I’m So Glad We’re Living In A World Where Children Grow Up Watching ‘Queer Eye’

"One of the things I like about Queer Eye is it gives Seattle a number of ways to think about masculinity. He's on the cusp of adolescence and modelling is important. I like that model of masculinity for my kid."

Queer Eye Season 4

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“One of the things I like about Queer Eye is it gives Seattle a number of ways to think about masculinity. He’s on the cusp of adolescence and modelling is important. I like that model of masculinity for my kid.”

A lot of the discussion these days about Queer Eye revolves around whether or not they “get it right” — should Karamo have taken someone to meet the person who shot them for a TV narrative? Did they do their best at showcasing trans representation? What about their often noticeable blindness towards class and privilege?

These are all obviously important discussions to have — but considering the almost over-saturation of Queer Eye stories to choose from (we’re up to season 4, and it only came out last year…) it’s sometimes easy to forget that the show is revolutionary and important television for those that really need it.

Since the first season, Queer Eye has made a huge point of trying to reach outside “the bubble” — taking a bunch of inner-city queers out of New York or LA, and flamboyantly inserting themselves into the lives of people who mightn’t always deal with people like them.

It’s not an easy conversation —  episodes like Karamo chatting to a Trump-voting cop can be skin-crawlingly uncomfortable, and they don’t always land. I’ve personally had problems with some episodes, while finding others heartbreakingly necessary.

When they do land, they’re beautiful.

But you can’t deny that their core value of bringing queer representation to mainstream America — and mainstream Netflix — is important and also wildly successful.

But it wasn’t until I was chatting about this topic with some of my friends, who happen to be millennial parents of small children, that I realised the truly revolutionary consequences of Queer Eye will be manifested in the next generation.

And it’s fucking amazing.

Isn’t This An Adult Show Though?

I quickly discovered that the majority of parents I’m friends with watch Queer Eye with their children.

Ranging from around the age of seven, all the way up to teenagers, it’s apparently an extremely family-friendly show. That shook me a little, but mostly because I find children to be unexplainable aliens, with irrational desires and needs, and a vastly fluctuating size and scale.

“He doesn’t adhere to any gender constructs, and that was really fascinating for her, because she’s got quite a short haircut, and she’s now going through this process of people’s changes often mistaking her for a boy.”

I asked all the parents I was talking to whether or not any awkward or uncomfortable conversations came up from watching Queer Eye with their kids.

“Not really. The only thing is, we haven’t had the sex talk yet, because there are quite a few sex references. I just wait for questions, but there hasn’t been any yet, so either this is going over their head, or they don’t want to know. I don’t know. Nothing’s ever made me feel uncomfortable, if that’s what you mean. Like I haven’t felt like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if they’re ready for that yet,” said my friend Laura.

Another mother, who decided to remain anonymous, told me that Queer Eye managed to bring about this particular question from her child:

“Mum, when lesbians have sex, do their vaginas kiss?”

But, all up, watching Queer Eye with kids seems pretty harmless.

Growing Up With Jonathan Van Ness

“I said to Juliet, ‘Do you want to come and watch this with me? I think you’d really like it.’ And she did. They do enjoy watching whatever, but you can tell the stuff that actually engages them as opposed to, ‘Oh wow, I’m sitting and having one on one time with a parent.’ She actually really engaged with this, which I thought she would.”

My mate Laura Munro watches the show with her two older children, saying that she originally watched Queer Eye on her own, mostly so she could enjoy it without any interruptions, but eventually realised that “this is actually quite good content for a family to watch together, not just children, but a whole family to sit down and watch.”

Laura says that the episodes are often paused for questions and discussion.

She told me that her seven-year-old daughter, Juliet, was initially really interested in Jonathan, and his non-binary presentation.

“It doesn’t really matter if it’s a skirt or if he’s wearing jeans and having a beer. He doesn’t adhere to any gender constructs, and that was really fascinating for her, because she’s got quite a short haircut, and she’s now going through this process of people’s changes often mistaking her for a boy, or asking her why she has short hair. And so I think she really clicks with that, and going, ‘Well, clothes aren’t boy or girl clothes. They’re just clothes. It doesn’t actually matter.’ And I think she found that quite — not comforting, it’s not as if she’s having a problem with it — but she found it helpful and really cool that someone on TV was like that.”

