This past week, I published an article addressing the cultural insensitivities of Queer Eye Japan. Lots of learnings and also four key lessons to share with you.
Feedback from the show
Following Western advice all of my life as a queer Asian man
Why Western ideologies don’t work for Asians
Embracing the edits
Doubting myself before publishing the article
Why all of our intersections and identities matter
Why it’s important to focus on the good
Steven Wakabayashi: Hi everyone. My name is Steven Wakabayashi and you’re listening to Yellow Glitter Mindfulness Through the Eyes and Soul of a Gay Asian. Every episode I share with you what’s on my mind or things I’m struggling with and how I’m working through it to help you live a more mindful, fabulous life. Just last week I published an article on the cultural insensitivities of the latest season of Queer Eye.
In a nutshell, the cast of Queer Eye went to Japan to advise four Japanese individuals on how to improve their lives, except as I watched it, I saw the cast give tone deaf Western advice to Japanese people. The few opportunities where the Japanese individuals tried to share aspects of their culture, they struggled with the cast, quickly dismissed any opportunity to open up the dialogue and instead suffocated them with Western ideologies.
The biggest lessons from queer Japan that we can take is to approach cultural conversations with much more sensitivity, especially when giving advice on what is right and wrong. Life as we know it is never just black and white. As we learn to navigate this gray world, we can choose to approach it with much more empathy and kindness.
I’ll link to the article in the show notes In four days, the article had more than 100,000 views. My Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Reddit, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Yes, LinkedIn was flooded with messages from people all around the world. When I looked at where this article was shared, there were sometimes hundreds of comments discussing this piece.
It was quite the conversation starter. Many of the comments were incredibly heartwarming. Countless people reached out to echo the very sentiments that I wrote about revealing the same hurt and shock I experienced while watching this show. Something that surprised and delighted me was when academics reach out to let me know that they included my article in their curriculums on racial inequalities.
Culture, imperialism and querying E S O L. The connections, discussions, and education that this article has fostered have moved me every single day. But along with the kind comments came a swarm of nasty replies. My inboxes were inundated with hateful remarks, mostly from the show’s fans, many of whom discredit my article by questioning my identity.
You are just an American. You’re not Japanese enough. Have you even lived in Japan? This denial of my identity is something that I’m far too familiar with as an Asian American. Somehow, by being born in a foreign country to immigrant parents, I become an alien to this world. My birthplace is not my own because my skin color doesn’t match the majority, and my racial identity is stuck overseas.
Unable to cross international waters, unfortunately, for them. My identity was never theirs to define. What ultimately pushed me to write this article was after watching the second episode of Queer Eye Japan, where the Fab Five advises a queer Japanese man on how to live a happier life using Western ideologies.
Ever since I realized I was gay for more than 22 years, I followed these Western methodologies to chase. After this happiness, I buried myself in American self-help books, media, and forums to find liberation. As a queer Asian American born, a conservative immigrant parent. Love yourself more. Find a new family.
Focus on yourself. I try to shed quote what was not serving me. End quote. For more than two decades, I dug deep within myself to rip out my heritage, my cultural roots, my family, and my skin to taste salvation as I tore apart my racial identity. The taste of grief still lingered. Unknowingly I had lost what angered me before I stumbled into the dark moments of my life, blindly wandering and piecing together an image of myself with whatever I could find in a foreign land.
I called home. It took me years of self-work and therapy to address the damage caused by this one-sided device. Just because a lifestyle works in one culture doesn’t necessarily mean it will work within another. To believe otherwise is blind, ignorant, and dangerous In giving advice, especially from another culture, we need to caveat what are we giving up in doing this?
In choosing to love myself using Western ideologies. What was I giving up in finding a new family? What was I giving up in focusing only on myself? What was I giving up? And in challenging Japanese people with Western advice on Queer Eye Japan, what were they giving up in doing this? Ironically, if the show’s advice were to have more self-love, it should have included finding love for the racial identity that cannot be separated.
No matter how we feel on the inside, our racial identity is forever imprinted on our skin. It will cover us, protect us, hurt us, and identify us for the rest of our lives. In writing this piece, four key lessons came up, lesson one. This conversation will never be perfect. I first wanna thank all the people that reached out to me to make this article more accurate and inclusive.
