By Hank Jacobs
Whenever I watch Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, I cry. Mostly it’s just a tear or two, but sometimes the waterworks just turn on through the whole episode. My kids think it’s hilarious. My older one is sympathetic, she finds it silly. My younger one is kind of amazed, because I’m generally a stoic-man-of-action-American-hero type. She makes fun of me. “You’re crying! At this dumb show!”
And it’s not just the new version. My kids’ mother and I used to watch the old show on Bravo when they were small, and the same thing would happen: tears. I didn’t understand it at the time, and I would feel embarrassed and ashamed.
The tears usually come at the moment when the straight guy’s families and friends see them for the first time after the queer guys put them through the transformation.
I’ve struggled to explain it. Reality shows are not really my thing. Given a choice, I’ll watch sports, or cartoons. Or the news. Anything but unscripted. From my perspective, most reality shows are about trifling people doing trifling things. Act like a dumbass for money. No thank you. But I really enjoy Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
It’s tough being a man today
Generally, the straight guys that get nominated to be on the show are men who struggle with what it means “to be a man.” Maybe they are dads who have been chased into their shell by overwhelming responsibilities. Sometimes they are guys who have never learned how to connect with women, or build a career, or develop their personal power. Or they might be guys who have experienced trauma that stunted their development.
There is incredible pressure on men to be something in this world. You have to be a mack with the ladies, you have to make more money, drive a better car, have a better house, provide for your wife, kids, animals, parents, friends, not to mention the taxman and corporate predators.
The stress of this disconnect is a relic of a time when we were hunting and gathering, when a man could still make a good living from sweat and muscle. As my dear friend Rexx Thomas said on her insightful Rexxisms blog:
“Carrying the emotional burden and scar of taking life, millenia after millenia, has created a wound so deep in the masculine half of the collective consciousness, that they are crying out in pain.”
So much is changing. The jobs we used to depend on to provide resources and a sense of accomplishment have left the country, been eroded by government policies attacking unions, expanded automation, and disruptive technologies like the internet and smartphones. Millions of truck drivers are going to lose their jobs to self-driving trucks, which will lead not only to massive social upheaval, but also to millions of men losing that which we attach our masculine dignity to: our usefulness.
We men pride ourselves on being useful. We express our love through getting things done, and for providing for our loved ones. With that gone, how are we to express real emotions? Emotions left unexpressed can lead to destructive behavior, towards others, and towards ourselves.
Which is why we need the Fab Five. They come in, twirling, lisping, emoting, allowing themselves to feel all the feelings. They wear their hearts on their sleeves in a powerful way.
And the straight guys watch them, unsure of what to do. But we see the light come on again behind their eyes. It’s almost like they’re thinking, “wait, you’re allowed to act like this?” They are hungry for the experience to come, the freedom to express all of that emotion just roiling around inside.
The Fab Five come roaring into this suffering guy’s life, and they’re so unconventional in their moment to moment behavior, that they create a powerful space for a man to step into his feelings without seeming really bizarre. They provide cover for a man to express affection, aesthetic, and joy in ways that were probably stamped out when he was a child.
“Boys don’t cry.”
“Win, you loser!”
That’s great, dad, but why are you crying?
I’m crying because I love watching these straight guys come to life again. The moment they realize that they can outwardly express things that they like. They can take care of themselves. They can truly enjoy the women in their lives, and the other men, and it has nothing to do with sex. They can cry, they can dance, they can sing, they can fail, they can lose, they can be afraid.
That’s a big one. It’s okay to be afraid. And still be a man. It’s vital to understand that. It does not make you a coward, it makes you real. That acceptance is needed to prepare one to move beyond fear, into a place where we can act bravely when it is required of us.
In this age of Trump, the “idea of winning” seems more important than actual victory. What it means to “be a man” bears so little resemblance to what the world actually needs from men, that, when the chips are down, we are generally left standing with our dicks in our hands, no freaking clue what to do.
The time of the grim faced man mowing down the world around him in order to save it is passing. And not a moment too soon.
Being flamboyant in the American South
The fact that the new Netflix series is set in Georgia brings it all home even more. They are bringing powerful, fearless love to a place that fears outward displays of male emotion that don’t involve aggression.
Then they carry the message back to the cultured coasts and cities that, despite the stories that the media gives us about what Southern men are is only part of the story. In reality, the men they are helping are good men, full of love, and they shouldn’t have to be lumped in with the ignorant lunatics we see on TV, the ones who make good clickbait.
The majority of people are good people. The majority of men are good men. I truly believe this.
Why I cry
I cry because the Queer Eye guys invite us to be human. I cry when I see the lights come back on in a man’s soul, which in turn ignites the souls of those around them- this is how humanity will grow.
Here is my invocation: Let us sing with joy, and celebrate our communion with the world around us. Let us love one another without reservation. Let us show care and compassion for the angry, scared men around us. Let us show care and compassion for those who need help and are afraid to ask for it.
Because, in this day and age, no one knows what the heck is going on, or where it’s all going. We’re locked in survival mode, afraid to let go of the old world. But the divine feminine is calling us to the new world. There lies salvation. There lies freedom. There lies balance.
Don’t resist it. Let the tears flow, men.
And I, for one, am happy to let my children see.
I am a man.