January 13, 2012
Let’s start off by saying that this is a difficult topic for us to discuss for various reasons. Primarily, everything we’re recounting is second hand, as we are neither Korean nor homosexual. And so, we’ve asked our Korean friends of various ages their thoughts about homosexuality in Korea, and have recounted those thoughts in the video. We’ve spoken with our gay friends living in Korea – both foreign and Korean – about their experiences as well, which we have also recounted. This video and post are by no means definitive answers about homosexuality in Korea, because our sources are quite obviously limited. We’re hoping that a bigger discussion can talk place in the comments from people who have had experiences with this topic, whether you are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, or ubersexual. Thanks for the term, Super Junior. Ubersexual indeed.
Also, anything you’d like to contribute, be it your own experiences or thoughts on the matter, or other sources that people could use, will be greatly appreciated.
So, for starters, we can say that Korea is not as open to homosexuality as, say, Canada or the USA. There is no Korean Lady Gaga in the music sphere speaking out, and there are not many LGBT rights activists. There are very few openly gay Korean celebrities. The most famous, in our opinion, is Hong Seok-cheon 홍석천, who was fired from all his jobs on TV after he revealed his homosexuality eleven years ago. Since then, he’s successfully opened various bars and restaurants, all LGBT friendly. Sadly, the success he has achieved in promoting awareness of the LGBT community in Korea is not always the case, as several Korean celebrities have committed suicide after revealing their sexual orientation to the public. They were fired from their jobs, and harassed and bullied by netizens to the point in which they felt that suicide was their only option.
This brings us to the topic of Korean dramas. There are a lot of Korean/Japanese dramas that play with the concept of cross dressing, mainly in the form of girls pretending to be guys, which in turn causes the main male role to fall in love with the “guy” and question his own sexual orientation. Out of all the dramas I’ve seen this in, I feel like only “Coffee Prince” (2007) did a good job of portraying the difficulty a straight male would feel if he was suddenly attracted to another man. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN COFFEE PRINCE YET!!! In Coffee Prince, we see the main male lead, Choi Han-Gyul, struggle with his emerging feelings: he refuses to go to work, he locks himself in his room and thinks about his feelings, and he even visits a doctor who recommends medicine as a “cure” for his homosexuality. I especially felt like his visit to the doctor was a sadly symbolic scene as to how some Koreans view homosexuality as a curable disease. In the end, Han-Gyul rejects all these “cures” and decides to accept his feelings towards another man. He eventually discovers that the man he loves is in fact a woman, and – thankfully – he doesn’t just laugh it off, as if it was humorous all along, like I’ve seen in some Japanese dramas (I’m talking about Hana-Kimi, which I generally enjoyed, except for how they dealt with Nakatsu’s emerging homosexual feelings towards Mizuki; it was used as a gag relief joke).
The “laugh it off” or “gag joke” of someone being gay makes me cringe. It came up a lot in Personal Taste (2010) when Lee Min Ho plays a straight man pretending to be gay and also Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) with – yet again – another girl pretending to be a boy. It’s “funny” that the lead men think they’re gay only because the audience knows that the boy is actually a girl, hence, the boy-on-boy action is not an actually gay couple. Compare these dramas to Life is Beautiful (2010). It deals with various people’s relationships, one of which depicts the difficulties a gay couple in Korea would face. How did SBS deal with a drama depicting a real in-love gay couple? They ended up pissing off the drama’s writer BIG TIME by cutting out the scene in which the couple professed vows of love to each other. Really SBS? It’s okay to joke about being gay when we all know that they aren’t really gay, but it’s not okay to show a happy and committed gay couple? This is the kind of thing that makes us feel really upset.
Even though we know that North American and other parts of the world are still not exactly ideal for LGBT people, we still feel that it’s more accepting than South Korea. As we mentioned in the video, not all the people living in Korea are closed-minded towards homosexuality, but we’re not exactly pleased with what we’re seeing in Korean dramas.
Ah! Sorry if that post was too long. Hopefully we did a bit of justice to the topic. Let us know what you think!