Before Netflix rebooted Queer Eye this year, I had never watched an episode of the original, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. When that series premiered in 2003, gay men were rarely represented on television as anything more than a token, much less the faces of an entire series. Back then, the general opinion, at least where I was raised, was that the media was “shoving homosexuality down our throats”; alongside Will & Grace, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy was a chief culprit. That culture ultimately kept me from tuning in (forgive me, I was 14 years old).

But now, in 2018, as an adult man of progressive and liberal leanings, I can admit that I looked forward to giving the revamped series an honest shot. And I’m glad I did.

One of the opening lines of Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot makes its intention almost cloyingly clear: “The original show was fighting for tolerance,” declares Tan France, the make-over reality show’s fashion expert. “Our fight is for acceptance.” The original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (retitled in 2018 to just Queer Eye, as the series does assist one gay man) premiered on Bravo 15 years ago to fanfare in part for its unique set-up: Make a suffering straight man more chic with the help from its cast of five gurus specializing in style, food, culture, grooming and home design. Almost immediately, the show pierced the zeitgeist like no one had expected, nabbing an Emmy, an original soundtrack, a coffee-table book and a five-season run. This was all the more impressive given the mores of the time: In 2003, gay marriage was illegal, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was the military’s standard and LGBT tolerance was the aspirational status quo.

There’s been much progress in the 11 years since the show ended—perhaps most seminal, the increasing legalization of gay marriage around the world. When Queer Eye premiered, Belgium was one of the few nations to have legalized same-sex marriage; today 25 countries recognize gay marriage.

In that sense, one may say tolerance has largely been achieved. But acceptance? Not so much. A recent Harris poll of more than 2,000 Americans revealed that less than half were “very” or “somewhat” comfortable with LGBT people, a four percent drop from the year prior. And for the first time in the survey’s history, support for queer and transgender people has declined. Analysts point to Donald Trump’s presidency and Mike Pence’s vice presidency as possible reasons for reversing attitudes toward LGBT people.

This has made the quiet arrival of Queer Eye all the more impactful, especially since few were asking for a reboot and even fewer knew one was in the works. But for many unexpected reasons, the show is exceptional. A month since its debut, Netflix’s version boasts a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That may be because of how matter-of-factly Queer Eye takes on both representations of masculinity and our most embarrassing identity politics, which have been at the core of fracturing this country. For starters, Queer Eye recognizes what separates and then works quickly to locate the root, replacing tension with warmth, swapping labels for love and widening the cultural understanding of what it means to be (and look like) a man as the pendulum forcefully swings between toxic masculinity and gender fluidity.

To start, fair warning: Whether you’re straight or gay, African American or Caucasian, Republican or Democrat or anything in between, watching Queer Eye will make you want to be a better person. You’ll definitely laugh, and you’ll definitely cry. In the process, you’ll understand how foolish our identity politics have become, especially when their sole purpose as of late seems to be to divide us.

As with the original, the show follows the Fab 5 on various make-over assignments, though the streets of New York City have been swapped for the backwoods of Atlanta, where relatively conservative ways of life (and symbols of life) are commonplace. There, the Fab 5 work to transform men’s lives for the better via their respective skill sets.

More than simply grooming and decorating tips, however, every episode offers honest perspectives and eye-opening discussions on controversial topics currently stoking the United States. The first episode wastes no time making this clear: While the Fab 5 is making an old-school Southern gentleman in episode one, the straight man unexpectedly ignites a conversation about gender stereotypes when he asks interior designer Bobby Berk who in his marriage is “the wife.” In later episodes, a Christian father of six opens himself up to a respectful conversation about the Bible’s references to homosexuality and a young black man, who missed the opportunity to come out to his father before he died, highlights how race affects one’s views on masculinity.

But the series’ most poignant moment may be when the Fab 5 make-over a former Marine and unapologetic Donald Trump voter. In the beginning of the episode, the gurus are pulled over by a police officer. The driver, culture vulture Karamo Brown, is a black man and appears visibly worried. “This is why I shouldn’t drive,” he tells the other cast members. “I’m very aware of this kind of cop.”

Without giving away how the scene unfolds, I can say that is uncomfortable. That’s because it brings reality TV back to the roots of reality by offering a real-time portrayal of how police brutality has burrowed into the psyches of black men. Later in the episode, Brown tells us, “I’m not saying that a conversation between one police officer and one gay guy is going to solve the problem. But maybe it can open up eyes to something more.”

Such is the thesis of Queer Eye. The show, which is most often comical and light-hearted, understands it won’t start a revolution. It knows its greatest strength lies in both its unwillingness to ignore uncomfortable topics and reasonable approach to addressing them, if for no other reason but to spark discussion. That’s an important (and American) skill many of us across party lines, backgrounds and echo chambers have abandoned.

Like the original, Queer Eye utilizes gay sensibilities to improve a straight man’s life. But it forces viewers to go deeper by exemplifying that polar opposites—that is, straight men and gay men—can understand, appreciate, learn from and even love one another. It demonstrates that co-existing is not that difficult when you’re willing to try. And actually, it’s more fun than we’re letting on.

The most freeing instruction of Queer Eye isn’t in the clothes, the revamped living spaces or the grapefruit avocado salad recipes. It’s in educating heterosexual men that it’s okay to be open, imperfect and vulnerable.

At a time when toxic masculinity is said to be coursing through the veins of this country and movements like #MeToo are forcing us to rethink how we relate to one another, Queer Eye offers a charming look at why deviating from the restrictive, antiquated molds of masculinity is not only helpful, but necessary—especially if we hope to become better.