In today’s era of rebooted movies and TV, Netflix’s announcement that it was bringing back “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was met with some skepticism. The original show, in which five gay men (each with their own area of expertise) would give a straight man a makeover, was a huge hit, but a lot has changed for the LGBT community in the 10 years since the original show left television. Would it translate well into our own, more “woke” era, or would the campy stereotypes cause too much controversy?
Instead, the show is a smash hit and a welcome display of kindness amidst such an awful, dark time. With “toxic masculinity” being such a cultural divide these days, it’s good to see shows that tell men it’s ok to express themselves, to physically interact with each other, and to take care of themselves. You don’t have to be gay to wear fitted clothes, style your hair, or hug other men. The new “Fab 5” also present a more diverse group. Sure, they’re all Hollywood Handsome, but almost half are men of color, one of which enjoys gender-bending, some are married, and some have children. They aren’t as self-consciously bland as the original five could be.
Relevant to my column is Bobby Berk, the show’s interior designer. He’s a happily married gay man and possibly the hardest worker of the “Fab 5.” But he’s also talked about how he was isolated from his church as a child once he came out as gay. These people he grew up with, who told him they loved him unconditionally, turned their backs on him for being gay. And several of their makeover subjects have been religious, which gives the showroom to talk about religion and the gay community.
The first encounter was a husband and father of six children who were overwhelmed by their whirlwind household, day jobs, and volunteer work. One segment of the show was set aside where Bobby talked with their subject and brought up his background of being rejected by his church, and the subject said it was wrong of them, and God commanded people to treat each other with respect and dignity.
The other, more interesting episode is in season 2, where the “Fab 5” visit a woman, Tammye, to make over her church’s community center. They also help her son, who she has a contentious relationship with because he’s gay, too. Bobby refused to enter her church (and apparently almost refused the episode at all), citing all the bad memories that lingered from it. He and Tammye eventually had a heart-to-heart where she apologized for his mistreatment from her fellow Christians and discussed her desire to fix her relationship with her son.
The episode ends happily, where her son rejoins her church and also joins a gay and lesbian choir, OurSong. Bobby understood that, despite his misgivings with the church as a whole, there were good individuals in it who deserve our understanding, and Tammye learned to be more accepting of her gay son. As she told Bobby, “You can’t antagonize and evangelize at the same time,” which could double as the message for the show itself.
There’s no indication Bobby is an atheist. He seems spiritual in some way but is not comfortable with organized religion in general. And given how he’s been treated in the past, that’s no surprise. He deserved better than what his congregation gave him. But I am glad to see the positive portrayal of someone with such conflicted feelings regarding religion. He is not bitterly ranting against religion but has no qualms criticising it. It’s this multiplicity of perspectives the show aims for, and that alone makes it worth the watch.