Just watched an episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy last night. My sense has been, and still is, that those who are arguing that the show symbolizes a crude minstrelesque stereotyping of gay folks and those who are arguing that the show symbolizes a new prominence and acceptance of gay folks are both right. The most powerful argument of the former camp, I think, is that after performing stereotypical queer labor for heteros, the “Fab Five,” leave the heteros alone and go back into their queer home to watch from a distance as the people they’ve served experience romance. The fact that they’re drinking martinis doesn’t diminish the resemblance to servant quarters. The powerful argument of the latter camp, I think, is that queer folks are being brought into heteros’ homes not only to joke, advise, and support them but specifically to facilitate the development of healthier monogomous, faithful, loving relationships.
What struck me most strongly on watching the show last night, however, was the class-typing which pervades it. I think that the “positive stereotypes” associated with the “Fab Five,” while they share some of the problematic nature and potential utility in social progress as, say, the idea that Blacks beat Whites as Basketball, are comparatively noteworthy in that they’re almost totally inaccesible to a large swathe of the homosexual community. What are gay teenagers gorwing up in urban ghettos – especially those of color – to make of a queer icon distinguished by his inpeccable fashion who in a recent episode found an unacceptable shirt in a hetero man’s closet and asked him, “What are you, poor?”
There’s a compelling argument that the recent media buzz over “metrosexuals” – basically, hetero men who follow homosexual stereotypes – represents a reification of the claim that homosexuality and the expressions associated with it – warmth, compassion, fashion – both other you and make you less of a man. There’s a compelling argument to be made that the buzz over “metrosexuals” represents a problematization of constructs of gender and sexuality, and a growing comfort with the idea that multiple masculinities are available to heterosexual and homosexual guys alike. But what both of these arguments gloss over is that “metrosexuality” further weds sexuality and class by implying that northeastern urban wealthy trendy heterosexual men can perform homosexual stereotypes too.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the internet parodies of this show – some quite hateful – which have risen up have also been pervaded with class-typing: regular, blue-collar, beer-guzzling, poorly-dressed men converting effete trendy queers. But perhaps it should be concerning. Just as it should be concerning how many of the official and unofficial spokespeople of the political gay rights movement are white, upper-middle class folks (some of whom have a great deal of vested interest in divorcing the movement from class- and race- based justice movements). What’s needed is more voices, and diverse ones. Let a thousand queer TV shows bloom – but please, let them depict more than the type of gay folks in the Fab Five.