Filming episode three of Netflix's Queer Eye was the most challenging for Bobby Berk, the show's resident interior design expert—but not because it was a difficult makeover project. "When we arrived at Corey's house … we were very apprehensive," he tells MyDomaine. "There was a Trump sign in the yard and bible verses all over the walls. We all wondered, how is this going to turn out?"
Berk, 36, has been married to his husband, Dewey, for 12 years and says filming the show has been an eye-opening experience. "We went into the episode in Georgia with our walls up … but within the very first day after talking to Corey, [it changed]," he says. "We realized this guy might have voted a certain way, but he is no different to us. It's funny because now, a week doesn't go by when I don't talk to Corey."
Bridging the social divide is a common thread that makes Queer Eye so much more than a makeover show—and perhaps one of the reasons it has been met with such support and praise. "There's more to the 2018 version than gay-straight dynamics (hence no 'for the Straight Guy' in the title)," The New York Times points out. "In a way, the new Queer Eye is about the old Queer Eye and its incidental real-world effects—bringing a marginalized community into the mainstream, educating the straight world and providing models for LGBTQ people, including some members of the present cast," Los Angeles Times adds.
When I mention the leaps and bounds the LGBTQ+ community has made since the original show ended in 2007, Berk is quick to correct me. "Sure, things have changed for the better in America, but crazily enough, this show is in 190 countries right now! It's in countries where being gay is illegal," he says. Queer Eye might present as a makeover show, but its social effect is anything but trivial.
"I get messages from guys in Pakistan, India, and Saudia Arabia, where it's illegal to be gay, saying, 'Thank you for doing this show. We still live in a country where you can be imprisoned or killed for being gay, and it's so great to see five guys out there trying to set the example that we are just like anyone else,'" he says.
Just days after the Georgia Senate approved a bill that would give adoption agencies the ability to decide not to work with LGBTQ+ couples, Berk says Queer Eye certainly has its place again. "It's the same state we just finished filming in," he says incredulously. "The first iteration of the show was just about being tolerated. You know, people were okay seeing gays on TV doing what they thought gays should do, which was decorating, doing hair, and teaching you how to cook," he says in a singsongy tone. "That was okay if we stayed in our lane."
"The new Queer Eye is different because we're trying to show people that we're not just decorators and fashion stylists. We're normal people just like you—we're husbands; we're fathers. Now, we're fighting for acceptance."
The show acts as an interesting social experiment: What happens when you make people with strongly opposing social and political views spend a week together and film their reactions on camera? The most important skill Berk learned is something we could all benefit from right now: the ability to talk and listen to those who don't share your worldview.
"One of the things that didn't make it into the episode was a two-hour car ride I had with Corey where we were talking about religion and politics," he recalls, spotlighting it as a key turning point that helped him find common ground. "We went into this thinking that people are so different and their views are so ingrained," but that quickly shifted. "I think they were really receptive because we didn't go in saying, 'You're wrong; we're right.' A lot of times, both sides really learned a lot from each other. In the end, we know what sets us apart, but what we try to focus on is how we're similar."
We might have tuned in to Queer Eye for the quick banter and jaw-dropping makeovers, but Berk's message is what keeps us coming back: "The one thing I'd like people to learn from this show is to take a step back because you can really learn a lot from everyone"—a message that's timelier than ever.