Pride, Patriotism and Queer Eye: The Nation Has Changed Quite a Bit since Queer Eye for the Straight Guy Debuted Last Summer, the Fab 5 Talk about Their Role in the Gay Rights Revolution-And How the Show Has Affected Their Love Lives

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"It's not that he was wearing stuff that was, you know, overtly tragic. It's just, like most guys, he wasn't putting any thought into it. He just wore lumpy, oversize, baggy sweatshirts and stuff. He didn't like shopping; his apartment was. filthy. To hear Ted Allen tell it, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's latest makeover subject sounds much like the 23 straight guys who came before him in the show's blockbuster first season. Save for one particular detail. "I kept grabbing him by the shoulders," Ted says with a laugh, "and saving, 'Wayne, for the love of God, you're supposed to be gay!'"

That's right--get ready for Queer Eye for the Gay Guy. For one week in May, the cast descended on the life of Wayne, a gay man living in New York City who was stuck in a rut from a breakup and quite keen for Ted, Carson, Jai, Kyan, and Thorn to help him break out of it. "One of our own was in trouble, so we had to come to the rescue," explains Carson.

"It was so tim," beams Kyan. "A lot of the times with straight guys, you have to sort of talk them into it, explain why it's good for them. With Wayne, he was so willing and open and ready and eager. That made it really fun for us."

As the show begins its second full season (new episodes started airing June 1), Queer Eye really has come full circle. Since its July 2003 debut, using an arsenal of "sofa pillows and shaving cream and bootcut jeans" (as Thom puts it), this hour-long makeover show has "living rooms across America--including Middle America and the Bible Belt--laughing along with five people they consider friends who just happen to be gay" (to quote Jai), and the now-famous Fab 5 have done so by simply helping two dozen straight men help themselves.

And that's only in front of the cameras. Who knows how many hetero guys from among Queer Eye's 1.8 million weekly viewers are suddenly rolling their own pasta or springing for salsa lessons?

It's easy to forget, but when Bravo--at the time, a largely overlooked basic-cable channel that had just been acquired by NBC--premiered its entry into the vast universe of reality TV with a show bearing the eyebrow-raising title of Queer Eye for the Straight Gay, "it arrived during what was already the gayest summer on record," as Joan Garry, executive director of the media watchdog group Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, wryly reminds us.

That "gayest summer" starred, really, on June 7, 2003, with the election by the New Hampshire Episcopal diocese of an openly gay man, the Reverend V. Gene Robinson, as its bishop, a decision that still threatens to split the Episcopal Church USA from many of its Anglican brethren around the world. Then the John Waters-inspired Broadway musical Hairspray twisted its way though the Tony Awards, with an openly gay songwriting team, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, sharing a smooch on live TV as they accepted their trophy. At the end of the month, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all remaining same-sex sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, using language so sweeping and forceful that activists on both the Left and the Right suddenly saw the legalization of same-sex marriage as an attainable reality. A scant four days later, Canada's prime minister seemed to affirm that conclusion, announcing the country would make gay marriage--already under way in its province of Ontario--legal nationwide. (So far it's limited to three provinces, but the promise stands.)

Then Queer Eye debuted on July 24 to record-breaking ratings for Bravo (3.34 million viewers at its peak in September, a bonanza for basic cable) and widespread critical acclaim. The first season gave us not only 24 episodes of the show but also a best-selling book, a soundtrack, a music video, endorsement deals, magazine covers, TV talk-show appearances--including the quintet's invasion of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno--and immeasurable cultural impact. After all, who hasn't referred to a fifth-wheel friend as the "Jai" of the clique or talked about "Queer Eyeing" a straight friend? …

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