‘Out in the country honey, y’all means all’, as country singer Miranda Lambert’s catchy, inclusive theme song for the latest season of the Emmy-winning series Queer Eye tells us. A fitting soundtrack given that in March 2020 the show’s fab five donned their cowboy hats and headed to Texas, only to have filming shutdown before completing the first episode.
A year later when the production was safely able to pick up where it had left off, the impact of the pandemic had left its mark on many of the season’s nominated heroes. Given the circumstances, the healing and uplifting queer magic brought to Texas by Antoni, Bobby, JVN, Karamo, and Tan, feels all the more vital both for the folks they’re helping, and for audiences watching at home who need a burst of comfort, inspiration, and hope as we greet this new year. Along the way, the hosts spread their special brand of queer joy to trans powerlifter Angel who has become estranged from her father, bakery-owner Sarah who has found her business struggling with both Covid restrictions and the recent wave of anti-Asian American hate, healthcare worker Jereka who’s been focused on vaccinations and testing within her community in East Austin, and high schoolers attempting to stage their senior prom.
With all ten episodes of season six now streaming on Netflix, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann spoke with four of the fab five—Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Jonathan Van Ness, and Tan France—about some key moments in the new season, the perspective that they bring to their heroes’ lives, and their favourite LGBTQ+ culture and people. Watch the full video interview or read the highlights below.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: I feel like a new season of Queer Eye arrives in my life just when I need it most. It’s always so inspiring and hopeful, and of course there are a lot of tears! Tan, let’s start with you. We see the pandemic affecting quite a lot of the heroes in different ways throughout the season, but I wondered whether you personally felt a little different coming back because obviously the filming of season six was interrupted in March 2020. Did you feel like you had a different approach or a different attitude to making the show and what it means?
Tan France: “It was an interesting feeling going back. I felt like I wanted to be more compassionate with our heroes. I always try to be somewhat gentle, but I’m a Brit and I can’t help being a little harsh.”
Antoni Porowski: “You’re not harsh, you’re honest!”
Tan: “But this season, I found myself really wanting to make sure I was treating them with kid-gloves and making sure that they didn’t feel any more stress than they were feeling when the pandemic started. I wanted to really understand how this affected their lives, even if it didn’t ever make it into the show, I wanted them to understand that it wasn’t a case of, ‘I’m going pretend this hasn’t happened because we’re filming a show’.”
“We are a very much of the moment on our show, we do talk about current affairs, and one of the things that the whole world has experienced is the pandemic, so it would have been unwise to pretend that it was just another season. The way I think it has impacted our show is that it felt a lot more global than any other season ever has. Regardless of where we shot in Texas, or wherever else in America, there are situations that many of our heroes have experienced, when it comes to their personal lives, or their businesses or whatever, that people in India could relate to, or people in Far East Asia could relate to. People understand these Texas heroes more than they could ever understand any of our other heroes because we all went through something similar.”
Jonathan, there’s a really wonderful moment, which is quite small and subtle but very powerful, with Josh the rancher. When you’re working with him and talking about how you identify, you can see a wall starting to melt a little bit. How important it is for you to come face-to-face with people who probably have quite different views politically and see that that kind of connection can be made, because it’s a healing thing to watch in this time when we’re all divided and things are very heightened?
Jonathan Van Ness: “I felt a little bad rewatching his episode when he said, ‘My goal is to be your first Republican friend’, and then I said ‘You are’, because it’s such a lie. I just didn’t want him to feel bad. I come from a city that voted for Trump three to one, so that’s why meeting people like Josh, or even far to the right of Josh, is not a first time experience for me. I’m from rural America, I grew up across from a cornfield and a soybean farm and a pig and a cow farm, they were all right there. So it doesn’t feel particularly groundbreaking for me to be around people like this, but I do think that it’s important for people to see that people from very different backgrounds and very different perspectives can come together.”
“I don’t know if it ever gets easier though when you’re around people that you feel that kind of tension with. When someone like Josh says to me, ‘What’s up with the shoes?’ Most of my inside wants to roll my eyes and be like, ‘Oh my fucking God!’ But we love people and we’re patient, that’s what we do. Then I scold them for the fact that their boots also have heels!”
Yes, exactly! Bobby, as far as the design work goes you get more and more ambitious. A lot of amazing things happen this season, but I think building a barn for Jamie at Safe in Austin – the sanctuary for rescued animals that provides comfort to children – was pretty incredible and seeing that new home for those animals was amazing. How fulfilling was it to create that?
