Written by: Winona Young, Staff Writer
Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye is our TV equivalent of heartwarming chicken soup, only with avocado and patterned shirts. The fresh new hosts feature a variety of personalities, and more importantly, a diverse range of queer men.
Like any charming boy band, everyone has a favourite — and while Jonathan Van Ness isn’t mine, he’s one of the most beloved members of the cast and is the resident grooming expert. Of the Fab Five, Van Ness is not only the youngest but also the most flamboyant of the group. He is charismatic, a cornucopia of gay slang, and tagged as the most stereotypically gay one of the group.
Van Ness is criticized for leaning too heavily into such stereotypes, and being “too gay.” Some Twitter users have given him backhanded compliments on his demeanour by appreciating his positivity while at the same time, asking if he could “tone it down.”
With such critique, is Van Ness really “too gay,” and should he tone it down?
While he isn’t my Fab-Five-Fave, to criticize him as “too gay” is homophobic. To judge his personality and outward expression as excessive implies that there’s an “acceptable” amount of gay he is allowed to be. To limit someone’s expression of their sexuality is narrow-minded. There is absolutely no need for him, or any other person in the queer community, to tone down how they convey their gender or sexual identity.
First, we should unpack what acting “too gay” may mean. I’m assuming it includes a possible lisp, a certain tone of inflection in your voice, being sassy, dressing well and being flamboyant. All of these are just a litany of gay stereotypes. To act “gay,” which is to say, to act overly flamboyant, both in and outside the LGBTQ+ community, holds a certain stigma.
Van Ness stands as one of the many men that may be ridiculed, criticized, or mocked due to his “too gay” self expression.
The fact that acting “too gay” is even an issue brings up the issue that there is an issue; the implication that there is even a concept that is “too gay” implies there’s an “appropriate” amount of gayness one can be. By trying to implicitly control someone’s expression of their sexuality, it acts as a form of gatekeeping in the community.
I remember scrolling through my Twitter feed and feeling hurt when I saw an old friend from my first year of university tweeted that yes, he was gay, and no, he did not do drag or watch RuPaul. He continued: “People act astonished when they find out I like to shoot guns and don’t participate in that queeny bullshit.” I tried to understand why he wanted to distance himself from other gay men in the community, as well as try to undermine them.
I realize now how homophobic his statement was for referring to conventional gay behaviour/interests as “queeny bullshit.” This distaste is shared not only by gay men like him, but by others, in and outside the gay community.
Because what’s wrong with liking “queeny bullshit”? I’m guessing that the only problem people may see with it are those who have a skewed vision of what it is to be a man — that it’s acceptable to be gay, but only if you still adhere to toxic ideals of masculinity. Apparently, acting sassy or feminine is mutually incompatible with masculinity. God forbid that someone be gay like Van Ness, and be interested in “queeny bullshit.”
To further understand how terms like “queeny bullshit” hurt the gay community, we also need to talk about how misogyny and homophobia overlap when criticising gay men about their self-expression. If any gay men like Van Ness were to act sassy, speak with a lisp, or to perform a valley girl accent, they’d be performing traits that are associated with being feminine or a woman.
And to be criticised for expressing themselves in a similar way to that of women could be constituted as “queeny bullshit” on the basis that they’re not acting masculine, implicity implying that to be feminine, or to act/dress like a woman is demeaning. To reject valid forms of self-expression for gay men is not only homophobic but also a tad misogynistic.
Writer Garrett Schlichte for Harper’s Bazaar wrote on how effective Queer Eye is at combatting ideas of toxic masculinity and conventional ideals of masculinity within straight and gay men alike. As Schielte wrote, “. . . the Fab 5 are actually exemplifying and encouraging positive, healthy adult relationships based in authenticity, empathy, and vulnerability,” traits that should be noted are often associated with femininity.
No matter the community, toxic ideals of masculinity which dictate a man shouldn’t act too feminine, too flamboyant, or too gay remain prevalent and hurtful.
In a Mic video on misogyny within the LGBTQ+ community, writer Gabe Gonzalez says, “A feminine man is no less of a man; he’s just not performing gender the way our culture expects him to.”
While the gay community isn’t only made up of “yas” shouting and RuPaul-loving men like Van Ness, to put down his mode of expression of his sexuality and self is homophobic and hurtful to the community.