How ‘Queer Eye’ Alum Thom Filicia Wants to Save Lives—Plus, Inside Scoop on the Upcoming Reunion
Approaching the Queer Eye 20-year reunion on December 16, the interior designer reflects on his most important relationships: "I would do it 10 times more."
If you remember back to 2003, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was a revolutionary series—for the gay community, certainly, but also for most anyone who knew of the show. In time, Bravo executives would drop the “straight guy” reference from the title as the stars grew into broader pop culture influencers, playing an important role in evolving mass audiences’ tastes toward a more compassionate society.
Ahead of December’s 20-year reunion with the original cast, the show’s original interior designer Thom Filicia recently spoke with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest. The design icon—who’s made recent appearances on RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race—tells us he’s passionate about fostering understanding in another important way: This year marked a decade since Filicia donated bone marrow to his brother who was diagnosed with myelofibrosis (MF), a complex blood cancer that affects nearly 25,000 people in the U.S.
“This is a chronic blood cancer that’s driven by mutations in your blood cells that are acquired during your life that lead to overproduction issues where you make too many blood cells in the bone marrow,” explains Andrew Kuykendall, MD, a blood and cancer doctor, as well as an assistant member at Moffitt Cancer Center who is working on the initiative alongside Filicia. Dr. Kuykendall explains this “leads to inflammation in the bone marrow and scarring that can occur that we call ‘fibrosis.’ And what that can ultimately lead to is an inhospitable environment in the bone marrow to make blood cells normally.”
Filicia partnered with GSK on an initiative called Mapping Myelofibrosis, which features educational information and patient stories from those with MF, to help raise awareness about the blood disorder. Here Filicia opens up about his experience helping his brother, the upcoming Queer Eye reunion, and how the sum of these experiences has changed his life.
The Healthy @Readers Digest: Ten years ago you donated bone marrow to your brother Jules, who was diagnosed with a complex blood cancer. What was that like?
Thom Filicia: My brother’s actually celebrating his 10th anniversary right now, which is amazing and he’s very healthy. But 10 years ago, this was something I’d never heard of before and my brother was going through this process. We were terrified. He was terrified. We were all very afraid of what it was and didn’t really know much about it, and it was very hard to get information or know much about myelofibrosis. So that was very scary, just not having that information.
That really is the reason that I have teamed up with GSK on Mapping Myelofibrosis, because it’s really important that people understand what myelofibrosis is, and also have a place for resources and educational tools and stories and a community where you can connect with doctors and other people that are going through this so you don’t feel alone and you can understand how to navigate through this diagnosis and also helps you chart your path.
The Healthy: How was your brother diagnosed?
Thom Filicia: He was going through some routine checkups and some things came back that were a little bit askew. So that led to another doctor and another sort of test—and then soon thereafter there was this very unexpected diagnosis of myelofibrosis.
It was moving quickly and he needed to be really sort of timely in terms of how he dealt with it. [Jules’ care team] thought the best course of action was a bone marrow transplant.
I was quickly identified as an exact match, which we were thinking wasn’t going to be the case with a family member. We were very lucky that it was, and that we were able to move quickly through that process. It was very scary.
The Healthy: How did you feel when you found out that you were a match?
Thom Filicia: I would say emotionally, I was thrilled that they found an exact match because we were shooting for that, and I was thrilled it was me. I was very happy to be that person.
We were able to move quickly. And emotionally, I wanted to do whatever I could do to help my brother, and I would do the same thing for someone else. My experience with the bone marrow transplant is that it wasn’t very complicated or difficult for me and I would do it again. I would do it 10 more times for 10 people I’ve never met. My fear wasn’t for myself. My fear was for my brother, my fear was for his children, for his wife.
The Healthy: Amazing. What was your relationship like with your brother before this when you guys were growing up, and did this experience change it at all?
Thom Filicia: Well, I feel like when I was growing up, my brothers treated me like a pledge in a fraternity. My entire life we were close, and I think that all three of us would do this for each other. There’s no question about that.
When you’re a little kid, you do the blood brothers thing that you thought was so cool when you were a little boy, and this is the ultimate blood brother because it really is your brother—we have the same DNA. It was a really amazing life experience that was also terrifying at the same time. Today we were talking about the new windows that are going into his house in the Hamptons. It is really amazing to think of what we were talking about 10 years ago and what our concerns were 10 years ago. That’s why I think this initiative is so important.
The Healthy: What does your own health routine look like these days?
Thom Filicia: I’m very active. I’m a skier. I play tennis. I’m a maniac. I work a lot. I run a little bit, go to the gym. I’m on my boat all the time, so I’m constantly moving and active and I think I eat pretty healthy. I probably have one too many cocktails from time to time, but I’m kind of a healthy person I think at the end of the day. I try to listen to my body whenever I can and if something’s unusual, I get it checked out.
The Healthy: What’s a self-care routine that you refuse to skip?
Thom Filicia: Probably under-eye cream. It’s a low-maintenance commitment. I think when a guy does it especially, it feels like this little luxury moment in the morning.
The Healthy: We love that. Tell us about the Queer Eye reunion live event in two weeks.
Thom Filicia: It’s An Evening with the Fab 5, and it’s on December 16th. It was kind of pitched to us and we all thought it’s a really great excuse for us to get together because we see each other in little pieces here and there, two of us here or two of us there. And sometimes we’re all on the phone together, but we do like to catch up. The thought of having a reason for all five of us to be together is always really a fun reboot, even just for us. We kind of all fall back into where we were in our heads 20 years ago and we start picking on Jay and Carson making jokes about him and his fashion.
The Healthy: I love that. It’s wild to think it was 20 years ago you guys premiered, and then the show won an Emmy in the second year. Looking back, how did the series change your life, and what has changed for you over the past 20 years?
Thom Filicia: I was in the design space living in New York City, and had started my own company about two or three years before Queer Eye. I kept that moving forward while I was doing [the show].
How that’s really changed my life, I think first and foremost being a part of the beginning of that sort of reality programming and the first people to ever win recognition for that space was really amazing. Being a part of a group of people that really sort of changed the conversation and opened up doors for people that maybe those doors weren’t open before was a really important thing that I don’t think we realized we were doing at the time.