Tan France says he puts himself in 'a line of fire' as a queer Muslim so his 'children will understand that they get to be whoever they want to be'

·5 min read
Tan France opens up about parenting and marking his first Father's Day as a dad. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Tan France opens up about parenting and marking his first Father's Day as a dad. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child rearing.

Names are significant to Tan France. The British-born TV star knew from a young age that wanted to one day name his firstborn son Ismail — so much so that, years later, he ran it by future husband Rob France on what was only their second date. Fittingly, the name is an Abrahamic one — prevalent in Christianity, Judaism and his own Islamic faith, all of which believe in Abraham — and Rob, who was raised Mormon, was on board.

"I said, 'OK, if we have our children, that's what I would like my son to be called,'" France tells Yahoo Life's So Mini Ways. "And he was like, 'I love that very much.'"

As it happens, the couple did indeed welcome a baby boy named Ismail last July, which means this Father's Day will be the first time they'll be celebrating as dads. (For the record, though 10-month-old Ismail is not yet talking himself, Rob is known as 'Dad" or "Daddy," while Tan is addressed as "Abbu," the word for "father" in Urdu, the language he exclusively speaks to his child in a nod to his own Pakistani heritage.)

Though France says he and Rob don't tend to shower each other with gifts — "it feels strange for us; we're not a romantic couple" — they're making a rare exception for their inaugural Father's Day as a way to celebrate the milestone. The catch is that the gifts should be something Ismail would buy for his fathers if he were older.

The Queer Eye star admits he's "made it easy" for his husband to pick something special out, given that he's curated already a Father's Day gift guide for Amazon Launchpad ahead of the holiday, which this year falls on June 19. France's picks — chosen to support small businesses — run the gamut from pizza ovens and massage guns to a chic, dad-friendly backpack for diapers and other baby essentials. His personal favorite (hint, hint, Rob) is a pair of Pegasi II smart light therapy glasses designed to improve sleep, something that appeals to him as a frequent long-haul flier and a sleep-starved parent.

"When you have a baby, you're always panicked that something's going to go wrong in the middle of the night, and I've struggled to switch that off [now that Ismail is older]," he says. "It's been 10 months and I still can't switch that off. And so this helps me sleep deeper, so I actually feel like I had some sleep."

Being a dad hasn't just taken a toll on France's sleep; it's also made him a "much more emotional person." On the last Queer Eye season shot in Austin, his co-hosts were amazed to see the normal stoic stylist tear up while working with teens who had weathered a rocky high school experience during the pandemic.

"The reason why I cried during that was because we were about to have our baby," he explains. "We ended up having our baby two weeks after that episode. And so I already felt like a father, even though my son hadn't been born yet. It was a very weird time for me. I've never felt those kinds of emotions before.

"I'm not a very emotional person, especially compared to my Queer Eye counterparts," he adds with a laugh. "My co-hosts are very American, which means that they love to really embrace every emotion, whereas that's not me."

At least, it wasn't him. Since welcoming his son, his emotions have become "more and more intense." His new M.O. is less British stiff upper lip, more heart on his sleeve.

"I'm definitely a much more emotional person," he admits. "I cry actually often now, which is a very strange feeling. ... [While filming his new show] I've cried probably a couple of times a week. If you had known me before — like a year and a half, before we actually got pregnant — you would know that maybe I'd cried once every two or three years. So this is very odd for me."

Like any dad, France is working through the day-to-day challenges of sleep regressions, fussy eating and needing to baby-proof his home due to Ismail's sudden mastery of crawling. On a broader scale, he's also thinking about the responsibilities of parenting a child during such a divisive time.

"Having a baby makes you a lot more aware of the state of the world, and the way you want to leave the world when you pass and you leave your children," he says. France, whose 2019 memoir detailed the bigotry he faced growing up as a gay Muslim kid in England, points to his recent documentary on colorism and skin bleaching, BBC's Tan France: Beauty and the Bleach.

"The reason why I did that was for my son, for him to know that I've done all I can to try and educate people on what this looks like and how you can combat it," he says. "[It's] the reason why I decided to put myself in this position where I'm judged so often — and quite shockingly — every day, after all these years on Queer Eye.

"It's not an easy job," he adds. "I put myself in a very vulnerable position. I'm still one of the only [openly] queer Muslims in entertainment ... and so I put myself in a line of fire. And I do that so my son will understand, and my future children will understand, that they get to be whoever they want to be, and they should be incredibly proud of that. And if we don't have someone like me in entertainment, who does say it's OK to be yourself, what state will they be in if they are not — air quotes — 'straight white people?' What will that look like for them? I want them to understand that their father did all he could to try and make the world a somewhat more accepting place."

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