Queer Eye’s “Black Girl Magic” Is the Blackest, Gayest, Most Moving TV Episode of 2019

Over the course of the 47 minutes that make up Queer Eye‘s season three episode “Black Girl Magic,” which dropped on Netflix last Friday, we get the Blackest, gayest and most moving episode of TV I’ve seen since the Pose season finale. And it is a JOURNEY. The Fab 5 set up camp in Kansas City and journey to Lawrence, Kansas to meet 23-year-old Jess, who is a server at a local Greek restaurant in town. She’s also a Black lesbian who describes herself as a “lumberjack lesbian.” It seems really simple: small town lesbian in the Midwest needs some help getting her shine on. We quickly find out that this story is both one we all know, and one we rarely see.

Partially through the reading of her best friend’s nomination, and partially through one-on-one conversations, we learn that Jess has been on her own since she was 16. She was outed and her very religious adoptive family kicked her out immediately. Bobby connects with this, as his life story is strikingly similar, and he even manages to get Jess to discuss that she’s avoided connecting with her biological sister out of fear of being a burden. It’s simultaneously some of the heaviest and lightest connection I’ve seen on TV. The stories Bobby and Jess have lived are heartbreaking and yet the connection they clearly forge in those few interactions is endearing and uplifting.

And then comes the Ugly Cry #1 (yes, there are more of them coming) moment of the show. Jess discusses the feeling of being constantly abandoned and deciding that family is just not something that will exist for her. And our boys are not having it. All of them, but especially Bobby, drive home the idea of chosen family. They understand needing time and are just so very empathetic and compassionate. It’s a softness that is rarely directed at Black women in the media (or real life). And it’s not played for snaps or cookies. These grown-up gays are looking at this young, heartbroken gay woman and upholding the time-honored queer tradition of tending to the wounds queer kids don’t even know are still bleeding.

But it’s not just being gay that has made peers and family treat her as “other.” When Karamo shares that he also loves the band Paramore, whose lyrics Jess has tattooed on her arm, she shares that it’s one of the things that made her the target of bullying. This time it was not from homophobes, but from other Black kids. Because Jess was emo, there were Black kids who felt she was not “Black” enough. This hit me in the soul.

As a forever emo kid, I have childhood memories filled with stories of being mistreated because of things like speaking “proper” English and loving My Chemical Romance. And when you’re LGBTQ on top of that, life can get rough and lonely. It feels like no one wants you and no one ever will. Which is almost exactly what Jess articulates to Karamo: this feeling of not belonging anywhere, but desperately wanting to.

Karamo is very Karamo about the situation and lets her know in no uncertain terms that she is Black no matter what she’s into. She’s already the strong Black woman that she was aspiring to be. There’s so much vulnerability in this moment. When we discuss Blackness in the media it’s often in opposition to whiteness. In this moment, on a wildly popular show that’s seen by millions, we’re discussing the inner emotional life a of queer Black woman. Her Blackness is tended to, built back up. I don’t think we have ever seen anything like this — but I certainly hope we see it again.

Now we’ve dealt with Big Feelings with Bobby and Karamo and we’ve ugly cried and I was really hoping that the rest of the show would give me an emotional break, but no. Antoni carries on the the practice of making Jess feel like she is already worthy and whole. Instead of teaching her to make some super fancy dish (or just something involving avocados) he takes her main dietary staple, ramen, and turns it into a slightly more sophisticated dish that she can share with friends. I think every other show has made it a point to make fun of ramen a struggle meal that you need to grow out of. Here? They said OK, but let’s make it fashion.

Tan took a similar stance and really asked Jess about what she wore and why, all without an ounce of judgment. And for once, a butch-ish woman did not list Shane or Kristen Stewart as her style icons! Jess looks up to our ArchAndroid Q.U.E.E.N. Janelle Monáe. Tan delivers, giving our girl three outfits that are absolutely Electro Phi Beta rush worthy. All of them are in the realm of comfortable, affordable and not too dissimilar from her usual outfits.

