I find Bobby on Queer Eye annoying and I love that I find him annoying. I love that I can roll my eyes at Antoni loving avocadoes, and I enjoy that I can be confused about what Karamo’s actual role on the show is.
There is a criminal dearth of queer representation in mainstream media, and the small amount that we do have disproportionately illustrates cisgender, white gay men of certain attractiveness and privileges. However, I feel like this is the first time that I can remember seeing multiple, nuanced depictions of queerdom. And that makes me super happy.
A few years ago, Looking premiered on HBO. It centered on three white and white-passing gay, cisgender men in San Francisco. While I personally liked it, the show was widely panned by critics (fairly and unfairly) for projecting a narrow and specific type of queer experience. I do not think that Looking in and of itself was a bad show, and I think that it portrayed a certain kind of experience relatively truthfully. However, the problem was that it was the only mainstream show that really had any queer people as the main focus. So from the get, it had this incredible pressure to portray every type of queer person.
The problem with early representation is that it’s impossible to depict everyone. But with so few options, people (rightfully) want to see themselves represented. It also runs the risk of preventing other queer stories being told because when, if, things fail, people use that as proof of failure.
I started thinking about this when I watched a video from the queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10. They were asked to give their favorite season (season 5), and the simplicity of that struck me. We now have ten seasons of a show about queer people in drag. We have enough to even be able to pick a favorite season. And we have enough to have less-than-great seasons (season 8, I’m sorry). That in itself is a huge victory.
And that feeling reverberated when I was watching Queer Eye. In five years, when Bobby Berk has his own design show and possibly a spot on an HGTV mid-morning show, I’ll probably forget that I found him annoying on the Netflix reboot of Queer Eye. At that point, I’ll hopefully have my own apartment, and I’ll be dying for him to recommend the best way to shiplap the fuck out of my house. In five years, Antoni will be a hot-as-fuck almost-40-year-old in a beautiful New York loft, and Karamo will be…I can’t really imagine but he’ll definitely still be good-looking as hell.
By the way, Bobby definitely has blisters on his fingers from hammering two-by-fours and lower back pain from lugging in antique armoires. In one of the recent episodes, he completely renovated someone’s kitchen, redesigned their closet and all Antoni did was bring the subject to someone else who taught them how to make fresh pasta. I’m screaming!!
I realized how lucky I was to be able to be annoyed by Bobby or Antoni or Karamo; to see a depiction of a queer person and not feel like I have to like them because I have no other option. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my queer forebears. There are so many people who paved the path that I now walk so effortlessly on, people who did it for nothing more than the idea that someday, in their wildest dreams, people like me could breathe a little easier.
I’m working my way through the pilot of Pose (it’s riveting, I’m just totally scatterbrained) and I also listened to a podcast that interviewed Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, one of the two couples involved in the Prop 8 lawsuit that restored same-sex marriage in California. I have the privilege of being white, able-bodied, cisgender and surrounded by a healthy support system, so I forget too often how many people struggled, and still struggle, in my community.
Representation matters, and Queer Eye and Pose and RuPaul’s Drag Race are more than just TV shows: they’re proof that queer people exist, that they can flourish, that they matter.