I Love Lucy is one of my mom's favorite shows, and we would watch this show together on summer afternoons. Lucile Ball’s character on this show was multi-dimensional, at times seemingly dim-witted, but at other times smarter than her husband Ricky. Slapstick at times, what was really at the core of this show was a relationship between Ricky and Lucy built on love and mutual respect. I don’t ever remember being told that they were an interracial couple, and the first in a television sit-com but I always knew that there were, and this fact had a profound effect on how I saw marital relationships and the possibilities for love in my own future.
Simpsons has not aged as well for me. There was a time in my life when I would watch two Simpsons episodes a day. I value the times sharing this show with my brother, and there are important and profound lessons that are taken from this show (e.g. Moaning Lisa).
What has become clear as I have rewatched this show is that the evolution of Homer from a well-meaning father into a boorish oaf, and this show’s poor handling of the Abu character, and the controversy surrounding the portrayal of this character has revealed that this show’s true character is not it’s warmth and heart, but focus on quick laughs, and often mediocre satire without meaningful commentary. (Don’t get me started on Family Guy. I used to watch this show all of the time and even defended it. Now I believe it has contributed to some of the baser and more harmful attitudes and viewpoints in our culture.)
We live in an age of reboots, sequels, and referential art. The unimaginable has happened. Star Trek was recast, Full House is going strong, and Stranger Things wonderfully riffed off of everything that was awesome about 1980s pop culture in an innovative and creative way. When I saw the first image of Wolverine from the first X-Men film, I geeked out like you would not believe. Now, I’m not surprised about projects, and not even that excited when something I enjoyed in the past come back, which is why I didn’t really think it was a big deal when Queer Eye came back.
Queer Eye For The Straight Guy ran for five seasons starting in 2003. It came at pivotal time in my life right after I graduated from college, trying to figure out what it meant to be an adult, and continuing my journey of become secure in my masculinity, and knowing what it meant to be a man.
The show’s basic premise was that five gay men would give a straight guy a makeover. They each had a specialty. Ted covered food, Kyan helped with grooming, Thom did interior design, Carson helped with fashion, and Jai would help with culture. Like other makeover shows this was a feel good kind of show, but the obvious twist is that it was gay guys giving advice to straight men.
Let’s think about that for a second. Gay guys, homosexuals giving advice and makeovers to straight men. For generations, the greatest fear of fathers was that their sons would grow up to be gay, and that they would be seen as anything but masculine. The pervasive stereotype was that gay men were everything that straight men were avoiding. So it was shocking, and crazy the idea that straight men could be better straight men from listening to gay men.
Queer Eye sought to prove that there were things that straight men could gain from gay men, and gay culture, and that in doing so this it didn’t make you “gay." Over five seasons Queer Eye proved this over, and over, and over. Learning how to cook and understand food from Ted empowered men to enjoy the wonder and magic of cooking. Kyan showed men that moisturizer, and a well-groomed beard, didn’t make men into women, it made them more appealing to women. Thom proved that putting posters in frames and matching furniture to paint color elevated expressions of masculinity. Carson pushed men to understand that you could have fun with color, and that every man, regardless of body time looked better and more manly in clothing that fits. Jai, oh Jai, sometimes I wondered what he actually did when Thom was busy trying to redo and entire house. His contributions were important, showing straight men different parts of culture, and activities they could explore with their loved ones.
One of the reasons that boys and men struggle in our culture is because straight definitions of masculinity are so narrow. While women in our culture have more challenges in almost every single way, women are free to adapt men’s fashion, but the opposite is not true. Riding the wave metro-sexuality or driving it (I’m not an expert on fashion). While many men still hold onto homophobic ideas, there are more colors in the men’s sections of clothing stores than ever before. Many men will not want to admit that there lives have been enriched by gay culture, (in some ways they have always been), but Queer Eye made this effect more clear, more prominent, and more meaningful.
Queer Eye went away. Like some of the best televisions shows of all time, it didn’t overstay it’s welcome, and in some ways it felt like its job was done. There was a feeling that hearts and minds were won, and with legal victories around marriage equality and milestones in the LGBTQ community, things felt pretty good from where I was sitting.
This bubble of optimism, and the feeling that progress was inevitable, were taken away slowly at first and then violently ripped apart when the 45th won the election. Every month, every week, and seemingly every day, he tries to tear apart what Queer Eye celebrated and built. He is anti-LGBTQ, and has made efforts to revert ideas of masculinity back to generations past. The trans military ban, not acknowledging Pride Month, allowing his own party which recently has been making steps to ban homosexuals from adopting children, are all actions of homophobia, and transphobia. President Obama who expressed his masculinity by being a feminist, a caring father, honoring women, being kind and showing sensitivity. The current guy expresses masculinity by being rude, insulting people, treating women poorly.
As we’ve worked through this trauma, this dramatic shift in the representations of masculinity in the White House, it has become clear we needed something. Before I even imagined what could help, and what we needed to work through some of these issues, what I needed to process all that was going on, Queer Eye came back.
The new Queer Eye is different. They are in the south, sometimes the deep south. There are some very challenging situations that go well beyond a simple makeover. In some ways the people who are being made over, are more open to the advice and the makeover. The bridge building goes both ways. Let’s stop for a second and consider what it means for a southern straight man to take the advice a gay Muslim with such openness and enthusiasm.
This wonderfully diverse group of men are smart, sensitive, great listeners, and kind, exemplifying everything I strive for to be as a man. Important conversations about loaded topics like Black Lives Matters and trans identity happen with care, and an intent to build bridges. Answers are not always given, but human connections are made, and the power of listening, understanding, and empathy are on clear display.
Both version of Queer Eye challenge straight people to reconsider “gay-ness,” as a comedic act but to laugh with these authentic expressions of personality. In the wrong context these mannerisms can be hurtful and prejudicial, but in this show these expressions of individuality are authentic, and joyful.
There is so much work done on this show about masculinity whether, it’s through a person who is trans who doesn’t know how to be dress like a man, a dad who doesn’t know how to connect with other dads, or a mother trying to bring her gay son back into a religion that he feels has reject him because of his sexuality. All of these examples speak to the struggle, the anxiety, and journey to develop their own masculinity that so many men ignore.
One of the main reasons men are unhappy, struggle with fatherhood, treat the women in their lives poorly, is because they aren’t doing the work of the exploring their masculinity. It’s in this journey of discovery and reflection, that men become relieved of the burdens of insecurity, and fear that limits so many men from being authentic selves.
I am grateful that I live a world with Antoni’s creativity, Tan’s sensitivity, Karamo’s empathy, Bobby’s passion, and Jonathan’s amazing hair...I mean his incredible ability to see the inner beauty of people and bring it forward.
Queer Eye is proof that we with optimism and empathy, things can and will keep getting better.
You came into my life
And my world never looked so bright
It's true, you bring out the best in me
When you are around
All things just keep getting better!
The days keep getting better
Nights keep getting better
All things just keep getting better!