Jonathan was the member I had the most apprehension about going in. Grooming for the various Queer Eye subjects has thus far been in his wheelhouse.  But with Black women hair is a THING. It can define our lives, cost us whole paychecks and prevent us from getting jobs. For a better understanding I suggest checking out the documentary Good Hair and the Netflix film Nappily Ever After. Though Jonathan has made over a Black woman previously in the season two episode “God Bless Gay,” I was still nervous for this outcome .

Jess had a months old grown-out perm and hadn’t seen her natural hair since middle school. She’d gotten the perm as a way to prevent bullying, and after, kids simply began to tease her about being gay. What is not discussed is the way in which dealing with hair creates sisterhood among Black women. From trading pressing comb burn stories to discussing wash routines, temporary kinship is granted in salons to even the most misunderstood of us. I think, if given a longer time to chat, Jess would have worked out that she held onto that perm as a means of connecting to Black women in a neutral capacity.

In the most surprising moment for me, Jonathan gets it. He very specifically says she lives at the intersections of marginalized identities in a way he will never be able to understand.  He really digs in and talks to her about her hair, how it makes her feel and what she’s willing to let him do. Again, such care is taken with her and her feelings and clear trauma. (Ugly Cry #2)

You’ve probably noticed that with the exception of Antoni and Tan I haven’t told you how of the Fab 5’s work turns out. That’s because you really need to see this story. Black women are often coded as angry, as comic relief, as Jezebels, as sidekicks, as strong. It’s rare for us to be depicted as whole, vulnerable, hurt, human. Black lesbians are so few and far between in representation, I’m not even sure there are standardized tropes. So to have this young woman have her story told and respected and valued, is groundbreaking. Also, it’s rare to really see older queer people helping younger queer people. That’s still a new concept in media as LGBTQ people are often tokenized in shows and therefore cannot forge bonds with and uplift other queer people.

When Jess sits down with the Fab 5 all together and really speaks from the heart about what they did for her and what it means to her, Ugly Cry #3 sneaks up on you and positively yanks on your heartstrings. Taking care because we are all we’ve got.

Jess’s story is one we’ve heard before. Small town kid gets outed, disowned and ventures out to become their best gay self and are transformed. It’s the realistic outcome of Santana being outed on Glee. It’s the plot of a lot of ’90s and ’00s coming out films. It’s Bobby’s story.

But it’s also a story we don’t see: It’s being Black in a red state, being Black but not fitting into a box. It’s being outed and disowned but staying put, growing out roots and branches. It’s the deep connections that are created when the LGBT community takes care of itself.

This is informative, loving and educational TV and I cannot applaud it enough. Go grab some Kleenex, your closest friends and fall in love with the best 47 minutes I’ve seen this year.

Related:

Mack is a story teller, rabble rouser, actress and queer feminist. She also has ALL of the opinions on pop culture. All of them. Those opinions can be found on Twitter: MackMacTlksBack

Mackenzie has written 3 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. just watched this one last night (after everyone i knew texted me to tell me about the paramore ref!) and i’d agree that it’s possible there’s never been anything like this episode before. added years to my life and swelled my heart two sizes bigger. <3

  2. Watched this episode a few days ago and bawled my eyes out. I’ve actually cried a lot throughout the seven episodes I’ve watched thus far (even the episodes I expected to be less hard-hitting ended up being unexpectedly deep and tear-inducing). Jess’s stood out to be because it so profoundly and delicately touched on an experience and an identity I personally have no experience with.

    The only eye-roll moment of the episode for me is when Antoni was SHOCKED that Jess (a poorer, black lesbian woman who was kicked out of the house at 16) never had putlocks that featured risotto. 1) She already expressed not having a sense of family or belonging, so she probably wouldn’t go out of her way to have a potluck and 2) Who the fuck brings risotto to a potluck? But he did redeem himself by helping her make an elevated version of a meal she already loved instead of shaming her and trying to change her taste.

    Overall, a 10/10 episode. It’s one I’ll probably rewatch so I can try to use the lessons and knowledge to better understand/serve my queer friends who have different life experiences than mine.