Though I had initially thought this piece was only going to be read mostly among my friends, there is never an excuse of why I cannot be more conscious with my writing. Thank you to everyone who pointed out my grammatical error, spelling mishaps, wrong pronouns and exclusive language. I’m humbled that people would take the opportunity to help educate me and grateful for the time to do so.
I acknowledge that my writing is never perfect, but all I can do is try my best, learn for my experience, and be more mindful every day. And there have also been many people who have reached out, nitpicking this article with dubious claims based off of a small part of the 6,500 word article to these people.
There must be a perfectly written essay before addressing racism and cultural insensitivities. To these people. The reality is they will never be satisfied. No matter if I’m an award-winning writer, poet, rapper, whatever, they will want to see red. They will see red. There may never be a perfect piece, but it doesn’t mean we should stay silent.
We cannot be denied basic human rights and respect based on diction alone. Lesson two, self-doubt is real, but false. I initially finished this article just two days after the show launched on Netflix, and after I sat on it for two weeks doubting myself, questioning whether my thoughts were valid, I looked at Queer Eye and their cast Twitter, Instagram accounts, and I really saw any negative comments.
Except there was a piece that was published on NBC’s Opinions by Natasha Noman that hinted the tone deafness of the show that encouraged me to publish. She addressed similar issues with episode two with a queer Japanese man based on her experience as a queer South Asian woman. But it didn’t address all the parts from the three other episodes, and I felt that it was incomplete and as my duty.
As a Japanese queer individual, I put it out there. I’ll link to her article also in the show notes. If I never published hundreds and thousands of conversations regarding cultural insensitivity would never have happened, and thousands of people who have reached out to me personally would’ve never been heard.
Although it’s tough to disagree with something publicly. We have the right to our own experiences. We are. We have different education, different families, different genetic makeup, different birthplaces likes, dislikes, hobbies and careers that ultimately lead us to have our own unique perspective in the world.
Though it might not always align with what has the most visibility at the time, there might be others who think similarly in a world with 7.7 billion other people. When we hide our truths from the world, we suppress what may be crucial conversations that can move us towards equality, inclusion, and representation.
Lesson three. Racism and intolerance is still a very real thing. The fact that this has prompted so many conversations in over a week signifies that cultural awareness is an important topic that we ought to continue talking about. All of the negative responses to this article validate the work that has yet to be done.
When someone hurts, we must listen to them regardless of whether we agree or disagree. We respect and care for them, especially as we become more interconnected with each other globally, it’s crucial that we continue to uphold empathy and humanity to create space for different types of people and thoughts.
We must challenge ideas, but welcome diversity and critique actions, but embrace people. And lastly, lesson four, leave the trolls behind and focus on the good. I was trying to reply back to everyone as much as I could and ran outta time every single day. I tried to create rebuttals for anyone who had disagreed with my article, of course, with compassion and with discussion, but many were just vying for my attention rather than having a constructed discourse.
There are only 24 hours in a day. Most are spent sleeping, working, exercising, and with the remaining time, I have to be conscious of where it gets spent towards. If I spent all this time to argue back with the naysayers, I would not have written anything afterwards. Or even create this podcast episode.
What I can do is to channel out all the angst from their replies and trolls and create even more content based off of this. Thank you to those of you who read my article. Thank you for seeing me and being open to my perspective, and thank you so much to everyone who took the time to write to me. I really appreciate it.
All of this, these were the life’s lessons that I wish eight year old Steven had been told growing up. Finding true happiness comes from unconditional love of self, including the cultural and racial identities that come with difficulties. I am queer, I’m Japanese, I, I’m Taiwanese. I am American. The path to happiness is found in the shape of our identities as we become global citizens.
In this effort connected world, we must find empathy, compassion, and kindness. For those who are different from us, seek first to understand. Then to be understood in this day and age, we definitely need it. And if you have anything else to say, definitely please reach out to me. You can reach and send me a message on my Instagram at Steven Waka Bahi and.
I also published a weekly mindfulness [email protected] to hear what’s on my mind and link to things that I discover online that inspire me every single week. If you’ve enjoyed this, please share on your social media. Tag me at Steven Waka Iji on Instagram, Facebook, and at Waku Wu on Twitter.
My full name was way too long for Twitter. And so with that, so much love for you and hope your day can be a little bit more mindful.