Sometimes I worry that the world has taken all the love out of me.
That every drop has been drained in attempts at self-preservation against various onslaughts of bad news. That I am a ball of anxiety and despair with no room for warm feelings.
And then, every now and again, a ray of sunshine, be it an expression of art or a loving word, will come along to remind me that I have a beating heart. Netflix’s Queer Eye is one such piece of light.
Maybe this sounds a bit extra, but one of the best parts of this show is that it encourages an honest expression of feelings, and I am feeling a bit extra at the moment. A reboot of the early-2000s makeover show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Queer Eye is explicitly a “make better” show. The Fab 5, five experts in the fields of culture, grooming, food, fashion, and design, respectively, who also happen to be gay men, are not here to hate on where any of their nominees is at.
Instead, they swoop into the lives of the people chosen to be on the show, called heroes, recognizing that they already have the potential to be their best selves.
The Fab 5 simply serve as an instructive catalyst to help these heroes access their potential (though I do not for a second want to downplay the work these men are putting in, they are all very good at their jobs). Seeing people be motivated to strive for what they want and to come into themselves is enriching, and I know I need any kind of positive influence nowadays.
There’s a lot to be said about this show, be it on gender, sexuality, race, or faith. It’s full like that. What I have been coming back to the most, and what I want to focus on, for the time being, is masculinity.
We’re all familiar with the patriarchy, yes? The system that degrades femininity and gives masculine men undue authority, preference, and privilege, above others?
The system that is entrenched in pretty much all of our societies? That one? Cool.
A unhealthy consequence of the patriarchy is toxic masculinity, which, among other horrid side implications, is a type of masculinity that restricts the emotional expression and range of men (or anyone who takes on these traditionally masculine traits, which are not strictly limited to gender) in favor of being the prototypical “alpha male.” It is called “toxic” because it is not healthy. Of course, individuals may have a preference towards if and how they show their emotions, but bottling it up can lead to undue aggression, transference, and so many more negative results.
I hope I don’t sound like too much of a sadist when I say that one of my favorite parts of Queer Eye is getting to see men, particularly straight cis men, cry.
None of the Fab 5 are entirely shy with their emotions. They also come at their heroes from a real place of love, empathy, and encouragement. Maybe it’s these elements that allow the heroes to come into a space of vulnerability. It’s not as though it’s a foolproof formula. Not every hero breaks into tears in any given episode, but more often than not, someone is crying, and that is huge.
A part of the ethos of the show is that there are a lot of different ways to be.
There are a lot of different ways to be queer. There are a lot of ways to be a man. There is space to be an emotional man or at least a man who shows emotion and cares for his feelings. This simple principle, that if you have feelings, it’s alright to share them with people who care about you, if a central part of the show and central to how it counteracts toxic masculinity.
Will one show fix all men? Probably not.
The majority of people I know who are watching the show are women of various sexualities and queer men, and I would love to see more straight cis men watching and learning. But the show does remind me, at least, that men have feelings and that some of them may even really want to express them. The show gets into the fears, anxieties, and hopes of these men. It is predicated on them.
Showing that there are men who are doing their best gives me a little hope that maybe, maybe, there is hope for men. Maybe some men can grow, mature, and show a modicum of vulnerability. I think it would do us all some good.
Until I see men making those changes, though, you can find me watching Queer Eye with a box of tissues.