The Queer Eye star, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, was a guest on Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast on Monday (25 September).
During the interview, Van Ness, 36, took issue with comedian Shepard branding The New York Times a “left-leaning” newspaper because, they claimed, it is “anti-trans”.
In response, Shepard, 48, argued that the NYT covered a range of subjects and opinions. He then raised the subject of trans athletes competing in the Olympics, as well as young trans people who transition while they are teenagers.
Shepard argued that being “critical” or “questioning” trans rights made the person into an “enemy”.
Van Ness, who rose to fame on Netflix’s makeover show Queer Eye and now hosts their own podcast, Getting Curious, joked: “I feel like I’m talking to my dad,” before the pair discussed trans athletes playing sport.
Following an impassioned 20-minute discussion, Van Ness said to Shepard: “I’m not calling you a transphobe. You can not be transphobic and still have thoughts that espouse trans misogyny and espouse transphobic ideologies and beliefs.”
Shepard said that he “did not intend” to start a debate or upset Van Ness, adding: “I adore you. I think that you’re hysterical and talented and I love that you’re an activist.”
In response, the TV personality began to cry. “I could just cry because I’m so tired of having to fight for little kids because they just want to be included.”
Van Ness said that they were wary of “casual questioning” of trans rights due to its impact on “healthcare” or “gender-based violence”.
“It’s a really difficult time right now,” they explained, adding that this was why the conversation had been so “trigger city”.
Shepard apologised again, saying: “Sincerely, I did not want you to come in here and then challenge your position on any of these things.”
Van Ness, who owns haircare line JVN, responded and explained: “I’m not disappointed in you, I’m just emotionally exhausted.”
Shepard and Van Ness called the current coverage a “moral panic”, with Van Ness growing emotional again as they explained that they “still struggled with my gender expression”.
“I don’t know that I don’t live like this because I’m scared of the vitriol that trans people face every day. People are like, ‘You’re so authentic,’ ‘You’re so brave.’ I’m not. I am and I’m not.”