I’m calling it: February was officially a good news month when it came to masculinity. Why, you may ask, given the ongoing haemorrhaging of toxic masculinity articles, whether in the context of #MeToo or school shootings? Two words: Queer Eye.
The Queer Eye reboot on Netflix is a great example of how to engage the subject of masculinity. I believe most of the coverage of the show has missed its crucial strategy. Typically, commentators have suggested it is “deconstructing toxic masculinity.” But it is important to note that no such language is used on the show. Ultimately, Queer Eye does not employ a deconstructive strategy, rather a constructive one: it is not so much about critiquing what is wrong, rather building what is right. This creates an entirely different mood that has much greater capacity to build bridges and create lasting, sustainable solutions. Nor does this come at the expense of glossing over differences. On various occasions the show engages in sticky issues, such as race, politics and religion. But it does not allow these differences to define relationships, rather it continues with an open hand rather than a closed fist.
There is another show that is back on air recently that follows a similar path: RuPaul’s Drag Race. Of course, it is clear that both these shows are “gay.” This fact is worth exploring. It is important to note that there is nothing inherently “good” about being gay: there is no “gay spirit,” as such a thing is as essentialist an idea as any conservative vision of sex and gender. But there is something that puts gay men ahead of the game when it comes to masculinity, and that is the fact that they have usually been forced to interrogate what masculinity means to them as men in a way that most straight men have not. The value of “gayness,” then, is that it is generally more mindful than straightness.
At this point I am reminded of the creedal statement about gay men by Harry Hay, one of the pioneers of the modern gay movement:
- They are not, by nature, territorially aggressive and do not impose their political claims on others.
- They are not, by nature, competitive but are passionately interested in sharing with others.
- They are not interested in conquering nature but are interested in harmonious living with all of nature.
- They are not interested in denying bodiliness and carnality but are passionately involved in celebrating all aspects of human sexuality.
It always struck me that there is nothing in Hay’s description that is in any way “gay,” inasmuch as same-sex desire. Indeed, any “good” straight man should be happy to live by this life manifesto.
So what Queer Eye, RuPaul’s Drag Race and Harry Hay suggest is that the way forward for men is mindfulness, and a constructive approach to building relationships based on good will, empathy and mutuality. Can you say the same for your approach to gender?
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