The New ‘Queer Eye’ Is A Delightful Antidote To Toxic Masculinity
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When Netflix premiered their anticipated reboot of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy earlier this month, we finally got to see what updates had been made to the show’s premise to make it relevant in 2018, aside from just dropping the second half of the title.
Instead of just coming in to some slobby, straight guy’s horrifying apartment and giving him a button-up shirt and a feature wall, essentially just to better increase their chances at dating, the new Queer Eye guys found unhappy, unfulfilled and lonely men, and tried to fundamentally improve their lives.
It’s not only heartwarming and gorgeous television — it’s also a great example of how men can care for their own communities and shape them towards being more progressive.
Vulnerability And Guacamole
The original Queer Eye For The Straight Guy looked at straight men and the way they live and deemed it gross, giving them a superficial makeover and teaching them to not spit tobacco all over the floor.
Straight men haven’t magically become less disgusting in the fifteen years since Queer Eye was last on. However, the new show rightly recognises all this schlubby behaviour as often being a symptom of darker and more serious causes.
In the first episode of the reboot, the new Fab Five track down a man named Tom who is mostly just lonely and sad, stuck in a kind of depressive rut. He thinks he’s ugly, and he lives a life of modern existential dread where he literally eats the same thing every night and mostly just watches TV and chain smokes. He has a gross chair which he has sat in so much it’s become disgusting.
All the tricks and tips that the boys give to him (skincare routines, new decor, several clothing options) pale in comparison to the biggest service they provide: a break in his loneliness and a reminder that he matters. The most significant gift that Queer Eye men give other men is the chance to be vulnerable. He almost literally blossoms under their attention.
Toxic masculinity — which can manifest as extreme self-reliance, suppression of emotions and social dominance — is a very real and dangerous problem, and has been blamed by some for high numbers of depression and suicide in men. While Queer Eye is a brightly coloured confection package of a delivery system, it doesn’t reduce the importance of the work they help to tackle.
The burden of dealing with men’s issues with vulnerability has traditionally fallen on women, usually spouses or partners. It’s inspirational and necessary that men — even fabulous TV men — are starting to look out for their own gender.
What About The Ladies?
But the Queer Eye reboot isn’t without its problems. Women are a glaring absence from the show, and we should absolutely be critical of any TV show that doesn’t feature any women in its cast in 2018. We also absolutely need to be careful about queer portrayals being limited to affluent male homosexuals, and without female, non-binary and trans representation.
But, perhaps, we can consider Queer Eye as a show about men ministering inside their own community?
2018 has been dominated by big, women-led movements — like #MeToo and the women’s marches — all of which are calling on men to take responsibility for stopping their monstrous behaviour. As well as holding individual men accountable for their actions, these movements are about shattering open the boys clubs and patriarchal systems which protect such men amongst clouds of secrecy and enablement.
Men, especially men who see themselves as allies, are often confused as to what their role is in such movements — how do you help without taking up women’s spaces? The answer to that has usually been that men need to police and monitor their own communities. They need to call out bad behaviour when they see it so that women don’t have to do the emotional labour for them. Simply put, men need to stop enabling other bad men.
While this isn’t something that Queer Eye has dealt with specifically (yet, at least), it’s a beautifully benign step in the right direction.
Acceptance And Queerness
In the intro to Queer Eye, the Fab Five claim that this time around they’re “aiming for acceptance, not just tolerance.” In a way, having five unapologetically queer men roaming around America’s south is radical enough, but they’re also using the entire situation as a teaching experience.
In the heart-wrenching fourth episode, a gay man named A.J. is coached into coming out to his family. More importantly, the Fab Five walk him through his own internalised homophobia, which exhibited itself as a fear of “gay” clothing and stereotypically homosexual behaviour. “There’s no right way or wrong way to be gay,” Tan tells him, which is in itself a departure from the very homogenised depiction of gayness of the original series.
In the first episode, there’s a moment where Tom asks which one “is the woman” in Bobby’s gay marriage, and the boys walk him through what’s offensive about that idea. So much of today’s culture is (often deservedly) centred around call-out culture and tear downs. But instead of chastising Tom, he’s guided through and taught new ideas.
I’m not arguing that Queer Eye is going to solve all the world’s ills — it is, after all, a highly curated reality TV show experience. But it is still a wonderful and extremely positive first step in trying to untangle some extremely knotty issues.
In the extremely thorny third episode, Culture guy and African-American man Karamo Brown has a long and tense conversation with the man they are making over, who is also a Trump-voting cop. It was a rare experience to watch them take the time to openly work through some extremely charged issues of racism. It might not have solved anything, but the two definitely forged a connection.
“I’m not saying a conversation with one police officer and one gay guy will solve the problems” says Karamo. “But maybe it can open up eyes.”
Queer Eye is out now on Netflix.
Patrick Lenton is a staff writer at Junkee, writer and author. He tweets @patricklenton.