POSE, Queer Eye, and Tunnel Vision

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Strike up a conversation with any gay person about the reboot of the TV series Queer Eye, and chances are they’ll have seen at least an episode or two. But strike up a conversation with a cis gay man or woman about the new TV series POSE, and there’s a good chance they won’t have heard of it.

At least this has been my experience. Which brings me to my question: Why aren’t more gay folks talking about POSE? Not only is the show a moving depiction of pivotal moments in queer history—the AIDS crisis, the ballroom scene in 1980s NYC—the series itself has made history as the largest ever transgender cast for a scripted show. Given the lack of representation of “our kind” (to steal a phrase that the characters in POSE often use to refer to themselves and to the queer community at large) in mainstream media, you’d think the whole LGBTQ community would be raving about it. 

The community’s relative silence is especially perplexing when you consider that the show’s subject matter—ball culture—is not only relevant to our collective obsession: drag culture (cishet readers out there: think RuPaul’s Drag Race), it also logically precedes drag culture as a condition for its very possibility. Were it not for the Elektras and Blancas of the 80s ball scene—the trans women of color showing up for each other and for the queer community at large—there would be no RuPaul. You’d think RuPaul fans would be gushing over POSE. But they aren’t. Why aren’t they?

There are a lot of reasons we could give for why POSE has not captured our attention the way the new Queer Eye has. One could argue it’s because trans people make up a smaller percentage of the population than gay people, or because trans people have only just begun to enter the mainstream very recently, or because the new Queer Eye, unlike POSE, is a reboot of the original show, and so it already had recognition and a following. While all of these reasons make sense, I would argue that they trace back to a bigger, more fundamental reason: gay tunnel vision. 

For the purposes of this blog post, allow me to define tunnel vision as: the very common, very human tendency to get so wrapped up in our own world, our own suffering, our own perspective, that we forget that there are other perspectives out there: perspectives both very much like our own while at the same time very different.

None of us are immune to this condition, and most of us don’t choose it. It’s the kind of thing that sneaks up on you. You don’t realize it’s happening, so chances are you don’t notice the ways in which it’s causing harm to you and the people around you.

In the cis gay and lesbian community, tunnel vision looks like trans erasure (see: curiosity about queer history only up to a point: the point at which queer history is made by trans people.) Cis gay people aren’t interested in trans people, or a show about trans people, because they don’t share the same issues or the same experience. 

But it’s not just the gays. The trans community also struggles with tunnel vision, as reflected in the way our own community members misgender, ignore, and/or discredit the identities and experiences of nonbinary people (people who identify as neither or both male and/or female). 

And for all of us—gay, straight, trans, cis, or otherwise—tunnel vision can show up as racism or color blindness (refusal to see the social categories of race that benefit some of us while harming others), bias or blindness to people with disabilities, or poor people, or fat people, etc. 

Is it too bold to suggest that cis gay tunnel vision (see: disinterest in trans history and trans experience) is the reason POSE hasn’t gained more traction in the community? All I can do is raise the question, and hope that the reader will reflect and answer honestly.

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