5 min

Queer Eye for the trans guy

The Fab Five's trans following

EVEN MORE FAB THAN BEFORE. Evan's posse show off what they've learned from the Queer Eye guys. Credit: Daniel Ehrenworth

“Everything I learned about being a man, I learned from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy,” is the common refrain in my household.

In a home that consists of two trans guys and a cat, you can often find us cuddled up together watching taped episodes of Queer Eye. We rely on the show to teach us all sorts of little tricks that go along with being a guy in a major urban centre – everything from basic male grooming techniques to the finer points of masculine social etiquette.

Experience has taught me that North American society bases almost all of its gender assumptions on first impressions – things like clothes and appearance. Any help I can get aids me greatly on my personal journey.

However, outside of my home, Queer Eye seems too often to fall under attack. Most of the gay men I know feel the show reinforces stereotypes; that it’s just another example of the mainstream media showing the positive aspects of gay life while ignoring the realities and hardships. While I agree with this critique, it overlooks the enormous value of the show for female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have an obsession with the Queer Eye guys. I mean they’re so cute, who wouldn’t love them? But I also think I get a lot more out of the show than most of my gay acquaintances. As a trans guy, Queer Eye teaches me things that society neglected to. Things that my parents and the world around me didn’t think a little girl growing up would ever need to know. As it turned out, these were lessons I desperately needed to be taught.

For most men, things like shaving seem fairly straightforward. Chances are that boys were allowed in the bathroom with their dads as they got ready for work in the morning. They watched their dads and learned by example.

These are crucial rites of passage that I was never allowed to witness. Not that my parents withheld anything on purpose. They just followed the rules of a typically-gendered household.

When it was time for me to start shaving I had no idea how to do it. I didn’t know what kind of razors to use, what kind of shaving cream or how often to do it. I had spent so much time trying to make my outer body present itself as masculine, only to find out that once it did, my lack of knowledge made me feel more like a girl than ever before.

I have a terrifyingly funny video of a trans friend of mine, who grew his facial hair faster than me, shaving for the first time. People always gasp in horror when we pull out this cherished example of how not to shave.

“The shaving cream’s so high! Is he trying to shave his eyeballs?”

The video shows him with enough shaving cream on his face so as to leave only his eyes visible. And then there’s me, holding the camera, not knowing any better.

Thankfully, this potentially dangerous situation mended itself when Kyan Douglas, Queer Eye’s grooming guru, so kindly taught one of the show’s hapless straight men how to shave the correct way. (Did you know you actually had to shave with the grain of the hair not against it?)

And it’s not just the local boys who have discovered the infinite wisdom of the Fab Five. The far-reaching impact of Queer Eye became clear to me when my best friend arrived from Vancouver and the first words out of his mouth were “I missed you! Feel my face. I started watching Queer Eye. They’re so clever.”

Some of Kyan’s advice seemed to come naturally to me, especially when he talks about hair. Of course product is a good thing. Of course there’s no shame in dying your hair. The mantra of “shorter is better” is a little new to me, but I feel like I’m still following the rules. My mohawk is plenty short on the sides and I use ridiculously high-priced hair glue for it when I know Bondfast would do the same job. It’s all about image I suppose.

But Kyan isn’t the only one who has made a difference. A lot of great lessons come from Jai Rodriguez, Queer Eye’s resident culture vulture. Jai has taught me a thing or two about proper bar etiquette. Prior to Queer Eye, my idea of dancing was bouncing around at a punk show with a bunch of hot sweaty guys and seeing how many I could rub up against without getting kicked.

Now I know how to slow dance and how to casually put my arm around someone’s neck so they have to kiss me. Is it as much fun? No. But have you ever seen a punk kid at the Barn trying to jump around to Christina Aguilera? It’s not a pretty sight.

Fashion savant Carson Kressley’s advice has also had a huge affect on my life. Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing my boyfriend relive his teenaged years in phat pants. But I much prefer to see his ass in a nice pair of tight jeans that are faded in all the right places. And he’ll attest to the fact that they’re far more comfortable than skirts.

Sometimes Queer Eye gives me a little self-esteem boost as I watch Ted, the food and wine connoisseur, trying to teach men how to cook. I can’t help but think that maybe those 14 years of Girl Guides were my mother’s way of preparing me to be a first-class metrosexual. Somehow I doubt it. Though it did give me great cooking skills.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to learn. I mean, I can cook a chicken in a garbage pail buried underground, but for some reason Ted’s little chocolate boxes full of raspberries always seem more appetizing.

As for design doctor Thom Filicia, he does have a lot of great ideas when it comes to decorating small spaces, but I have this innate love of Ikea, which seemed to transition quite comfortably from dyke to fag.

Now I don’t want to completely discount my parents’ efforts in all this. They tried their best to raise me without sexism. My mom has always said, “There’s no such thing as boys’ and girls’ toys. They should be able to play with whatever they want.”

And my dad gave me two well-intentioned lessons when I showed up for a visit recently. First, he took me out to his barbeque and said, “If you are gonna be a guy, you gotta learn how to use one of these things.” His second lesson was, “Whatever you do, don’t listen to the women.” While this sounded great at the time, it quickly got me into trouble with the females in the house.

So I’ve decided to stick to Jai’s advice on how to treat the ladies. After all, I was out as a dyke for 10 years before I transitioned, which is where I learned the fine arts of fisting and softball. But it was Queer Eye that taught me how to hold a door open for a lady and pull out her chair at dinner.

I know many trans guys who would tell you they have no interest in becoming the kinds of guys that Queer Eye produces, but for me, it has been a window into a world I’m not sure I totally feel part of and a resource to help me find my place in that world.

And, at the very least, it saves me asking a lot of seemingly silly questions of my male acquaintances.