda Rhimes and if you’ve ever talked about dreams in this way at all?
I actually just met Shonda Rhimes at the Vanity Fair Oscar party. She had no idea who I was and I fanboyed out and just said “you’re amazing, and I love you” and she was like “I’m trying to eat my food,” she was super sweet, super kind, but we didn’t really have a deep conversation but I would love to have a conversation with her about dreams. … I’m a big believer as I share in my book that mentorship is so important and being able to pass on information to the next generation, to the person next to you, that’s my passion. That’s what I try to to do in my daily life, that’s what I do on camera is give you the tools you need so that you can achieve the life you want. And I think a lot of times we don’t know how to have the hard conversations with ourselves or the hard conversations with others and if I can be there to … help you to have those conversations then I’m excited about that. But just as I do that for others I need that for myself. And if Shonda Rhimes ever wants to have a chat with me, I will sit her down, take her to dinner, I will babysit the kids, I will do whatever she needs to have a chat with her.
Well now that you both work for Netflix, seems like it could happen sooner rather than later.
I would love that, I would love that. Already I’ve been working with Barack Obama. I was at the Obama Foundation three months ago and then I just did something with My Brother’s Keeper Alliance‘s initiative a week and a half ago and both times I was with President Barack Obama … He’s the person I want to make a guest appearance on “Queer Eye” … don’t think it ever will (happen), but can’t blame a girl for trying. (Rhimes) is next on that list (to work together in some way).
Political ambition is something that you mention, when you were running for city commissioner of Tallahassee (while in college at Florida A&M University, he withdrew). Would you ever want to run for president or what kind of political office would you run for first or ever?
I wouldn’t want to run for president of the United States. I think there are people who are career politicians who have been working very hard who that’s their dream. I love the state of California. That’s where I’m from, that’s where I live, and if I decide to run for office, it would be in a way to represent this state.
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