Seoul’s 13th Korean Queer Culture Festival and a glimpse into homosexuality in Seoulby Sarah Shaw on Jun 6, 2012 • 6:55 pm 1 Comment
Ironically, my first appearance at a gay pride parade happened to be in Korea, where being gay is still widely unaccepted. However, I was happy to see a relatively large amount of Koreans and foreigners participating and watching from the sidelines. Although most of the Koreans in the parade wore face masks and sunglasses to hide their identity, this annual public event shows that Seoul is slowly progressing!
I have been living in Seoul for more than a year, but only recently I came in contact with the gay scene. It happened about a month ago, in Hongdae. After clubbing, a few hours remained until the subway would open, and my friend and I decided to go to a lesbian bar, just for the hell of it. We entered the room, and a sign clearly stated, “women only.” The bar contained a number of booths on one side and a dance floor with a raised platform on the other. Many of the women wore Korean men’s fashion, and gelled their short hair into the same styles, while the more feminine lesbians could be mistaken for straight girls on the street. (Or maybe I just wouldn’t be able to point out lesbians in Korea since I’m not one.)
After we sat down at a booth and began flipping through a menu, two girls quickly approached us and asked if they could join.
“What’s the best thing to order?” I asked.
“How about the fruit salad?”
Within minutes, she had taken my phone and put her number in it. Damn, these Korean lesbians are forward!
My friend and I had a friendly conversation with the girls, but I wanted to ask so many questions. I asked her if she’ll ever tell her parents about a girlfriend in the future, and she responded with an optimistic, “maybe.” It’s hard enough for gay people to live in western countries, but I can’t imagine what it must be like to grow up gay in such a conforming society.
About ten minutes later, she got the vibe that I wasn’t into women, and she asked me, “Are you a lesbian?”
Her: “This is lesbian bar!”
Me: “I know…”
Her: “You’re a bad girl!”
We all went on stage to dance, but later they moved on to find some women with more potential.
A week later, I met a blonde lesbian from California, a friend of a friend, while biking on the Han River. We biked alongside each other for awhile and chatted. I asked her if it was difficult to be gay in Korea. She responded, “Well, my girlfriend’s Korean and prior to that, I’ve never gotten laid so much in my life.” Apparently, many Korean lesbians (and this probably goes for Korean gay guys too) prefer to hook-up or have relationships with foreigners because there’s less of a chance that anybody in their community will find out. Since being gay is such a taboo here, it’s important to keep their sexual identity secretive. Perhaps many families would disown their children if they happened to find out. Or they would outright deny it. Forever.
There’s a Korean drama that I want to watch based on a lesbian’s life in Korea. I haven’t seen it or experienced anything like it, but apparently some Korean lesbians have claimed that the depiction of life on screen is mostly accurate. It’s called, “The Daughters of Club Bilitus” and you can watch a clip on Youtube with English subtitles here.
To be honest, I was, and still am, interested in how Korean lesbians feel about living in a society that is not only discriminatory against gays, but women as well.
After the gay pride parade, I partied with some gay friends on Homo Hill in Itaewon for the first time. Maybe the bars were especially rockin’ because of gay pride, or maybe gay people just know how to party. It was a fun night of soju, Madonna, practicing my dance moves on the pole in one of the bars and NOT getting hit on. Unfortunately, I saw some really cute guys and realized how gays and lesbians must feel all the time at normal bars and clubs.
I took some photos at the gay pride parade, but out of respect for the participants, I’ve blurred their faces in the photos below. And really, I have so much respect for the gay and lesbian Koreans who marched in the parade, proudly fighting for their right to be accepted as gay and encouraging others to unite together.
-Text and photography by Sarah Shaw @ www.mappingwords.com. All rights reserved.