Well, darlings, the premise used to be perfect. Gay men were the only ones who knew how to dress, flirt and gossip. Straight men couldn’t compete. Fags leapt right out of the closet into the salon, where we buffed our hair, our hands, our nails and our muscles ’til you could see your reflection in our torsos. Women could match us, but even they did the muscles only in eastern Europe, when the Olympics were on. We could shop until our plastic buckled. And we were funny, too. We had our tap shoes on every minute of the day. Gay life was just one long chorus-boy troll down the yellow brick road of jollity and style. On radio, TV or at home, we had to be fun. There was no other place at the table. It was burlesque or bust.
So on the seventh day, when God put his feet up in front of the telly, he realised that there was a show missing. In an uninspired moment he had invented the straight man, who had his uses when women couldn’t find a turkey baster or an electrician, but, oh my, was he dull. He was the human equivalent of grey shoes and a combination-lock briefcase.
Now, God commissioned Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, as the blurb says, “conquering the world one straight man at a time”. In 30 minutes, five queens made over some hapless straight frog into a prince and turned him from grunge to Gucci with a wave of their wands. No sex, just shopping. If we couldn’t undress them at least we could dress them up.
The show became a sensation in the US, catapulted from cable to network, from Bravo to NBC, in just one season. Now it will be sold to 20 countries across the world – although probably not to Iran or Egypt, where it may be a little less easy to shop, with electrodes on your balls.
Living TV has bought the UK rights. So some dope from Bromley or Birmingham will be pounced on nightly and stripped of his dullness by five homos from Soho – hyenas ripping the flesh from the carcass of an antelope. And he will be remodelled in the image of the gay gods of style.
It’s a fine premise, because it works. The gay men cast in the US version are very funny. The TV show is a scream. And, not without reason, gay men have historically gained a reputation for wit. Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, coyly peeking out in a gay way from behind the thinly silked fan of respectability and apparent straightness, practically invented the modern English sense of humour.
During the great, heady days of liberation we set a stylish pace. While the Socialist Workers Party wore donkey jackets, we dressed up as nuns on roller skates and zapped psychiatrists. We dragged, we gymned and we danced and, yes, we even died, on the way to the revolution. But what has happened? It turns out that gay men didn’t actually want a revolution. They wanted joint mortgages. They didn’t want the end of patriarchy, they wanted the start of partnerships. They, too, wanted the right to torture one individual until the end of their lives, to argue about the gas bill and fight over the kids.
There were always dull moles within the gay ranks. In photos of the kiss-ins of the Seventies and Eighties, you can see the slacks and the Bri-Nylon multi-purpose macs. These people marched not for the right to be different, flamboyant or noticed but for the right to be the same, mousy and ignored. They never had posters of Mao or Gloria Steinem above their beds: they had pictures of Shirley Bassey above the fireplace and Capo di Monte china in the dresser. They were strangers to Pucci, Gucci, Armani and Prada. They wore Millets’ spring collection.
At the same time, straight men started to dress up. We edged towards human rights and they edged towards the bathroom and moisturised themselves into a stupor. So we have legal rights now, but no dress sense. That’s the beauty of citizenship: you can be ordinary. We don’t have to be special any more. Who’s on the catwalk? Not gay men. Straight boys with eyeliner. Who would you rather shag: Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, Jake Gyllenhaal, Travis Fimmel from the Calvin Klein ads or one of the dull gay boys from Emmerdale, EastEnders or Corrie? We’re so normal now, we worry about pensions. With the exception of a few show-home-osexuals, like Stuart in Queer as Folk, gay men live in terraced houses in suburbia. And love it.
Unnoticed, unfashionable and unexpectedly happy. So who’s going to commission Straight Eye for the Queer Guy? Someone must. We badly need their help.