The Queer Bible’s Jack Guinness celebrates the queer trailblazers who paved the way
The Shoreditch House member, writer and model discusses his latest book, growing up queer, and working with Sir Elton John
By Samuel Muston
Jack Guinness is a man who likes to move at speed. His pre-pandemic life was lived at an almost dizzying velocity – roaring from fashion show to magazine dinner to DJ gigs and parties. Born in 1982 in London’s Lambeth, he comes from a long line of Church of England vicars. Holy orders were not for him, however, and instead he chose the world of high fashion. As a model, he’s featured in campaigns for brands such as Dunhill and Dolce & Gabbana, and counts Alexa Chung and Nick Grimshaw among his closest friends.
After the fashion world went into stasis during lockdown, Guinness set about turning his website, queerbible.com, into a book of printed essays. The Queer Bible (published by Harper Collins) is out today and is, in the words of its creator, ‘a love letter to the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies’. From Mykki Blanco to Sir Elton John, a range of activists and artists have contributed essays on some of the most important and interesting figures in queer history. Ahead of the book’s launch, we caught up with Guinness.
RuPaul by Adam Johannesson, 2021
Queer Eye by John Booth, 2021
Why did you create The Queer Bible?
‘I created it selfishly, in a way. I realised there was a gap in my knowledge about queer history and culture. I looked online for resources, but they were all quite academic. Or they looked like they were made with clip art and Microsoft Word in about 1996. I wanted to create something that showed the beauty, complexity and fabulousness of the global queer community. So that’s why I set up The Queer Bible.’
Why do you think it’s essential to learn about the lives of queer people in the past?
‘As soon as people realise they are LGBTQIA+, they can instantly feel separated from the very people they’re supposed to feel closest to: their families and their peers. For a lot of people that can lead to a dark path of shame, trying to find out who they are, and doing so maybe not in the safest environments.
‘To create a sense of belonging and a deep, strong sense of identity, you need to connect to your history. The whole point of The Queer Bible is that I want LGBTQIA+ people to realise not only that they’ll survive, but they’ll also thrive – and to know that they follow in the footsteps of incredible human beings. The Queer Bible is really about bringing those stories out into the light so they can be celebrated.’
James Baldwin by Jannelly, 2021
‘The whole point of The Queer Bible is that I want LGBTQ+ people to realise not only that they’ll survive, but they’ll also thrive’
Did you feel this sense of separateness in your own life growing up?
‘I definitely got badly bullied and felt really separate from my peers. I also had a very isolated, depressed emo 1990s stage, watching independent films alone, and all that miserable stuff. But now I appreciate that the things that made me different are the things I most enjoy about myself, which is really ironic.’
You have been a successful model for a long time. During your career, were you ever told to tone down your queerness?
‘When I started modelling, I was very much selling a narrow type of performative masculinity. The brands I was working with were established tailoring companies and that sort of thing. I was doing outdoorsy stuff, for instance. So, I definitely got pressurised and categorically told by my agencies, don’t talk about being gay, don’t let the client know that you’re gay. I think of it now as doing a performative drag, but the other way round: dressing up as a straight man. It created a lot of shame in me and I felt I was not being brave. But that changed as I got older and I’m happy that I can now just be me.’
You’ve got a number of big names who have written essays for the book – which is your favourite?
‘That’s like asking me to choose between my queer children! It’s really tough. I mean, they’re different; they all do different things. Elton John was just so exciting to have in there. I’ve met him and David Furnish a few times over the years. I’d asked them to be in a book, but it never quite worked with their scheduling. Because of lockdown, they had a tiny little window where they realised they were going to have the time to write the essay. When I got the call saying they were going to do it, I just burst into tears. But there are so many other great pieces, too. I love Munroe Bergdorf’s piece, for instance, which is about the power of names and community.’
The Queer Bible can be purchased here.