Queer Eye makes me proud to be a man in an era of self-loathing 1 year ago

Queer Eye makes me proud to be a man in an era of self-loathing

Queer Eye might just change your life.

For the uninitiated; Queer Eye is a show where four helpful homosexuals (and Antoni, who describes his sexuality as 'fluid') come into somebody's life for a week and totally remake it.

Tan goes through their wardrobe, Jonathan (aka JVN) handles the grooming, Antoni shows them how to a cook a little bit, Karamo gives them a pep talk and Bobby redesigns their home in such a way that the value likely increases by at least half a million dollars.

It's a very simple premise. And yet, many who have watched the show are experiencing it as some kind of spiritual relief, myself included.

So... why?

The process is carried out with incredible wit and wisdom. But maybe what's most important, from the perspective of watchable TV, is that these guys are fucking cool.

Each of the lads is an expert in his field, and their expertise is irresistible. Reason being that the exact things that they know so much about cut to the bones of what is most important in life.

At the end of the day, what do we care about? How we look. How we dress. What we eat. Where we live. Honestly, five minutes listening to Jonathan and it becomes clear that WWJD? bracelets should read WWJVND? instead.

There is something inherently cool about those people we meet in life who know how to fix everything in your gaff, or make any kind of meal, or make you realise that your haircut could do so much more for you than it has been for the first 25 years of your life.

And it is refreshing, if not revolutionary, as a young man, to be presented with these larger-than-life on-screen heroes who go ahead against the traditional, masculine model of what is admirable.

It is a sad truth that even as LGBT rights become more closely protected by laws and institutions, many in society still don't see gay people as equal. Young men who identify as straight remain unlikely to choose a gay man as a hero or a role model. This probably has a lot to do with a world where gay people aren't welcomed in sports, or cast as action heroes, or associated with the other machismo tropes that young boys are still raised to treat as aspirational.

Male role models are often chosen for combative qualities. Aggression, resilience, physical strength. As such, athletes and sports stars tend to be given primacy when it comes to the hero-worship of young men. This makes perfect sense, but we should also be thinking about other types of strength, and other types of men.

One would think that JVN's experience of growing up gay on the Mississippi River probably takes as aggressive a spirit as can possibly be possessed. Bobby, on the other hand, was adopted into the Bible Belt and abandoned by his family when he came out as gay at the age of 15. Tan was raised in a strict, religious household, and his family did not attend his wedding. That takes resilience. Determination. Strength. These kings. These queens.

Sure, maybe calling each other honey and wearing high heels probably won't replace the current tropes of masculine behaviour, but after one episode of Queer Eye, it's entirely plausible that you will be re-evaluating behaviours that exist outside the very limited norm. After a full season, you might just be ready to French tuck that toxic masculinity into something a little bit more flattering, honey.

I mean, at the very least, we could all do with moisturising a lot more often. How did we miss the boat on that one, lads?

But beyond their low-key heroism, the way that the Fab Five interact with all of their guests is a blueprint for how we should treat the men in our own lives.

Karamo, JVN, Bobby, Antoni and Tan don't mock these men for being seemingly incapable of taking care of themselves in the most basic of ways. In a society that encourages men to be macho at the expense of their own mental health and personal well-being, these men remain forever cognisant that what appear to be personal flaws are more often than not the results of society's own failings.

It is almost a contradiction. Though the show's format is very much that of a traditional makeover show, its core message is that we can make changes to better our lives based on self-respect. And the gang knows that in order to facilitate that kind of decision-making, their foremost challenge is to help their new friends respect themselves.

Virtually every episode ends up with teary eyes and effusive gratitude, and not just on-screen. In an era where we can rewrite the rules of what it means to be a man, these guys could be the new Founding Fathers.

Though the Queer Eyes are expressing love and appreciation for whomever they're helping that week, they might as well be talking to you. To anyone.

We should all be listening, for our own sake.