Seasons of Queer: Spring Fling
Spring is that time of the year when you put away the jewel-tones in exchange for pastels and citrus hues. We thought what better way to welcome longer days, clearer weather (in Australia anyway) and our third Season of Queer story, titled Spring Fling, by featuring an array of fresh colours like chartreuse, orange and lime.
I collaborated again with Genesis Mansilongan and continue our spotlight on queer Asian visibility and also the conversation on how colourism dominates within the Asian community. Light complexion is perceived more beautiful or prized as opposed to darker skin. To highlight the beauty of all skin colour, we used three Filipino boys of different complexions in our first story Seasons of Queer – Autumn Dreaming and repeat this casting technique for our latest story.
Fruit and flowers also feature throughout the images in line with spring bloom. One of the things that I think about during spring is the cherry blossom season which, of course, brings to mind Japan. Speaking of Japan, Netflix recently did a Queer Eye special where the Fab Five travelled to Tokyo and transfomed the lives of four Japanese individuals.
I love the Fab Five and how they are bringing queer visibility and their unique personal journey to the mainstream but if I’m honest, I’ve only seen two episodes of the Netflix reboot. It’s not exactly a show I’m fully invested in. However, when it came to the Tokyo special, I binge-watched all episodes. For one, I was curious as to how the show will reconcile its outward embrace of queerness with the oppressive Japanese culture and secondly, it felt close to home.
While I live in Sydney, I’m originally from Singapore. The gay community there continues to live under the archaic Section 377A of Singapore Penal Code that allows criminalisation of sexual intimacy between consenting adult men. Singapore also remains very much a society – like most Asian countries – where familial affection is non-existent. You can see how these Queer Eye episodes in Tokyo would have resonated with me considering the similar navigations I would have adopted when it came to dealing with Asian family dynamics and being a gay man.
Like all things in 2019, there will be naysayers. In this case, there was an article calling out the tone-deaf issues with Western LGBTQ advocacy in the Tokyo special and another describing how damaging these episodes were in treating the writer’s Japanese culture like a toy.
Let me preface that there were some relevant and valuable points made in these articles. What confused me was the lack of solutions offered in both think pieces and the failure to point out that these two writers – according to my google research – appear to be Western-educated Asians living in Western privilege countries where feminisim and queer liberation have already been won. Sure, one of the writers has Japanese ancestry but asserting one’s cultural opinion about a place where they haven’t recently lived for an extensive period of time is hardly reassuring about their credibility. If anything, it raises more questions.
The crux of these articles pick at how the Queer Eye team’s attempt to lift these Japanese individuals out of their ruts is tone-deaf – the approach is the same Western idea of self-love and self-expression that is in conflict with the standard Japanese social norms and thus, doesn’t fit into the narrative of these four individuals.
Self-love and self-expression have always been the Queer Eye approach and I don’t see how changing that for the Tokyo special would have align with the formula of the show. If the producers did attempt to tweak any of that, it would be merely a makeover challenge and lack the vulnerability that viewers have become familiar with. I related to many of the problems faced by the individuals in these episodes due to the stoic Asian upbringing. Another thing I felt for was the issue of sexual racism within the gay community that Kan, one of the makeover subjects, brought up. It was something I personally have experienced. However I found comfort at the end of each episode when something “clicked” for them. That something was self-love and self-expression, which I eventually learnt in life. I definitely don’t see the Queer Eye approach as Western advocacy that cannot fit into the four individuals’ journey simply because of their Japanese ancestry.
Globalization has made the world smaller and, no doubt, propelled a generational shift towards progression in many countries. The Queer Eye reboot is a cultural phenomenon and conversations with people who live or have lived in Tokyo recently indicate the popularity of the Fab Five and the show. Perhaps a new Japan is slowly brewing. It will be hypocritical of those living in Western privilege countries – who reap the benefits of queer and feminist victory – to deny the same privilege to Japan or any society.
We’re living in very divisive times at the moment and Queer Eye is one of the few shows that has successfully build allyships and break down barriers. I applaud what the Queer Eye team did.
Model – Harahm, Jonash and Raveena
Photographer – Henry Ng
Stylist – Genesis Mansilongan