Earlier this year I came down with either food poisoning or the flu. I was couched for a solid day. You know how it goes: you’re miserable, experiencing periods of intense pain, and yet you have an excuse to blow through Netflix originals for hours on end without any morsel of shame. It’s a strange mixture of despair and delight.
My season of choice this bout of illness ended up being Queer Eye. I had seen its ad on Netflix and wanted to watch an episode, but I knew I would need to do it alone as it’s not the kind of show my husband would willingly watch with me. This sick day offered the perfect window to indulge. I propped up my tablet on the coffee table, resumed the fetal position, and began an episode.
In the days to follow, I would tell friends the show was a game-changer for me. Though sick, running to the toilet between episodes, I rampaged through the entire season, crying, laughing, and cheering the whole time. Seriously: I cried. I’ve only cried a handful of times while watching something on a screen: once when Simba’s father died, and all twenty times I watched Beaches. Queer Eye had been the first tear-jerker for me in recent history.
For those unfamiliar with the show, here’s the premise: five gay men—the Fab Five—swoop down on men nominated to the show by loved ones. These men typically need help in at least a few, but usually all, specialties of the Fab Five: wardrobe, home design, hair and skin, food, and “culture.”
The summary of the show makes it sound pretty surface-level. Okay, great, these heterosexual men, (though there was one gay man nominated as well), experienced a makeover at the hands of gay men. Big deal. Yet it was a big deal, and not in the ways I had anticipated. When I started the show, I thought I was just going to watch the before and after process of a guy and his home turning from shab to fab.
The nominated men, though, were crying by the end of 7/8 of the episodes, and their tears caused me to cry. The Fab Five exploded into their lives in a chaotic whirlwind of yass queens and limp wrists. They helped the men take care of themselves and their homes, trimming nose hairs, buying accent pillows, finding clothes that compliment each person’s unique physique. By the end of each episode, the men internalized the message these self-care practices offer: I deserve to feel good.
I believe that’s why the men began crying. It can be a profound experience, realizing you deserve to feel good. I think this can be especially true for guys in our culture. Traditional masculinity promotes a more stoic and rough-n-tough demeanor in dudes, with self-care rituals like beautification, healthy eating, and a clean home environment belonging to the women’s world. The show proved to be a game-changer for me because it opened my eyes to the ways men may experience disempowerment in their own ways.
I know this isn’t radical or new. As a culture, we’re questioning traditional female/male qualities and how these boxes may hold us back from being fully-actualized people. Yet the men on Queer Eye, crying with relief and gratitude for gaining permission to take care of themselves, revealed the extent in which guys may benefit from more “femininity” in their lives. This includes those subtly powerful self-care rituals. But more so, it includes normalizing and cultivating emotional literacy in our guys.
I’ve written quite a bit about women’s empowerment. I intend to do much more, as the oppression of women for centuries, and our global efforts to transcend dominance and claim equality, is at the heart of my career objectives as a writer. Queer Eye, though, was a game changer in that I thought, not for the first time but for the most thorough time, what about the dudes? In what ways do men need empowerment?
It comes back to those closing scenes on the show, where I cried along with the guys. The Fab Five, (each gay man on a different point of the traditional feminine—masculine spectrum), helped the men tap into their emotions. They helped the men access a part of themselves they hadn’t received permission to before the makeover. I may be wrong about this, but I believe they helped the men experience self-love. Self-care, after all, is an outward expression of self-love.
The “culture” part of the show revealed more intimate scenes between the Fab Five and the men. They talked about various topics, ranging from belief in oneself to race to taking oneself more seriously. I could see the men become visibly uncomfortable when these emotional topics came into the conversation. The men’s discomfort when discussing emotions is, arguably, normal behavior.
The ability to name an emotion, identify its origins, and talked openly about it takes practice. This is changing—I hope, I think—but it’s still more socially acceptable for girls and women to outwardly express their emotions than it is for boys and men. (This may be why the staggering majority of mass shooters are male; they were boys with emotions left to fester, creating angry, violent men.) Language is directive and alchemistic. It has the power to transform emotions, but only if a person cultivates the power.
I know there’s nuance and spectrums and lots of fast changes happening in regards to gender. It is becoming more normal for men to talk about their emotions and not feel judged or less masculine for it, just as it’s becoming more normal for women to act in traditionally masculine ways. Queer Eye, though, opened my eyes to how men could benefit from support and empowerment in ways perhaps different to the women’s empowerment movement, but just as important.
What about the dudes? I had asked. Beyond a trim beard and pressed shirts, the guys in our lives may need help knowing it’s normal and good to take care of ourselves. This includes, perhaps even starts with, a cultural shift away from “tough it out” and into “talk it out.” That’s what I took away from Queer Eye. That, and the wrist-flip yass queen idiom that allows me to express myself in a way I didn’t even know I needed.