November 11, 2020

3 Things “Queer Eye” Teaches us (Men) about Masculinity.

A few nights ago, my wife and I were scrolling through Netflix to watch something lighthearted before turning in.

And there it was: “Queer Eye” in all its bubbly glory.

We watched the trailer, and my curiosity was piqued. Having been involved in men’s work and men’s coaching for the last six-plus years, I’ve seen and been in the presence of countless men excavating their psyches, their sexuality, their shadows, and their hearts; I was genuinely curious to see what lessons could be learned from the men featured in these episodes.

Here are three things I learned about men and masculinity watching “Queer Eye:”

1. Taking responsibility for our purpose is freedom.

In the first episode of season five, we meet Noah, the pastor of Atonement Church in Philadelphia. He came out as homosexual later in his life but has always struggled to find atonement with his internal truth and the dogmatic beliefs of the world and religion around him.

This struggle put a limit on his leadership, keeping him held back and reserved in taking a stand for his beliefs, in both small and great ways.

Over the course of the episode, as Noah related to the “Queer Eye” crew (who are all unapologetically and authentically themselves), you can see him become more and more open to his truth, almost as if they were giving him permission to just be in a way that he had never given himself.

This permission opened him to his sense of responsibility as a leader and uncovered the shame he held onto for not taking that responsibility earlier, specifically as it related to speaking up for the gay community in the times they were vying to be seen as valued equals by the church.

During his final speech, where he addresses the packed pews of his renovated church, we see the result of this transformation and acceptance of his purpose. Through sharing his story vulnerably, taking ownership of actions needed to right the wrongs suffered by countless individuals at the hands of the church, shedding light on his unique identity—now unavoidable, fabulous even—he has finally given himself the ability to fully follow his purpose.

In doing so, he finds his freedom. And you can see, plain as day, that freedom feels good!

Noah tells the story of all men: we all have a deeper calling that is intimately entwined with our unique identity, our personal suffering, and our gifts. Men who don’t commit themselves to this calling in their life will never know what it is to be free. Sure, we could have a nice job, a nice family, and a nice life, but somewhere deep down, we’ll sense we missed something, or forgotten something, like a key to a dark door in a dream already half-forgotten.

2. It’s okay for us to take a seat at the head of our table.

In traditional tribal settings, boys were initiated into the world of masculinity by the elder men of their community. In those rituals, all ties, both psychological and physical, were cut from the warm embrace of their mother, and a challenge was faced as the young boys entered the cold, harsh world of men.

Death was often a serious possibility, and through the sincerity and severity of the ritual, the boys were cut clean from their old, comfortable world and welcomed joyously into the mysterious new.

That ritual initiation of tribal cultures does two things:

It individuates the boy from his former identity.

It welcomes him into the masculine fold.

In our modern society, we don’t have these rituals anymore. Instead, we have men in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s still playing out their boyhood fantasies, yearning and pining for the deep richness of manhood that’s been hiding within them—looking for it in the empty promises of success and sex.

Without that individuation and welcoming, most of us live our lives stuck in our boyishness, lost like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.

In episode six, we watch the transformation that a man, Ryan, experiences after an encounter with his father. Before then, he had never had his parents or siblings over to his home for dinner, an important ritual in his family. His home was an empty symbol, devoid of the life-affirming qualities that a kingdom should have. It gave him the pretense of “having it together,” but we saw what his room, a mirror image of inner life, looked like.

Once Ryan is able to face his fears of being judged for his desires, and he receives his father’s blessing, his last step is to have his family over for dinner, a weekly tradition that, until then, had always been held at his parent’s house.

We can sense him right at the edge of his comfort, but, at the same time, we can sense the power he feels. He is taking a stand as an individual, and welcoming his family into his experience rather than trying to fit himself into theirs.

This act culminates in Ryan taking the seat at the head of his own table. In doing so, he claims responsibility for his kingdom; he has claimed his throne as an individual in his family dynamic. He is able to sit there, laugh, cry, and share freely, without the claustrophobic conditioning he had become so accustomed to.

This seemingly small act likely had big results.

So, how can you apply this? Ask yourself:

>> What area of your life is asking you to take a seat at the head of the table? 

>> Where have you abdicated your responsibility and taken the easy way out? 

>> Where are you ready and willing to lay claim to your kingdom and take up your sovereign space?

3. A man who doesn’t feel his emotions will soon feel controlled by them.

The extent to which each man’s life was in chaos was largely determined by how much he had excavated his emotions.

I saw this lesson come up in almost every episode I’ve watched so far; whether it was the heavy weight of a father’s expectations or the burden of guilt and shame for not living life the way he knew could be, a desire hidden within.

Keeping a keen eye on the emotions that lie within us is of the utmost importance. Without doing so, it’s all too easy to slip through the years of our lives while the weight of those emotions keep building silently.

Ironically, the thing that would actually do the most good in these cases is exactly what most of us don’t have—a dedicated, heartfelt group of men who will listen to the stories of our suffering, brothers who will hold us in their loving and supportive embrace without reproach—keeping us accountable to the dream that is hidden within our hearts.

It doesn’t matter if these men are gay, straight, non-binary, or anything in-between, there is a kind of soul-nourishment that is transferred between men when we share deeply, and it is desperately needed, perhaps now, more than ever.

Now four episodes into this feel-good show, I am excited to continue absorbing its wisdom. I’ve laughed, cried, and deeply seen myself in the stories of each man. They’ve reminded me how each of us is a mirror for each other, and that we need to be seen and held in the poignancy of our story—exactly as it is—without changing it.

I’m grateful to the amazing humans of the Fab 5 for their courage to pursue their purpose of enlivening, lightening, and loving their fellow brothers.


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