Bobby Berk arguably does most of the work on the reboot of Queer Eye, at least in terms of actual physical tasks. He completely revamps the home (or firehouse or community center...) of each episode's hero, and it's always a bananas transformation. He's also done some emotional heavy lifting, including opening up about his small-town background and the discrimination he experienced. So where did Bobby from Queer Eye grow up?
According to the Springfield News-Leader, Bobby spent at least part of his childhood in the Mount Vernon, Missouri area, before later moving to Springfield, Missouri, about 40 minutes away. Bobby spoke about it a little bit on an interior design podcast, the Chaise Lounge, in 2016. "When I was 15, I ran away from home, to get out of the little farm town I was in, to move to the ‘big city’ of Springfield."
According to the official U.S. Census website, the population of Mount Vernon in 2017 is an estimated 4,529 people, definitely qualifying Bobby as having small town beginnings. A look at the town's Chamber of Commerce notes that Mount Vernon is famous for apple butter and the plentiful parks around its city, and the Chamber also notes skydiving, horseback riding, golfing and tennis as some of the activities the town offers. Mount Vernon's history dates back to 1845 when it was designated the county seat, and also hosted some Civil War conflict in the decades following, the site also states.
In an Edge Media Network article from 2014, it's reported after Bobby left his hometown, he even lived on the street at points during his time in Springfield before he managed to get a job at an Applebee's. He said that he headed to New York City when he was 20, and that's where his career really took off. After stints at home furnishing stores, he managed to open up his own shop, the article continues, and the rest is history.
In the first season of Queer Eye, Bobby spoke about his upbringing and the struggles that came along with it. In Episode 5 of Season 1, he talked with the hero (also named Bobby) about why it was hard for him to be gay in a traditional, religious community. "[I was taught] that gay people were bad, they were pedophiles, they were evil," he said on the show. "So I spent every prayer meeting on every Sunday crying and begging God to not make me gay."
And in the first episode of Season 2, Bobby shares his negative faith experiences with the show's first female hero, Tammye. "I grew up really religious," he says, fighting back tears. "Once everyone there found out [I was gay], they completely turned their back on me." Tammye, very active in her church, assures him that she wants her own community to be welcoming and loving to everyone.
Though Bobby doesn't shy away from the topic, apparently religion wasn't something he ever planned to bring up on Queer Eye. "When I first got cast, the one topic I told everyone was off limits was religion," Bobby said in an interview with Variety. "It’s a very sensitive topic to me because, growing up, religion was my entire life. I lived and I breathed it. So no, it was not something I planned on talking about."
He's also said that though he's open with who he is, he wants his talent to stand on its own regardless of his identity as a gay man. "I don’t think me being queer or gay has anything to do with what I do," he said in an interview with Metropolis. "I think we really need to get away from these stereotypes that say gay guys are good at this, straight guys are good at that. You can be good at whatever you want. I think we’re all gonna be a hell of a lot happier when we start doing the things we wanna do instead of the things society tells us we should."
No matter his small town beginnings or the struggles that followed as Bobby worked to establish himself and his career, it's clear that he's reached a good place now. He's come into his own, seems to be sure of where he's going, and with Queer Eye has presented himself to tons of new people who adore him just the way he is.