Season 3 of Queer Eye Is Unlike the First Two—and That's a Good Thing

The change is subtle, but monumentally important

Antoni being held by Tan France in a scene from Queer Eye Season 3, they both look happy
(Photo: Netflix)

The new season of Queer Eye is Queer Eye evolved, hennies!

With more women getting makeovers than ever before, including the series’ first episode with a queer woman, there’s a lot to love about exploring Missouri with Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Tan France, Karamo Brown and Jonathan Van Ness in Season 3. And while I’m living for how much sexiness Porowski throws at the camera this season (just wait till you watch him grease up a meat spit)— the thing that’s extraordinary about the Queer Eye we’re seeing now is that it’s no longer about a straight–gay culture clash.

As you may know, Netflix’s Queer Eye is a reboot of the early 2000s reality TV sensation Queer Eye for the Straight Guy—a title that, rather problematically, positioned gayness in terms of what queer men could exclusively offer straight dudes. So, when 2018’s Queer Eye decided to break up with the “for the Straight Guy” concept, it felt like it was about more than broadening the show’s makeover base. It seemed to send the message that queer style and queer knowledge is relevant in our culture, period.

That is where Season 3 of Queer Eye shows growth in subtle, but deeply important ways. The new season is about an evolution of how we define what we think of as masculinity and femininity, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation. We see this intuitively expressed throughout Season 3’s makeovers of both straight and queer women. In the very first episode, we meet Jody, a hunter and corrections officer whose home is filled with camo, wood panels, weapons and taxidermy. Yet Berk avoids categorizing the décor as masculine, saying instead, “I don’t like labelling, everything is what anyone specifically likes, but you definitely like more of a bark and leaves, not flowers.”

Later in the season, when France is making over Jess, a young lesbian, he says, “It’s clear that Jess can flip between masculine and feminine. I don’t care about a label anymore; I want to find something that works for her. Not Janelle Monáe. Not lumberjack lesbian. Jess.” These women’s sexual orientations have no bearing on their style. And that is refreshing.

When I came out as bisexual in my mid-twenties, I had shoulder-length hair, I wore butt-cupping leggings and bodysuits—and my traditionally feminine attire prompted a lot of judgment, especially from queer people, who told me one day I’d “stop clinging to bisexuality” and “wanting to look straight.” Later, when I started rocking a bald fade and wearing low-crotch men’s jeans, my style passed some queer cred tests, but suddenly most men assumed that I was gay (not bi). Also, because my look was considered “boyish,” many men felt scared about their attraction to me because—gasp!—did that make them kind of gay? All of this cultural feedback around my appearance was BS because I wasn’t chopping my hair off to get women, and I wasn’t wearing boxers to scare men away. I was, and still am, exploring the dimensions of me, for me.

And it seem like Season 3 of Queer Eye gets that. During the Fab Five’s makeover of Thomas—a 21-year-old, soft-spoken gamer whose style icon is Donald Glover—Van Ness finds out that he has never been kissed. In response, Van Ness says, “All I want for Thomas is, like, for him to be happy and cute and know he’s worth someone making out with him. In fact, not someone, probably like 10 girls. Or—and guys. Like, maybe he’s fluid. I don’t care.”

As a bisexual person and a non-binary person, I notice how often even queer media is still based on the idea of a binary (men vs. women, gay vs. straight), and I consume that queer media anyway, because at least it’s something other than heteronormativity. But when Van Ness acknowledged that he neither knew nor cared whether Thomas was into men or women or both, Queer Eye became a show I could see my own queerness in.

This is an important evolution for the show. When Queer Eye launched, yes it featured more kinds of makeovers than the program’s Straight Guy predecessor—but in practice, it really didn’t seem that different in terms of the way it portrayed gay and straight people. Almost all of the Fab Five’s subjects in the first season were straight men. The one episode about a young gay man, titled the “To Gay or Not Too Gay,” made a point of saying that the Fab Five were making over “the straightest gay guy in Atlanta.” This type of characterization enforces the idea that straight male culture and gay male culture are somehow opposites—and reduces sexual orientation to a set of characteristics, or fashion choices. Similarly, when womanhood is equated with “feminine” colours, florals and high heels, it’s reduced to a look, rather than an expression of selfhood.

In Season 3, the Fab Five wrestle with the work a lot of us are figuring out: how to talk about ourselves and others without using language that stifles our individuality. Not only are Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Tan France, Karamo Brown and Jonathan Van Ness making over men and women in more unique and open-minded ways, they’re also taking a look at how they themselves can zhush up their personal ideas about gender. That’s what makes the Fab Five just as admirable as the people they make over. While they ask others to change, they are also changing themselves.


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