The Queer Eye reboot has been an unquestionable hit. From the moment it landed on Netflix on 7th February, it spawned countless listicles and opinion pieces praising it for its unbridled takedown of masculinity and analysing the role of each of the Fab 5. It spawned even more tweets (including this writer's own) about how much it was making them cry, but good tears – those kind of cathartic, overflowing sobs that leave you with a slight headache but a sense of release and contentment that you haven't had since you finished your GCSEs.
It's the type of reality TV we've been subconsciously waiting for, and need more of ASAP. With that in mind, we asked two queer writers, Sadhbh O'Sullivan and Tom Rasmussen, to share what the show meant to them and why a reboot of the reboot (only with women) is desperately needed.
Sadhbh: Have you finished watching the reboot of Queer Eye? I know it's been almost unavoidable on Twitter but given how much it made me cry I still have more I wanna say about it.
Tom: Yes, and oddly loved it.
Sadhbh: Why’s that odd?
Tom: If I’m honest, I initially felt like it wasn’t really for me. I’d had a lot of people message me telling me that I’d love it, that I must watch it, that it was making them cry from start to end. But, in honesty, I find watching representations of gay or queer people on screen often fairly unhelpful or reductive. I’m also really critical of the hot gay male archetype being deified in the media as ‘the way to be gay’, and I also don’t know if I see the value in watching these five gays (or queers?) donating their labour to straight guys who are struggling with masculinity. It sounds savage, but these hetero-masculine struggles have produced a lot of violence in my life, and have done so for so many queers. So let’s just say I was reluctant. What were your thoughts pre-watching?
Sadhbh: I was actually one of those people telling you to watch! Which was a surprise for me too. I'd had reservations… despite being firmly sat under that LGBT+ umbrella, ‘queer’ TV is so often just about gay men and primarily for them, and then for straight people, as an audience. And trying to take part in it reminded me of being in G-A-Y years ago and being told I don’t belong there because I’m a femme woman, as though lesbians don’t fucking exist... I stopped going to these spaces that weren’t welcoming queer women and never attempted to watch the TV – I’d rather be ignorant of the cultural conversation than feel like I was trying to join in with people who didn’t feel I belong there. But everyone was talking about it and I’d run out of shows to watch, so I went against my reservations and my GOD I’m so glad I did.
Tom: Yeah, I actually think it was a text from you urging me that pushed me to switch it on and that I’d run out of Grace and Frankie to watch – I was so surprised. I sat over lunch with a friend and we were rolling our eyes at the initial dance sequences and the fairly cringe editing. But then, after that first episode with Tom I was hooked. I found the union of these two parties – parties which I had held in my head as ‘enemies’ for ages – very touching, affirming perhaps. I think I wasn’t expecting the sort of joy it proffered and god knows we need it now. While some of the episodes were overly formulaic and were a bit ‘reachy’, overall I found witnessing acceptance in a way hit a chord with me. While I like to be the aggressive non-assimilatory queer, I also, I think, want acceptance for exactly that. While none of the queers on there are like me, I felt glad it was happening.
Sadhbh: One thing that really caught me off guard was my initial wariness of Jonathan in all his campness. But by the end of the first episode I would die for him.
Tom: SAME – I spent half of episode one rolling my eyes at JVN’s basicness, thinking it was a reductive portrayal of gay men. But actually, he became my favourite. I think, awfully, I was fearful of such outright campness, even though I’m equally camp. Over time I did away those bleak feelings of mine, and got over the fear of that campness on screen, and felt so elated that there could be a moving, nuanced portrayal of multiple types of ‘gayness’ on screen. That’s what the show did well; surprisingly, it showed nuance.
Sadhbh: It’s so obvious but so genuinely moving to see beyond the one image, the one token of what a gay person (gay man) should or could be.
Tom: I was also really personally moved by the class element. It was these five pretty out gays heading into (often, not always) working class Georgia. The type of masculinity that comes with being working class is something I experienced a lot growing up, where I’m from. So I found the acceptance of this outright gayness from working class men very, very affecting. I wept. I think because my experience has been so negative, it hit a nerve in me that not all working class men are homophobes (I, theoretically, know that) but it’s rare not only to see someone be accepted, but people actually learning from each other productively. I think there’s so much shared culture we all miss, and I have felt that about my background for a long time – me as a queer person, those working class men, we have both shut each other out. To see the potential for openness, vulnerability and learning on both sides made me think a lot about my past. It gave me hope.
Sadhbh: It’s so beautiful. And I need more – eight episodes are clearly not enough. But I want a version for lesbians, for queer women. I want us to have that joy and nuance on TV too. Maybe it’s selfish... but I'm not saying one replaces the other! I want both, but I think we deserve lesbians and queer women on the whole spectrum (soft femme to hard butch) to be given a reality platform. And I want female masculinity celebrated.
Tom: 'Cos it's not really, at the moment.
Sadhbh: No it's not... I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and watching QE only confirmed that a version for women is not just what I want – it’s needed. We have such little lived representation on TV that I can think of, especially on mainstream shows. And what little representation there is, it’s still only one character of the cast and, more often than not, she’s feminine, still ticking the acceptable ‘women’ boxes. Even our most famous ‘butch’ lesbians wear makeup. There’s obviously a variety of ways women express themselves but c’mon.
Tom: There are hardly any butch women on TV. Anywhere.
Sadhbh: This is why I want a Queer Eye with gay women for straight women! I want that JVN effect with dykes – can you imagine? There was a tweet floating around about it that filled me with such joy 'cos it was like suggesting something that felt like it would never exist.
Literally, imagine if we could do for femininity what Queer Eye does for masculinity? If cis straight men are expected to never care for or celebrate themselves, women are still expected to do SO much to care for themselves, just to be acceptable. And never be intimidating or 'masculine' or themselves, whoever that self might be.
Tom: We may have culturally reached an understanding that women don't have to have long hair to 'be women', but can you imagine how powerful it would be to have five lesbians on TV who help someone have her first crop cut for the first time?
Sadhbh: Or unpick this idea that ‘androgynous’ dressing is just for skinny women in blazers or something that inherently dictates your sexuality. Or give a baby femme the confidence to come out to her family without compromising her femininity?! I mean it writes itself.
Tom: It would be beautiful, and deeply important too. I also think there’s so many iterations that could work too – I mean it’s called Queer Eye ffs. Do you think it can happen?
Sadhbh: I honestly don't know. They did try to include a lesbian in it back in 2005 when they made a version for the 'straight girl' and it flopped. And while it's needed, the path there is almost definitely more rocky. Feminine gay men and masculine gay women fall into the same cultural bracket in many ways – they aren’t just different by being gay, they are deviating from the gender norms. So neither can be sexualised by the traditional (aka male) gaze. However, camp men are seen as entertaining, butch women are still seen as a threat to heteronormativity – so one has an easier path to the screen than the other.
I think we need some kind of precedent where queer women are the sole focus that shows there is not only a demand but a need. But I think a lesbian Queer Eye could and should be that precedent – something that breaks down the sexism that leaves us out of LGBT+ conversations and gives us the freedom and the joy that's part of such a moving and important reality TV show. And then impart that onto the rest of the world.
Tom: @Netflix, if you're reading this – get on it.