Bobby Berk: “The only thing I like more than people—and I say that loosely—are animals, so to be able to come in and help so many animals felt so good. Also, Jamie is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Being able to not only help people, but to help the animals, to be able to give them a space where their little souls wouldn’t freeze again felt so good. It’s been down in the 20s in Austin in the last couple of weeks and so the barn has already been saving lives and helping the animals and it’s given them a space to really help special needs children as well. Before, one of their biggest obstacles was accessibility and that space is so much more accessible now and she’s able to help so many more children than she was before.”
And Karamo obviously isn’t here today, but he’s not too into animals it seems from the show.
Bobby: “The funny thing is, he is. For 17 years he had an amazing little dog and Karamo has a cat that he loves.”
Antoni: “A hairless cat, no less!”
Bobby: “But he’s just not very uncomfortable on farms. So it’s not that he doesn’t like animals. I don’t want anybody to think Karamo is this cold-hearted person that doesn’t like animals. He loves animals, he’s just really really uncomfortable on farms!”
Tan: “He has an aversion to bad smells, more than most people do.”
Bobby: “I grew up on a farm, so oddly farm smells are the few smells that don’t bother me!”
Antoni, one of my favorite episodes this season is the high school prom. Of course, as we were saying before, the pandemic has affected everyone, but I think a lot of us really feel for high school kids because they’ve missed out on so much. But in that episode they got to have their prom. They were all quite into their food as well weren’t they? What did it mean for you to put on such an incredible prom for those kids?
Antoni: “It was everything. It was educational for me. Tan and I talked about this, because we actually didn’t have our own proms. Weirdly, I never graduated from high school, even though I went to college, and so I never had the prom experience. I never understood what an important staple that is in American life. What really hit me there was a young man, Emilio, who wanted to take control of all the decision making for the catering needs of the prom. I decided it was important for me to have a sit-down with him because I wanted to get to the bottom of why it was so important to him, because there’s always such a story behind that need. Learning about what it was like for him growing up when his mom would have to swap certain ingredients because they couldn’t afford them, but she didn’t want them to know, I learned why it was so important to him. He didn’t want anybody to experience what he did when he was growing up. So that became kind of his MO and how he operated in terms of organizing prom and I was so touched by that.”
That reminded me of my mum when she she used to buy the budget bread and I would ask her why she’d bought cheap bread without realizing why.
Antoni: “Then when you grow up and you learn the actual reason for it I think part of it is probably trying to remedy some kind of guilt that’s lingered and left behind. Not that he should feel guilty about it because he was a kid, he didn’t know, he was innocent, but the fact that he used that for good is such an example to so many of us.”
I want to touch on the queer aspect of the series, because I feel with the original Queer Eye it tapped into that stereotype—which is probably true—that we have better taste, but what is the significance in this version of the queer energy and queer joy that you all bring and the perspective that being queer might give you in helping your heroes?
JVN: “For a lot of people that identify within the LGBTQIA+ community, to a large extent because the world is not made to welcome us we are forced to use our imagination to create a more pleasant environment to live within. So when people are feeling discomfort or a lack of self-love or a lack of self-acceptance, they don’t see a place for themselves in the world, but I think we’re better at identifying ways to shift our perspective because we’ve been having to do that our entire lives. Then on the other hand, I think that it’s really important that you do see people in our community that are having fun. Obviously I love the original Queer Eye so much, but one thing that, speaking for my category, I’ve really tried to lean into is that I don’t change people for the sake of changing people. I’m not doing dramatic makeovers for the sake of it.”
JVN: “It’s really more about a sense of well-being, it’s about a sense of self-acceptance, it’s a sense of self-worth that I feel I’m way more invested in than a dramatic haircut or a dramatic color-change.”
Tan: “I think you respect them too much to say, ‘I’m just going to turn you into a clown for a TV show’.”
And you’re left with the idea that you have really given these people something that they can continue with once you leave.
Antoni: “And the confidence. Instead of focusing on the negative, it’s a case of putting a spotlight on the things that are already working for them. We all need that message.”
I’d like to ask each of you for your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ culture or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+; someone or something that’s had an impact on you.
Tan: “There’s a Golden Girls episode where Dorothy’s friend from school turns up and Sophia knows that she’s a lesbian.”
JVN: “Oh, and she falls in love! I love that episode.”
Tan: “She falls in love with Rose and Dorothy asks her mum, ‘How would you feel if I told you that I was a lesbian?’ And Sophia says something like, ‘It wouldn’t bother me at all. I love you. I love my son, and my other daughter, Gloria, it doesn’t matter. I just want my children to be happy’. And I thought, shit, this was in the 80s!”
