There is a certain healthy skepticism that is bound to accompany LGBTQ+ television consumers when a new television show is branded as inclusive of our community. Decades of representation dictated by stereotypes and glaring inaccuracies have made us cynical of new depictions. I certainly was going into the rebooted Queer Eye, a makeover show which debuted on Netflix on February 7. Adapted from the original, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which ran on Bravo from 2003-2007, the show followed five gay men, The Fab Five, in New York City who made it their mission to reform straight men’s lives in both appearance and lifestyle. Winning a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Reality Program in 2004, the show became one of the few sources of representation for the LGBTQ+ community. However, it often catered to heterosexual consumers by resorting to stereotypes of gay men and decentering the show off The Fab Five. This resulted in an exclusive focalization on straight men’s ineptitude to handle their lives.
This time around, the Netflix reboot does not sugarcoat the diversity in The Fab Five’s personalities and actively involves their lives and personal experiences as out gay men within the narrative of makeovers. Going into the season was a walk down memory lane for me, as I watched the original show with my mom when I was a kid. The original message didn’t resonate with me, maybe because there was a suppression of true authenticity that even a younger me recognized. This fresh take isn’t afraid to be itself and embrace its true persona. As one of the opening lines of the show states, “The original show was fighting for tolerance. Our fight is for acceptance.”
The magnetic energy amongst the new Fab Five members– Bobby Berk (interior design legend), Karamo Brown (culture specialist), Tan France (fashion god), Antoni Porowski (culinary king), and Jonathan van Ness (grooming guru)– remains a constant thread of optimism and love throughout the first season. Through different clients varying in difficulty, their ever-present cheer consistently engages the audience as they navigate the politics of Georgia (another departure from the original show). This hope for the future of the LGBTQ+ community exceeds these straight men’s individual lives. On various heated social issues such as police brutality, they maintain a critical yet positive outlook on the future. In episode three, Karamo speaks to their client, a Trump-supporting white police officer, about his daily difficulties in being a black man. While initially strained, their conversation becomes painstakingly candid as they discuss the nuances of their identities and the need for communication and reform between their communities. Although it is only one conversation between two individuals, the discourse provides a starting point for the cultural conversations that are necessary in Trump’s America.
Toxic masculinity within the gay community has always been very taboo, as toxic masculinity is often a societal flaw that we like to solely associate with straight men. The Fab Five often address this straight-on by deconstructing pillars of masculinity and what they mean for men, straight or LGBTQ+. In episode four, the show follows Anthony “AJ” Brown, a gay black man living in Atlanta who has yet to come out to his stepmom and live publicly proud. For Anthony, much of this stems from a desire to maintain a façade of male bravado and the perception that presenting as gay somehow weakens or feminizes men. Throughout the episode, The Fab Five encourage and support Anthony through both a physical and emotional transformation as he comes to terms with his identity and the way he will be perceived by others. Most of the clients eventually do engage in the excitement and positive energy of The Fab Five, a far call from the stereotypical reactions of straight men’s uncomfortability around gay men. Watching straight men from the south actively embrace makeovers, a process often associated with femininity, is a miracle in and of itself. While an active criticism remains the lack of women on the show, it is refreshing to see men challenge toxic masculinity head-on within their own community without relying on women to educate them on their own identity.
The active incorporation of The Fab Five’s personal lives remains a highlight of the series. In episode five, Bobby converses with a devout Christian father (Bobby Camp) about being gay within a religious context. Bobby, who grew up within the Church, talks of feeling very isolated and scared to come out. Camp expresses his love for God and how it does not preclude him from loving all people (even evoking the “love thy neighbor” verse of the Bible). The relation between the two, although brief, shows more commonality than divergence between two people of different lives. At the end-credits of episode four, Jonathan briefly recounts his experience in coming out and being the first male cheerleader on his high school’s squad. Lighthearted and optimistic, Jonathan expresses his personal growth in the face of adversity and adds to the jovial conclusion of the episode. The process of getting to know the team becomes just as important as watching the evolution of their clients.
The culmination of the first season leaves many options for additional ones, and the avid audience’s requests for renewal on social media platforms are resounding. I feel I have come full circle with this show and my life, starting as an insecure child watching the original to a proud adult delighting in the reboot. Though as a kid I didn’t fully understand the original’s social relevance, it was one of my first exposures to queer culture and individuals. Whether this reboot serves as a path for young LGBTQ+ people to be exposed to their community or for straight people to become more comfortable and accepting, this show sets a precedent for love and openness for all individuals that goes way beyond individual makeovers. Pride has never been more fabulous.