      • I’m sure it was and I just misinterpreted it, I just thought it was real strange for that to be his go-to example of a potluck food because it is “fancier” than what most people would have at a potluck. Even if it wasn’t intentional I think it showcased how different his life experiences are from Jess/some of the other members of the Fab 5.

        The only reason I was thinking so deeply about the potluck/risotto comment is because he also made a comment in the second episode of S3 about how he went to horse riding camp when he was a kid, and then I also saw a video earlier where he said he doesn’t know what Kohl’s is…to be fair that second one could just be because Kohl’s is an American thing.

        Nothing against him (because I love all the QE guys), but I think sometimes he speaks about his experiences like they’re universal even though he has probably had a more well-off upbringing than the other members (Bobby in particular).

        That’s not to say his life has been perfect (he hinted at struggles with addiction this season + has talked about mental illness in the past), but sometimes, to me, he comes across as a little tone deaf. I’m not trying to, like, cancel Antoni because I think he’s a great guy and means really well, but every once in awhile he’ll say something that rubs me the wrong way. Didn’t mean any disrespect.

  3. This episode and write-up were great! The moment where she admitted that she didn’t think family was in the cards for her, and the immediate recognition and ‘oh heck no’ attitude and love coming from the QE folks — it GOT me.

  4. Thanks for writing this. I think this is what queer eye should be about. Like you said, “its rare to really see older queer people helping younger queer people.” I know that there have been a few other queer people on their shows, but what if the show’s sole premise was really to help queer youth, queer elders, the queer community as its purpose. Because you know straight people get support from… everywhere. To me in 2019 it seems like that is what the show should be about, instead of continuing to seek “tolerance” from straight people

    • I had the exact same thought. I want this episode x100 of older queers (ok but maybe not all of them cis dudes) fairy godmothers welcoming younger queers into the community and teaching them about potlucks and chosen family.

  5. This episode was so beautiful, uplifting and revolutionary and I hope we can see other similar stories on Queer Eye and even other makeover shows in the future, like in the second season of Marie Kondo?!?!?!

  6. This is a gorgeous article, thank you Mackenzie! I just finished this episode now and had to rush straight here to read this. I enjoyed this so much and Jess is truly an amazing young woman. I was crying all over the show!!!

  7. I never watch Queer Eye, but I watched this episode after reading this review, and I’m so glad I did. It was wonderful to be introduced to Jess and wonderful to see her being cared for. It was so wonderful at the end to hear her realising that her strength, her power as a strong black lesbian woman, is not negated by her emotions, by her tears and her joy. I also really, really, really would have liked to see her have a longer conversation with those dancers.

    I did feel weird about the house stuff. Like, of course she doesn’t have a bed and her room doesn’t feel permanent: even aside from her traumatic history, she’s 23, a server and renting in a houseshare! The absence of roots and the lack of control over living space is a struggle that’s shared by the vast majority of millennials, and they were actually doing some really lovely things with their space–that teal piano! that huge wall hanging! the gay sex painting!

  8. I elected to watch this one first, as I was cleaning up my old room to prep for my impending U-Haul. Even though I’m ten years her senior, I’m still newly out and doing newly out things, plus, this entire season is bringing back memories of my 1.5 years working and living in KC and how I was able to finally come out to myself while being so far away from unsupportive folks.

    I also sent some change over to her GoFundMe and I’m excited to see via her IG and other media outlets how much she’s become an advocate for herself and stepped out of her box since being on the show.

    And Mackenzie, glad to read you here at Straddle and I can also feel that (and re-reading Jasika Nicole’s article that also covers struggling with all these intersections of black, poor, queer, punk,etc.).

  9. I just watched the episode and spent the whole time either grinning, crying, or both. It was beautiful to see so many people, the Fab 5 and her family of choice alike, hold her and give her space and remind her that she is valuable and that people love her.

    This review is beautifully worded, as well. I especially like this passage:

    “It’s a softness that is rarely directed at Black women in the media (or real life). And it’s not played for snaps or cookies. These grown-up gays are looking at this young, heartbroken gay woman and upholding the time-honored queer tradition of tending to the wounds queer kids don’t even know are still bleeding.”

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.