I’m conflicted. When I heard that “Queer Eye” was coming to Netflix, I was excited. It’s the show where gay guys use their mad skills to straighten out unkempt straight guys (and an occasional wayward homosexual). I enjoyed watching the show years ago, and to this day, whenever I see my husband using hair product, I still hear Kyan Douglas saying, “Start from the back and work your way to the front.”
Each of the original Fab 5 was a delight to watch, and the new Fab 5 doesn’t disappoint. Fashion savant Carson Kressley was my favorite in the original, and Antoni Porowski takes the prize in QE 2.0. He’s the handsome food guru with a sweet, almost shy, smile and authentic empathy that reaches out and grabs your heart through the camera.
The design guy, Bobby Berk, seems to be the hardest working member of the cast as he transforms homes into havens worthy of “Extreme Makeover.” Tan France, the British stylist, actually listens to his subjects rather than imposing his own style onto their straight sensibilities. He seems genuinely happy to see them become comfortable in their own skin with an added patterned shirt. He beams when a closet of rags is magically transformed into riches.
The hair stylist, Jonathan Van Ness is admittedly my least favorite, not because he can’t cut hair — he can — but because he has taken on the role of the flamboyant stereotypical gay guy, which runs counter to the sincerity of the other cast members. When he’s calm and thinking about how to use his expertise or actually paying attention to another person, the real Jonathan comes out, not some cookie-cutter copy of Adam Rippon. If I thought his behavior was more than an act, I wouldn’t mind and I’d have fun with his antics, but it just doesn’t come across as genuine — and for a show aiming at authenticity, it creates a dissonance.
Finally, the culture expert, Karamo Brown, the only African-American in the cast, brings an intensity to the role that draws you into the personal interactions with people who are totally unlike him, which isn’t always easy. Like the time they worked with a white police officer who had a “Make America Great Again” hat and a Trump/Pence campaign sign in the closet.
“For me, the minute I met him I was triggered,” Brown told ET online. “I felt like, ‘I can’t talk to you and help you be your best self until we address the elephant in the room.’” They each discussed the tension between blacks and cops and gained each other’s respect through sharing their hopes and fears — something Brown observes is woefully lacking in today’s society. He says, “Things have backslid a little bit” recently, so “let’s pause for a second and try to figure out what’s more alike about us than what’s different so that we can grow together.’”
Brown is right; the discourse in our society is hostile and counterproductive. We are a divided society in which many are refusing to listen to “the other side.” Labels are attached to political enemies, and they’re reduced to a caricature that can be ridiculed and dismissed. “Queer Eye” says it wants to bring some civility and love to our country again. Who can oppose that?
So why am I conflicted? Who can criticize building bridges? I certainly don’t. I applaud the effort of people getting to know one another as human beings instead of stigmatized labels. To Brown’s comment that we should focus on our commonalities rather than our differences, I say, Yes! If “Queer Eye” can bring some measure of peace to our divided culture, I support it — and in this respect, I do.
However, as I watched the series, two feelings wrestled within me — an appreciation for the positive, open dialogue and a creeping sense of being manipulated. During the scenes when everyone had a “come to Jesus” moment about their common humanity, I felt like I did when I attended church revivals as a child. As the pastor spoke eloquently of a new life in Christ and called sinners to come forward to repeated refrains of “Softly and Tenderly,” new converts would line up with tears on their cheeks, and church members would surround them with hugs and words of acceptance.
Sometimes it was genuine. Sometimes it wasn’t. It was often just emotionalism, ginned up to sell “Jesus.” (Yes, I know how I sound — I confess I’m jaded.) But this is a feeling I can’t deny as I watch “Queer Eye,” and it’s not about the political and cultural issues being addressed, which is so needed; it’s about the core “product” I’m ultimately being sold through feel-goodisms and the staged tears of reality television: approval of homosexuality.
“The original show was fighting for tolerance,” France declares in the introduction to the first episode. “Our fight is for acceptance.” So what they really want is not common understanding between people who disagree — this is the essence of tolerance, which I support wholeheartedly — they want to fight for approval. And this is my main problem with the show.
Samantha Allen at The Daily Beast also criticizes the show on this point, saying redesigning the homes of people who are already open to homosexuality by being on the show in the first place isn’t going to make people who are morally opposed to homosexuality suddenly accept it.
I agree, but her critique is not the same as mine. In fact, my response to the show actually supports her premise — that if you want to get people opposed to homosexuality not only to tolerate it and treat homosexuals respectfully, but also to approve of it, this sugary show won’t do it.
Acceptance, Allen writes, “comes in the form of agonizing conversations with anti-LGBT loved ones, often held over several years. There is no team of lifestyle gurus with Netflix cash who swoop in to change hearts and minds. Progress is hard-earned — and there are no quick shortcuts to the finish line.”
She’s right, and wrong. Sometimes personal experiences do change a person’s mind, but not always. The reason is, even after having agonizing conversations with loved ones, some people, like me, can deeply love the person who is homosexual, respect her, and want the best for her, yet still think homosexually is against nature and God’s moral standards for human beings.
As the old saying goes, it is possible to “hate the sin and love the sinner.” In fact, this is the essence of tolerance, and tolerance is what the civil society is built on — not approval of every divergent view.
In the same way, some people, who think homosexual marriage is wrong because they believe marriage, as a public interest, is between a man and a woman, can still love a gay married couple. They accept the individuals, want peace and happiness for them, but don’t approve of the institution of gay marriage. Traditional marriage for many is a principled belief and not one that is homophobic or hateful.
Contrary to the message of many activists on both sides of the aisle today, we can disagree and still respect one another, because we are first and foremost human beings with many commonalities. If we focus only on how we’re different and demand approval of those differences, we will never live peacefully with one another. Tolerance should be our goal, because it is all we can have without force, threats, and manipulation in a world filled with diversity.
Yet, “Queer Eye” wants more than tolerance. The creator of the show, David Collins, told ET, that the biggest difference between now and when the show first aired is that, “People are ready to have a dialogue. Fifteen years ago, the Fab Five were kind of these superheroes, they swooped in for one day … America wasn’t ready, quite frankly, to hear one of them say, ‘Oh, my husband’ or ‘Oh, my boyfriend’ or, heaven forbid, ‘My kids.’”
Collins is right, we are ready to have that dialogue because it has been foisted on us through activism and the courts. That’s both a good and bad thing, though the ensuing dialogue might not go the way he and LGBT activists want. Some of us, even after discussing it, still disapprove when we hear “my husband,” “my boyfriend,” or “our kids.” But we don’t want the dialogue to end there. We want them to hear and see how we respect and love them despite our differences. What we don’t want is to be manipulated into accepting something we don’t believe in or think is wrong. I don’t think anyone else wants that either.