Antoni: “I haven’t seen that episode!”
Tan: “Oh my God it’s so beautiful.”
Bobby: “Yeah, I tweeted about that episode recently.”
Tan: “Dorothy turns to her mum and says, ‘That’s why I love you’. And I just thought, ‘God, if they could do that in the 80s why the f**k can’t we do that today?!'”
Absolutely, sometimes it feels like we go backwards and forwards doesn’t it?
JVN: “In terms of some of my favorite contemporary queer culture, if you haven’t seen it Hacks it’s so good. Check it out.”
Antoni: “It’s brilliant!”
Bobby: “Ah, it’s so good! You know, even though she always gets the Emmys, for me it’s Ru! It’s funny, I’m actually looking at the building out of the window right now where I first met Ru in in 2003.”
JVN: “Are you talking about Rue McClanahan?!”
Bobby: “No, RuPaul! I was working at Restoration Hardware and she came in looking for some knobs for a dresser she was redoing. I think that Ru has been at the forefront of giving people permission to accept themselves and love themselves for who they are and started that movement way before we were on the forefront of anything. Although there are a lot of iterations of Drag Race these days, Ru has been on the forefront of helping people love themselves.”
Antoni: “I’m going to take a little pivot because I know that all the answers so far have been about giving us permission to be our best selves and things that are very positive. I remember before I’d really accepted my sexuality—and that’s still a journey, I’m not saying I’m 100% there—there was a book that I was reading by John Rechy called City of Night. It’s about a young man who moves to New York and he’s in Times Square when Times Square was where all the sex workers hung out way back when and he’s dealing with loneliness. Even though it’s a really sad book at the same time it made me feel a little less terminally unique. Just hearing that there was someone else who was going through a version of that out there made me realize I’m actually not alone.”
JVN: “I just have to say Rudy Galindo! 1996 US national champ. He’s a world figure skating bronze medalist. HIV positive. He was out at the time in 1996. Revolutionary. Major. Rudy Galindo; a childhood hero and I still am obsessed.”
Antoni: “I think the takeaway from it is that we all either want to see what we could be like, in terms of hope, or just see ourselves as we are right now and I think both of those are incredibly important.”
Tan: “Can I balance this out by sharing a gripe that I have real quick?”
Antoni, JVN: “Yeah!”
Bobby: “Please do.”
Tan: “I don’t check my DMs anymore, but my assistant does and apparently a lot of people within the queer community don’t like how “gay” I often am and how “gay” we are.”
JVN: “They think you are gay?!”
Bobby: “Too camp.”
Tan: “Well, that I am too femme.”
JVN: “Think you’re too femme?! But you’re so masc for masc!”
Tan: “Yeah, and it’s always us two that they moan about.”
JVN: “I feel like your Grindr profile probably said “masc, masc” on it, when you had one. I feel like you’re so butch. Your pecs are like this big and your biceps!”
Tan: “Let me say this. The amount of times I want to scream—and I don’t ever reply to them—but I want to scream saying, ‘Gosh, why do you hate our community so much? Is it because you wish you could be as free?'”
Bobby: “Yeah. It’s self-hate.”
Tan: “‘Is it because you hate that I’ve accepted that I am as “feminine” as I am?’ I don’t give a fuck that I don’t know how to behave in a “masc” way?! I don’t care!”
JVN: “I can’t believe these queens think you’re too femme!”
Antoni: “I bet with 99.9% of those people it’s just undealt with internalized homophobia.”
Tan: “Of course it is! And it makes me really sad and I just think we should be able to be whoever we want to be. It doesn’t matter how often I cross my legs. It’s fine. I love how queer I am and there’s no shame in that. Go screw yourself.”
Antoni: “Cross your legs some more just to land the point!”
JVN: “I just think it’s crazy! I would never be mean to you because—not that you send dick pics—but if you say something mean like that then you’re never gonna get one!”
Tan: “This is what they say, ‘You don’t represent us. You guys are basically caricatures of what it is to be queer’. No we’re not, I’m being myself.”
Bobby: “Honestly, the gay community is the worst to us.”
Tan: “A lot of people are so supportive though, we’ve got so many queer fans who are wonderful, but it’s just every now and then I just think, ‘gosh, I wish you’d hate yourself a little less’.”
By James Kleinmann
All six seasons of Queer Eye are streaming now on Netflix.
Coming soon: Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness based on their weekly podcast launches on Netflix on January 28th.