Lessons from Writing a Viral Article on Cultural Ignorance

The importance of having difficult conversations.

Steven Wakabayashi
6 min readNov 25, 2019

Just last week, I published an article on the cultural insensitivities of the latest season of Queer Eye. In four days, it had more than 100K views.


My Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Reddit, and LinkedIn (surprise!) 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 heart-warming.

Countless people reached out to echo the very sentiments that I wrote about, revealing the same hurt and shock I experienced while watching the show. To my surprise and delight, many Academics mentioned that they included my article in their curriculum on racial inequalities, cultural imperialism, and queering ESOL. 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 from the show’s fans. Many of whom discredit my article by questioning my identity.

“You’re just an American.”
“You’re not Japanese enough.”
“Have you lived in Japan?”

This denial of my identity is something that I am 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, where the Fab 5 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’ve 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 to conservative immigrant parents.

“Love yourself more.”

“Find a new family.”

“Focus on yourself.”

Almost all coming out books are by white authors

I tried to shed “what was not serving me” 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 anchored me before. I stumbled into 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 advice. 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, three lessons kept coming up:

This conversation will never be perfect.

I received many messages with corrections — to make the article more accurate and inclusive. Though I had initially thought that this piece was going to be read mostly by my friends, there is never an excuse for why I cannot be more conscious with my writing.

Thank you to everyone who pointed out grammatical errors, spelling mishaps, wrong pronouns, and exclusive language.

I am 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 from my experience, and be more mindful every day.

There may never be a perfect piece, but it doesn’t mean we should stay silent.

Self-doubt is real, but false.

I initially finished this article just two days after the show launched on Netflix. I sat on it for two weeks, doubting myself, questioning whether my thoughts were valid.

If it were never published, hundreds of thousands of conversations regarding cultural insensitivity would never have happened. And the thousands of people that have reached out to me personally would have never been heard.

Although it’s tough to disagree with something publicly, we have the right to our own experiences. We are all unique — different education, families, genetic makeup, birthplaces, likes, dislikes, hobbies, and careers that lead us to have our 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 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.

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 need to continue talking about. All of the negative responses to this article validates the work that has yet to be done.

When someone hurts, we must listen to them. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree, we listen because we respect and care for them. Especially as we become more interconnected with each other globally, it is critical that we continue to uphold empathy and humanity to create space for different types of people and thoughts.

Challenge ideas, but welcome diversity.

Critique actions, but embrace people.

Thank you to those of you who read this article.

Thank you for seeing me and being open to my perspective.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to write to me.

I wrote this article as advice I wish I had gotten growing up: finding true happiness comes from the unconditional love of self, including the cultural and racial identities that may come with difficulties.

I am queer.
I am Japanese.
I am Taiwanese.
I am American.

The path to happiness is found in the shape of our identities.

Me ~seven years old

Hopefully moving forward, cultural acceptance and love of new cultures can be the message from Queer Eye and the Fab 5 as they navigate the world with 7.7 billion other people they have yet to meet.

In this day and age, we need it.

I host a podcast called Yellow Glitter, mindfulness through the eyes and soul of a gay Asian. You can find it on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, Overcast, and TuneIn.

Along with a bit of weekly mindfulness, I send out my favorite things I discover each week on my email newsletter at Mindful Moments.

Thanks for reading! Until next time.

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Steven Wakabayashi

Creative unicorn with an avid curiosity of life. Regular dose of mindfulness, social commentaries, and creativity: mindfulmoments.substack.com