When it was first announced that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was getting a reboot, many were sceptical as to how the format would catch up to 2018. Fifteen years after it debuted, the reality show, which saw gay men give advice on fashion, grooming, interior design, food and culture to straight men, only seemed to further entrench stereotypes of gay men and box them into limited societal roles.

But when Netflix's Queer Eye debuted in February this year, its change of tack was evident right from the beginning. In episode one, truck driver Tom Jackson, who outwardly represented every stereotype of small-town, southern American masculinity, turned his life around with the help of the new "Fab Five". It was less about superficially "bettering" Jackson than it was about showing a man how to love himself and see the world through a different lens.

As he broke down in tears at the end, overcome with emotion, it was clear that Queer Eye was on to something special.

"We're not really used to being kind to each other, so the show's been really refreshing for a lot of people," says food and wine expert Antoni Porowski, speaking over the phone during the Fab Five's promo tour of Australia. "You get to learn who the person is, the individual, and you get in touch with their humanity, and how can you not get emotional at that?"

The new Fab Five's focus is on self-love and acceptance. Photo / Netflix
The new Fab Five's focus is on self-love and acceptance. Photo / Netflix

Grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness, the show's breakout internet sensation, says the show goes "deeper" than the first series, meeting the political zeitgeist head-on.

"[In] 2016, that social pendulum really took a conservative swing to the right," he says. "In so many different parts of the world, there is a backslide, and a need for a conversation on inclusivity and tolerance. And just because there have been a lot of really important strides forward doesn't mean that backsliding can't happen just as rapidly."

The series resonated around the world, far more than any of the new Fab Five – Van Ness and Porowski along with Tan France (fashion), Karamo Brown (culture) and Bobby Berk (design) – could have ever expected.

"Even just coming to Australia, this amazing woman that was working in the aeroplane was telling me about how she watched Queer Eye with her 7-year-old son, and he presents more effeminately, and she thinks that he may end up being gay," says Van Ness. "And whether he does end up being gay or he doesn't, she was saying how it's really nice to be able to watch something like Queer Eye with him, and have him see someone like me, and know that however he is, is okay."

On the show (and in real life), Van Ness is proudly, beautifully, unabashedly feminine – which led to differing online reactions, with some proclaiming him to be "too much", and others jumping to his defence. It's nothing new to Van Ness, who recognises that it speaks to a wider societal issue.

"Internalised homophobia is a really big problem within the gay community, and I think that's where 100 per cent of those criticisms come from," he says. "My entire life people have been telling me that my energy is 'too much', or needs to be tapered down in some way to be more acceptable, and that has just never been a road that I am willing to take.

"I don't know if it's necessarily a gay-on-gay issue as much as it is a toxic masculinity thing," he continues. "I think men can be misogynistic if they're gay or straight, and I think hating on feminine or queer-presenting gay men is misogynistic of gay men. So I don't know what the answer is to that. It really is a more personal journey for those people to have with themselves."

Jonathan Van Ness:
Jonathan Van Ness: "My entire life people have told me that my energy was 'too much.'" Photo / Netflix

The new Queer Eye aims to open up dialogues around the nuances of queer identities, and how different backgrounds and experiences influence an individual's relationship with their queerness. Confronting discussions balance the show's relentless optimism – such as in the second episode of season two, in which Porowski discusses the level of privilege he retains as a queer man who outwardly presents as more archetypically heterosexual.


"Look at Jonathan and me," says Porowski. "Jonathan was raised in a small American town, pretty conservative, more on the rural side than he would even admit, and this is someone who has always been unabashedly himself, and presents more on the flamboyant side of things. Meanwhile, I was raised in a very liberal metropolis of Montreal, which is super multicultural and very accepting and open-minded, yet I'm completely different.

Antoni Porowski says nature and nurture intertwine when it comes to queer identity. Photo / Netflix
Antoni Porowski says nature and nurture intertwine when it comes to queer identity. Photo / Netflix

"I think nature and nurture kind of intertwine," he continues. "I used to always think that I presented myself a certain way because that's who I am, but when I look back, I think about Jonathan, who's now one of the closest people in my life. If I was a 4-year-old boy and I met him in pre-school and we became friends, I probably would have ended up very different, and I probably would have been a little more comfortable exploring different sides of myself."

That's what Queer Eye is reaching for – whether it be through one's appearance, health, lifestyle or relationships, the Fab Five's drive is to show people how to love themselves.

"In my life, my journey has been to figure out how to be my own best company, and really adore that," says Van Ness. "Logistically you are the only person you come into the world with who you go out with as well. That's my philosophy, and that's my hope for people – that they really invest in a relationship with themselves."

The upcoming second season continues the work of the first, with a focus on diversifying the worlds they enter – such as when they meet Tammy, a highly religious, community-focused African American woman who lives in the town of (wait for it) Gay, Georgia. The episode analyses the queer community's complicated relationship with religion, particularly as the Fab Five help Tammy reconnect with her gay son.

"I was particularly touched with Tammy's ability and her choice to display this unconditional love, without exception," says Porowski. "And she wasn't always this way. She's somebody who was judgmental of her son's sexuality, and she realised that she needed a perspective shift.

The Fab Five with Tammy and her son in Queer Eye season 2. Photo / Netflix
The Fab Five with Tammy and her son in Queer Eye season 2. Photo / Netflix

"I think this episode's going to affect a lot of people… for her to spin that around, and really call us out on all of our insecurities and our fears, and showcase the things that make us special, she really flipped it on us in that episode. That's what was so disarming, and what caused such a strong emotional reaction."

What: Queer Eye Season 2
When: June 15
Where: Netflix