Original series Queer Eye provides refreshing representation of gay identity
TV and film consistently portray queer folk as the bullied, the depressed and the closeted.
This type of victimization not only presents troubling representations for queer people to reflect on, but affirms stereotypes that queer identity is characterized by trauma.
The Netflix TV Series, “Queer Eye,” subverts this victim characterization by positioning five gay men — formally called the ‘Fab 5’ — as superhero-like characters to their often heterosexual foils.
The plot of each episode centers around a man, trapped within hyper-masculine tendencies, that the Fab 5 are tasked to ‘fix.’
With gay prowess, the subject is transformed into a more confident, stylish and healthy version of themselves.
“Queer Eye” reverses the role of who needs help. It’s not the “gay kid,” but rather the men who suffer from oppressive masculinity.
The show states that queer identity is about being confident with yourself; it’s the healthier alternative to status quo heterosexuality.
Each member of the Fab 5 specializes in a lifestyle niche which they educate their subject on: The personal stylist, Jonathan Van Nus, with his gorgeous, long hair, miraculously fixes the grooming issues of anyone, even heterosexual men.
Tan France, small, but dangerously fashionable, collaborates with the subject to find their own personal style.
Bobby Berk renovates the subject’s home and Antoni Porowski teaches them better cooking and eating habits. Last, but definitely not least, Karamo, with the calming presence of an angel, is the lifestyle coach.
Karamo brings the tear factor to “Queer Eye,” by unpacking and deconstructing the emotional repression of the men they are working with.
He teaches these men better coping methods for dealing with trauma and sets them straight (in a gay way, of course) towards personal and professional success.
It is this emotional element presented in “Queer Eye” which sets the TV series apart from most media representations of gay men.
For example, the first episode features 57-year-old Tom Jackson.
Its title, “You can’t fix Ugly,” refers to Tom’s incessant self-deprecation, claiming the Fab 5 can’t possibly revert his unhealthy habits and ‘fix’ him.
Instead of the usual depiction of gay men as catty — “the sassy gay” — where the five men might capitalize on this self-depreciative behavior for the sake of a joke, Karamo responds with comfort and understanding, “You’re seeing the fat, ugly old men. We’re not.”
Changes are not done to make Tom into a comical caricature of a gay man; the goal of “Queer Eye” is not to mock heterosexual, or extremely masculine men, but instead to deconstruct conventions of masculinity which say that taking care of yourself emotionally and physically is wrong.
After the Fab 5 were finished with Tom, he looked great, he was sexy even, but most importantly, Tom felt confident.
When asked what he liked most about being with the five guys, Tom responded, “I loved their personalities, I’ve never hung with gay guys before, and they were great.
They were so open with me, and I was open with them.”
The show affirms what a lot of queer people already know: that masculinity is an expression that is not rigid.
It doesn’t have to be repressive. Putting effort towards your appearance and health is a form of self care which all people should strive for, not just gay men.
The Fab 5 represent what it means to be confident in yourself and, challenging victim identification, they present themselves as models for men like Tom to heal after years of emotional stifling; witnessing this emotional breakthrough the men make during the show is touching.
The TV series has garnered popularity in a lot of LGBTQ+ circles. While it displays a healthier picture of gay identity away from the stereotype of the traumatized, closeted kid, the show ultimately is a statement on toxic masculinity.
“Queer Eye” calls upon it’s hypermasculine audiences to look towards queer expression and confidence in order to model healthy behaviors regarding self image, emotional capacity and human interaction.
Joe is a sophomore studying social justice and cultural studies.