Growing up in a very conservative Christian, very controlling home meant often hearing how revolting my parents (my mother specifically) found homosexuality. Any signs of homosexuality—whether it was from people or bumper stickers—always brought a disgusted sound and remark from my mom. I went to a small, private Christian university and didn’t realize I was gay until age 22. Because of this, I planned on being celibate for the rest of my life. I came out to my mom, my siblings, and a few close friends soon after, but kept it to a few, unless it came up in conversation with people I trusted.
It wasn’t until I came to Korea, ironically enough, that I really started living out. After a few years here, I left Christianity and started dating. I hadn’t dated anyone before, I hadn’t been kissed before, and I most certainly had never had sex before. For the first few months, I felt out of place. I can’t tell you how many guys saw me as a freak for being 25 and a virgin. It was maddening because I just wanted to find someone and no one was giving me a chance. Not to mention that I live in a country that is obsessed with image and a long-haired, hairy, fat guy was just not what anyone in or around my city was looking for (plus the whole virginity thing). I have received messages during my time here asking me to shave my body hair for a hook-up (That’s way too much work!) or telling me that I would look better without a beard and with short hair (gurl, bye).
It wasn’t until I went to Singapore for a short vacation that I met this amazing guy who was not only super fine but also didn’t look at me like I was a freak for never having been kissed before. We spent every day of my vacation together. The third day I was there, he took me to my first gay bar. It was amazing being there and being able to kiss and talk in a safe place. I remember a lot of things about that night and of being with him for that week. He was my first—in every sense of the word. We were sort of together for a year and he even came to visit me in Korea. Those two weeks that I spent with him were two of the best weeks I have ever had. He had his flaws and our whatever-it-was had its flaws, but he taught me that I am someone who others can be attracted to.
It was another year before I got into the gay scene in Seoul. I went to a few events where I met some amazing people and started hanging out more often in the city than I ever had before. Every queer event that I attended brought me new friends. I had only spent a little time up there because I live an hour south in Cheonan, which is close enough to visit, but far enough away that it can be annoying.
Arriving at my first Korean pride festival in 2015 was pretty intense. When we (some friends and I up from Cheonan) got to the event, the borders were surrounded by anti-LGBT “Christian” groups protesting. They were dancing, singing, shouting condemnation, crying, praying, and holding numerous signs telling us how wrong homosexuality is. Once I entered the area, though, it all melted away. There was so much love. My favorite part of the whole day was marching in the parade. It was one of the most empowering and inspiring things I’ve ever been a part of. Just days before pride, SCOTUS ruled that same-sex marriage was legal all across the US. It was so great to see how far sexual minorities have come in both Korea and the United States.
This year’s pride event was also amazing. The protesters seemed to be less in number and volume. There were still a few points around the outside where they were holding signs of hatred in Korean while spewing words of “love” in English. I spent the day with some friends drinking, walking around to some of the booths, getting free stuff, dancing, and getting rained on. I thought the rain would deter people from coming, but the square in front of city hall was packed by the time they started directing people out onto the streets for the parade. We marched around downtown Seoul (same as last year). People were holding signs, dancing, drinking, and being merry. The crowds watching the procession had varying responses. Many were joining in the celebration, some were crying/wailing/praying, others were calling down damnation, and the rest just watched in confusion.
It wasn’t until last year that I realized how important pride events are. Queer rights in Korea are basically non-existent. This country has such a long way to go to get where they need to be when it comes to human rights—but I have seen some changes. It’s been wonderful watching those of the younger generations embrace their queer friends. A really good friend of mine, who is getting married to another dear friend and moving to the US, came out to all of his friends and they were all accepting of who he is and who he loves. Another friend and I just threw him a bachelor party with all of his best friends and we all had a blast together.
As a gay foreigner in this country, I have it so much easier than my gay Korean friends. I’m out to everyone I spend my time around here—Korean or foreign. I have a great support system among the friends I’ve made here and have even been able to come out to a few coworkers over the years.
In order for Korea to move forward, more Koreans need to lead that charge. I understand the hesitation to come out, though. Queer Koreans with enough courage and strength to come out to their friends and family face ridicule, exclusion, and being forced out of their homes. I feel like this is a Catch 22 (is that the right phrase?) because things won’t start changing until there are more visible queer people here, but, for Koreans, coming out can have such dire consequences.
I’m not sure where I see the queer community in Korea in the future. You know that feeling when you’ve been complacent and unsure for a long time, but you just know that something is going to happen soon—for better or worse? That’s where I feel like Korea is right now in regards to queer rights. I am hoping that something wonderful will happen, but that is up to those within the community itself: those who are out of the closet and those who have yet to leave it. Both this year’s pride festival and last year’s had the highest numbers of attendees than in years past. But, there has also been a lot of pushback. May those who are fighting continue to do so, regardless of how people respond.
Thanks Nick for sharing your story. I am super honored to have you be the first person ever to guest post on my blog and so grateful to have you as a friend.
Hugs and hugs,