Laura and I are similar aged millennials, and we talked about how not only were trans and non-binary representation on television unknown on television until more recently, but we didn’t even come across THE CONCEPT of gender queerness, let alone actual trans and non-binary people until much later in our lives.

Imagine how beneficial, how normalising, it is to have trans and non-binary people shown on television to you, in such positive affirmative ways, as a seven-year-old.

Seeing Queerness On Screen

“What was interesting to talk to Juliette about, specifically, was the transgender man in season two (Skyler Jay), and Juliette just grasping the concept of… She knew the concept of being transgender, and how you don’t feel as though you belong in the body that you were born in. She understood that, but I don’t think she understood the surgery aspect of it, and that episode started with a straight look into top surgery.”

Skyler’s episode of Queer Eye was sometimes criticised for being a bit “trans 101”, in that it didn’t go super deep into the issues it discussed.

However, considering the huge reach of the show, perhaps a more introductory attitude is going to have more impact in the long run?

Skyler said in this interview:

“That’s what we need — not just trans folks standing up, we need other people to have some bit of knowledge on even a basic level of what kind of issues we face. I wish the show could be two hours. But I’m really proud of the outreach they’re already doing with trans youth. I hope that they can carry it forward and continue to help out other trans individuals in the future.”

Laura agrees, saying that with her daughter, Skyler’s episode “was a bit of a moment where she just realised what people have to go through if that’s their experience and how long and exhausting it is. So, if anything, it kind of made her develop more sympathy and an understanding of things that she would never normally come across.”

Learning Masculinity

It’s not just seeing queerness on screen that’s so beneficial — one of the best things about Queer Eye is the very sincere and important deconstruction of harmful and toxic masculinity.

Many of the men being made over are absolutely suffering the symptoms of modern conceptions of what being a “man” involves, and stripping that back is absolutely on each episode’s agenda. Everything about the show is positive reinforcements of non-toxic masculinity — from men who are comfortable simply touching other, to men being encouraged to speak openly and honestly about their emotions.

“I like that model of masculinity for my kid.”

Queer Eye is my nine-year-old Seattle’s favourite show,” says Dr Shady Cosgrove.  “We dance the introduction with the Fab Five and download their Spotify playlists. The show gives him confidence — we talk about Tan when he’s choosing outfits, he’s started baking and cooking — thank you Antoni! Whenever we have a discussion about the way the world works, it’s ‘Karamo time’ and Jonathan has given him confidence to wear his hair long. However, we do agree with Patrick that Bobby puts in the most work on the show!”

Even the joy of watching the Fab 5 on screen is quietly revolutionary — five male friends who are physically expressive, vocally supportive, and who seem to genuinely love each other? That’s already such a great thing for young boys to see.

“The five men come across as capable, compassionate and confident in their lives. And they help folks who are struggling to realise their potential. I like that model of masculinity for my kid.”

The Next Generation Of Queers

The original incarnation, Queer Eye For A Straight Guy, was a show I had a lot of mixed feelings about.

While now I recognise that queer representation on screen has been an upsettingly slow journey, and the show was revolutionary for the time, it was also a very singular idea of what a queer man should look like, and how they should act. To be, as a young, closeted gay, I found it regressive.

The wealth of different queer representation in the modern Queer Eye must therefore be so helpful to today’s young queers.

Author, Anna Spargo-Ryan watches the show with her 14-year-old daughter, Lily.

“My kid is queer and has a circle of queer friends, so she was already across the basic premise,” she told me. “She’s a very independent thinker, so she wasn’t prompted to ask any questions, exactly, but we’ve had conversations about the changing expectation that a queer chick might look or act a certain way. In that sense it has widened her perspective and understanding of her own queerness.”

To be honest, that’s something I really could have done with, when I was a teen. I asked Anna if she thought teens benefit in general from watching Queer Eye.

“I absolutely think there are experiences represented in the show that many teens (especially in Australia, where we’re largely racist and sexist) won’t otherwise see. And as a format, it does a good job of showing that experience from the inside, many different facets.

“In that sense it has widened her perspective and understanding of her own queerness.”

Not just the immediate factor of identity but all the flow-on effects of self-esteem, employment, poverty, vilification, and ultimately the importance and impact of doing better. How could that not be beneficial to teens!”

Queer Eye season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix, why not watch it with your kids?

Patrick Lenton is the Entertainment Editor at Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.