Friday, October 23, 2009

Gay Means Happy, Right?

Fair's fair. After panning the Korea Times on Wednesday for a poorly sourced, muddled story, today I have to congratulate them for today's courageous examination of the current state of the gay community/gay rights in Korea.

To get a sense of the status of gays in Korea, you only have to realize that there are no laws on the books concerning homosexuality. But--big but here--this is because the behavior is traditionally seen as so aberrant that no Korean could possibly indulge in it.

Well, Koreans do indulge in it, as do Icelanders, Micronesians, Tamils, Canadians, Lesbians (oh, wait!), Alsatians and whatever other group you may name. To some extent, it's a matter of degree. For instance, the boys at my high school are very touchy-feely with one another, petting, hand-holding, grooming, nut-checking, etc, being common behaviors. Kinsey would call this "homophilic touch".

In fact he does, in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, along with more direct accounts of homosexuality in Korean history. (My thanks to I'm No Picasso, who linked this source in an unrelated post a few days ago.) For example:
In the Koryo dynasty, same-sex relationships, mostly between males, were very common among the ruling class. In a historical analysis of Hallimbuilgok by Seong, King Chungsun (1275-1325) maintained a long-term relationship with a wonchung (male lover), and King Kongmin (1325-1374) appointed at least five youths as “little-brother attendants” (chajewhi) as sexual partners.

Anyway, the Korea Times article mentions a few of the better-known gay bars in Itaewon (largely a foreigner-intensive district) on "Homo Hill"--not to be confused with "Hooker Hill". I mean, Seoul is all "up one hill, down another."
Older Koreans are far more reticent to come out, or even to speak on the record, with a few notable exceptions. One of the most notable, of course, is Hong Seok-chun, the actor who lost his career when he came out in 2000. He started a business in Itaewon, the now-famous restaurant Our Place.

Right on the sub-main strip, I went to Our Place once with Gavin, but it cost W11,500 for two beers, which is twice the going rate. Cheater, cheater, peter eater. Apparently Hong was thinking that by coming out, he would lead others from the closet into the light. Other well-known figures in Korea who are secretly gay said, "You go, I'm with you!"--but only on the inside.

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