The reboot is about more than spiffier clothes and better haircuts. The new Fab 5 shows straight men that emotion is the strongest weapon they possess.
The straight men of America need a good cry. Do you know why I know they need a good cry? Because they’re crying over hair pomade. They’re crying over slim-fit jeans; green stick concealer; how to Supreme a grapefruit. They’re crying over a magnetic kid’s chore chart and framed photos of grandma; they’re undone by four tickets to Broadway’s Neverland.
And they’re loving every minute of it.
The Netflix reboot of Queer Eye has weaponized a multicultural gang of gay superheroes, and the five men are liberating unwoke men across the country. And what this Fab Five have shown us is that the men of Trump’s America don’t really want coal to come back. They want a better way to be men.
Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, on which Queer Eye was based, had a revolutionary focus: to take a straight slob and stop him from being such an inconsiderate ignoramus. That’s because in 2003, to be an openly gay man on TV was revolutionary enough. Ellen DeGeneres had come out only six years earlier, and it was radical enough to have made the cover of Time.
But the new QE takes place in Trump’s America. Same-sex marriage is legal, but the religious right will be goddamned if they’ll bake queers a cake. Vice-President Mike Pence thinks two men kissing is evidence of societal collapse, but all he wants is for a bedazzled Adam Rippon to call him back.
The men ofQE are here to bridge this divide—and they begin with a warrantless search of a client’s house that puts an FBI sweep to shame. Bobby (interior design), Antoni (cooking), Karamo (culture), Jonathan (grooming), and Tan (wardrobe) lay waste to closets and fridges, don grandma’s gold 1970s beret, and sniff old produce. They yank out a blue light to search for semen stains, uncover bondage materials, and commandeer the police cruiser. They hug the clients, massage the clients, invade their personal space. In my favorite moment, Antoni throws on a Heidi outfit while Karamo unearths a MAGA hat—in the same house.
All this rifling serves a vital purpose: to take straight men out of their closets. Because they do not realize they, too, are in drag—and it’s the most unflattering drag ever. They are hiding behind Sasquatch hair and unflattering shoes; behind mirrored sunglasses and dad jeans; behind sports posters and dog hair. They are hiding behind grandma’s bedroom set and a plaid childhood comforter; retreating into a dank basement and a fetid leather easy chair. And sometimes, you need a teeny Pakistani fashion expert with his shirt unbuttoned to the waist to shake out your XXL boxers and put them on to just to realize how ridiculous you are.
But where QE goes beyond the original is to show the men they are also hiding behind an unflattering drag—of the mind. I about fell out of my seat in the episode where Karamo, who’s Black, confronts a Trump voter after his police-officer friend pranks the crew by pulling them over. “I’m going to be open with you,” he begins. “I was closed to you. I thought you were another asshole cop.” (Later, the police officer breaks down as he tells Karamo their talk was the best part of the week. Karamo cries. The QE five cry. We cry.)
Bobby, raised in a rigid Christian community, straight-up asks a deeply religious client what he thinks of gay marriage. The client, watching Bobby actually plant him a garden, decides it’s okay. Tan gently assuages the fears of a client who is afraid of dressing “too gay” by bringing straight-laced Antoni in as an example. (He also introduces us to my new favorite sartorial designation: “Basic Bitch.”) Jonathan, who makes Johnny Weir look like Don Draper, makes a point of taking his clients to bro-tastic salons, where he lovingly massages scalps and flames as merrily as the Olympic torch. His haircuts are genius. He’s a genius. The world doesn’t end.
Dan Savage wisely observed that gay people have a different pathway toward liberation than, say, Black people, because gay people can be born into a straight family, while your average Black person isn’t born into a white family. The five men of QE also use intimacy as their greatest weapon, and, in doing so, encourage the men to up their own intimacy game. What are you doing, they ask over and over again, to make the woman in your life happy?
And what is striking is how grateful the clients are to be freed from the suffocating chokehold of Basic Bitchhood. They’re tickled to learn to waltz with the five as partners; attentive to how you make a grapefruit-and-avocado salad. They’re happy to learn some parenting tips and to experience the powers of essential oils. They actually want to give to the women, and partners, in their lives. They just don’t know how.
And in the age of #metoo, where it seems that every man is trying to stick his hand up your skirt and take away your right to an abortion afterward, this is valuable information. “It’s almost embarrassing,” one of the firemen says at the end of his episode, “that we put these boundaries over our life—that our way is the right way.” When Jonathan slapped on his athleisurewear and took his hand, he wasn’t pretending to be a woman. He’s was showing him all the ways you can be a man.
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