Life & Culture

The Male Model Schooling the World on Queer History

Jack Guinness discusses his new website celebrating LGBTQ+ pioneers and the fashion industry’s complex relationship with queer culture

Jack Guinness embarked on a career in modelling after graduating from Cambridge with a degree in English Literature. Signed to Elite London, he’s worked with fashion houses such as Dolce & Gabbanna and Gucci, as well as British brands Barbour and Dunhill. But somewhere between modelling, wearing immaculately tailored suits to parties and posting hilarious Instagram stories (seriously, if you don’t follow him you really should), he has found time to launch Queer Bible, a new website celebrating the pioneers of queer culture.

The idea for the project came to him in 2016, when singer Sam Smith, a good friend, was vilified for mistakenly claiming he was the first gay man to win an Oscar. This backlash prompted Guinness to examine his own knowledge of queer history. “We live in a culture where everyone is so fast to jump on any slip-ups that anyone makes,” he says. “It made me think: ‘how well do I know my history?’” While searching online for queer resources, he identified a gap between Instagram profiles and academic materials. “I really wanted to make a space that reflected how diverse, artistic and beautiful the queer community is,” he explains. “No one was doing it quite how I wanted it, so I did it myself, which I think is a good reason to do anything.”

Yet Guinness’s journey to being an out gay man, in all areas of his life, has been far from easy. Despite being out to his friends and family since he was fifteen, launching Queer Bible was his first public acknowledgement of his sexuality. He is open about this struggle. “As queer people, we have to come out constantly,” he explains. “I came out when I was 15, then again at university. At practically every job I do, I have to choose whether I come out or not. I think that is a universal experience.” In helping him through the “quite traumatising” process of accepting his identity as a gay man, Guinness credits The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs, a book he insists everyone should read. He also found safety in fandoms after losing himself in comics, graphic novels and the work of queer filmmaker Gregg Araki. “They brought me to being 18 when I could get out and be who I wanted to be,” he says. Moving to New York at this age gave him the chance to get involved with the queer scene and build a group of gay friends. “I think that’s something that queer people find they have to do,” he reflects. “No matter how supportive your family are, you also need to form a new family that are like you.”

Guinness’s reluctance to discuss his sexuality publically contradicts the much-propagated narrative of fashion as a gay-friendly industry. While it’s certainly true that there is no shortage of openly gay designers, photographers and stylists behind the lens, the industry’s relationship with visual representations of queerness is far more complex. “I’ve worked with some gay photographers and stylists where you really got the message that they wanted to work with straight guys,” he says. “The fashion industry often fetishises heterosexuality and a very particular type of masculinity.” But despite questioning whether he could be openly gay and still work, he remains positive that things are improving. “I was at the Charles Jeffrey show recently, which was incredible,” he explains. “I was so jealous of the models getting to be crazy and do a show that was such a ‘fuck you’ to stereotypes.” Though there is something undeniably subversive about Guinness, an openly gay man, representing the community on more mainstream platforms. “I want to be more visible in than I’ve been in the past,” he admits. “Because I definitely haven’t been as visible as I’ve wanted to be.”

The fact that, even in 2017, a white gay man in a position of privilege (something Guinness points out frequently) still viewed coming out as a risk may be surprising to some people. But he certainly isn’t alone. “A lot of queer people still have, for their own safety, to be hesitant about how they express themselves,” he explains. “I was speaking to a friend the other day and asked her: ‘do you know what it’s like to have to look around you before you hold your partner’s hand? Or rub their back?’” Yet each act of resistance, from fleeting moments of public affection to coming out publicly, builds on generations of activism and sacrifice. This message is encapsulated in Queer Bible’s tagline: “Know your history. Live your present.”

The site features queer people from all walks of life writing about those they most admire, with colourful illustrations by queer artists. Far from the gay-media stereotype of articles written by white gay men, for white gay men, representing a variety of identities, ethnicities, social classes and disciplines has been prioritised. “This isn’t about me telling other people’s stories before them,” Guinness explains. “It’s creating a space and framework where people from diverse areas of the community can tell their stories in a non-edited way.”

In uncovering these stories, Guinness wants the site to give people hope. “I really want to say to queer people that they should feel incredibly proud,” he explains. “Because we are descended from the most incredible people that have ever walked on this planet.” Though he is careful not to erase the darker elements of queer history, which can make for uncomfortable reading. “I don’t want to pretend that everything was easy,” he says. “There’s been a lot of blood spilt and there’s a huge way to go, but do I want this to be a positive, celebratory space.”

Moving forward, he is encouraged by Labour’s manifesto pledge to teach LGBTQ+ history in schools. But until that day arrives, Guinness is prepared to fill the void, as he views education as a major way of building understanding between communities. “When you put a human face on someone and when you hear their story, it’s really hard to hate or oppress them.” He says, concluding: “We need to learn about all minority groups. Learning each other’s stories and histories is an incredible way to realise how connected we are – we’re more similar than we are different.”