A Month After "Queer Eye" Debut, IT Specialist Taking it All in Stride

Thursday, April 18, 2019
Thomas Diggs

Before March 15, Rockhurst University IT Support Specialist Thomas Diggs said, he stuck to a routine, grabbing the bus to work in Rockhurst’s Computer Services office, crossing the street to take computer science courses at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, then heading home for an evening of dinner (starring tater tots) and online gaming. He rarely went out. Something held him back.

That’s had to change out of necessity since Netflix debuted the third season of Queer Eye, and its seventh episode, which features a “Fab Five” transformation of Thomas.

Since the debut, Diggs said the number of users following his social media accounts exploded, Kansas City’s popular mayor is calling him for a photo, and he's being recognized by students seconds after stepping out of Arrupe Hall.

“Oh my God! You’re on Queer Eye!” a student shouted after coming down the bell tower stairs on a recent afternoon. Diggs would later pose for with a group for a selfie.

Has it been like going from zero to 60?

“More like 70,” he said.

It’s a lot for the 21-year-old recovering “cave dweller” — something he said he was nervous about at different times during the months between filming and the premiere. After all, he said, he didn’t even expect to be in this position. It was his older sister, Krissy, who first suggested he be on the show, and prepared his nomination. She did (eventually) talk him into submitting the application, partly because Diggs said he didn’t think he would be considered. Then came the notification that he was among the finalists for the show’s third season.

“I had to keep asking myself ‘when are you going to have this opportunity again?’” he said. “And that really helped.”

Diggs said he knew nothing for sure until he hopped onto his usual RideKC Bus to find an impromptu Fab Five birthday party — confetti and cake included.

“That was probably the most surreal aspect of it all,” he said. “They told me I was just recording b-roll. I’m not one to be really expressive when things are happening on the moment, but inside, I was nervous, scared, but also excited.”

The five days that followed over that summer were a whirlwind as he was plucked from his normal life. Each day was a part of transforming Diggs from head to toe, mind, body and soul. The different hosts helped Thomas break out of his computer-games-and-tater-tots routine by improving his wardrobe, his skills in the kitchen, his grooming, his living space, and, perhaps most importantly, helping him bolster his social skills.

It was the last part of the regimen that Diggs said was both the most challenging and the most rewarding. In one pivotal scene in the episode, Diggs faces his fear of heights while climbing a rock wall at a local gym with the show’s culture expert, Karamo Brown, then tackles the emotional root of his shyness — the loss of his mother at a young age. In another, he’s introduced via patio cocktail party to a group of people who share many of his interests — anime, Japanese culture, and video games.

One thing that might surprise people, Diggs, said — especially since the term “reality TV” might for many ironically conjure scripted interactions — is that filming Queer Eye was a surprisingly candid and genuine process. The conversations were in-the-moment, and the Fab Five members were diligent in making sure that each part of his transformation was given the time it needed.

But they also made clear that it was just the beginning.

“What they told me behind the cameras is that this is just the foundation,” Diggs said. “From here you do whatever you can, but really just take it to heart and do what you can to better yourself.”

So he does — Diggs said he makes it a point to get out of the house at least once a week for something other than work or school. Though now that the episode has aired, Diggs said people introduce themselves to him (see the aforementioned selfie). Some of improving is about what he does physically during these interactions — say hello, make eye contact. But Diggs said he’s also trying to change the way he thinks.

“The guys told me that any time that excitement lights up the same part of the brain as being nervous,” he said. “So just change your mindset. Every day is a step toward a better you.”