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Out and Proud in Korea

Out and Proud in Korea

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).

No

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.

A photo posted by Nick Holmes (@nickthehottie) on

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.

Pride 2016

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.

Flag of South Korean LGBT (source: Wikipedia)

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,

Peter

Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)
Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)
The B in Apartment 403

The B in Apartment 403

I loved my last apartment in DC. There were some drawbacks, like my neighbors. They either talked too loud or paced back and forth nonstop or liked jumping up and down on their mattress (a.k.a. having sex). I also didn’t like being on the first floor because people walking by could see into my apartment, but it was a huge one-bedroom in a great location.

I knew to expect that the size of accommodations would most likely be much quainter in Seoul. Most schools include housing in their contracts for foreign teachers, so that means they have the power to decide where you get to stay. And, most likely, they’re going to find the cheapest possible place. When I showed up at my school one December evening after flying halfway around the world with basically no sleep, the principal took me to my apartment, which is one building away from the actual school. After taking the elevator to the fourth floor, he punched in the door code (no keys here) while I mentally repeated “Please be big. Please be big.” I can get by in a lot of living situations, but I need to have space to move around. At my DC apartment, I could alternate laying in my bed, lounging on the couch, or sitting at my dining room table. I appreciate being able to feel like I’m different places without leaving my home or having to put on pants.

from Etsy

But, when the door swung open and I stepped into my apartment for the first time, I had to quickly face the fact that this place was tiny and I would just have to suck it up while I’m here. No one explained how the heat or hot water worked, and the apartment was as barebones as possible. No plates, no utensils, not even a pair of wooden chopsticks. So my first few days in Seoul were spent trying to figure out where to buy things for my apartment with no understanding of the Korean language. I survived on plastic plates and forks for a decent amount of time until Big Sis Melanie could hook me up with some metal utensils.

In the six months I’ve lived in this building, I still do not know a lot of things. I’ve never met my neighbors and I just learned that I have a gas bill and that I’m supposed to pay it every month. However, I do know that I live in apartment 403. Four is an unlucky number in Korea (and other East Asian countries) because the same character for “four” in Chinese is very similar to the character for “death”. A lot of places don’t even have fourth floors or they put “F” instead of “4” on elevator buttons.

from “25 Ways to be Lucky and Unlucky the Korea Way”

And I live on the fourth floor. So, I was cursed from the start.

Let’s start with the bed. Korean beds don’t typically come with sheets; they just use multiple quilts. But, I wanted sheets because they are easier to clean regularly. No sheets fit this bed though! I think it must be a twin XL or something. I had my mom bring some old twin sheets when she visited. They too small! And I can feel every crease in that mattress. No thank you. Miss you, queen size pillowtop.

The bed from hell. No sheets fit it correctly.
The bed from hell. No sheets fit it correctly.

My contract says that my apartment will be furnished with a “table and chairs”. This is what I got. A TV tray table. It also came with a shitty office chair that I hated, so I replaced it with this dining room chair that I found on the street. Major improvement.

The bed and this chair are the only places to sit in this apartment. No couch. 🙁 That also means anyone who spends the night has to sleep on the floor. So far, that’s been Nick and me when my sister spent the night.

My desk/dining room table/couch
My desk/dining room table/couch. Cute wall though.

If you turn around, you’re in my kitchen/laundry room. It comes complete with a “stove” on top of the washing machine and a fridge that can’t figure out whether it’s a minifridge or a regular-sized fridge.

My kitchen/laundry room complete with baby fridge

There was a TV in my apartment, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work and I watch TV on my computer anyway, so I put it in “storage”.

Such a great use of space
Such a great use of space

My bathroom’s decently sized, but the downfall of that is that I don’t have a closed-off shower area. I just have a showerhead on the wall. I’m fine with that. I’ve used them before, especially when I lived in Turkey. But, it just sucks having one with a big bathroom because everything gets wet when I shower.

Where isn't the shower?
Where isn’t the shower?

So, my apartment’s pretty small. I can’t do yoga on the floor space without bumping into some piece of furniture. But, it’s been home enough and it’s free. I’ve further supplemented my meager furnishings with a cow print table, a nightstand, and some artwork, all of which I found on the street.

How much do you think this would get at Sotheby's?
How much do you think this would get at Sotheby’s?

So me disliking my apartment makes it extra fun to visit my sister’s apartment. The U.S. military apparently values its employees more than my private English academy does. Melanie has three bedrooms. My apartment IS the bedroom…and the kitchen and living room, etc. You can actually walk around the place and there is fast internet. Much better than my ethernet connection.

I can’t believe it’s already been six months since I moved into my place. But, not for much longer. Next month, I will no longer be the B—- in Apartment 403.

via GIPHY

Seoul Sistah

Seoul Sistah

As I said before, one of the main reasons I chose to find an English teaching job in South Korea was because my sister would be stationed here for a year. When I finally accepted that I would have to teach English if I wanted to get out of Washington and the U.S., I explored opportunities everywhere. I could go back to Latin America because I already know a good amount of Spanish. I could explore a new place and go to another country in Asia like China or Thailand. But, I kept coming back to Korea because it seemed small enough to explore but with lots of things to do/see…and my sister was here.

My sister and I are only 13 months apart in age (she’s older) and about 2 inches apart in height (I’m taller). Growing up, we were constantly moving around because both of our parents were in the Air Force. When I was about 5, my parents officially divorced although they had been stationed at separate bases for a while. For the next five or so years, my sister and I were each other’s closest and sometimes only friend. It was hard to move so much and constantly have to start over at new schools. But, we were in it together whether we liked it or not.

My mom remarried when I was 10. Soon after that, she had my little half-sister Alexia. I consider Lexi my full sister even though we only share our mom because I’ve watched her grow up. Can’t believe she’s 16 now.

We know our positions

But, there’s still an age difference of 11 years between us. Melanie, my older sister, and I were always known as the “big kids” in our family and we stayed close even as our family expanded. Together, we somehow made it through the scary times of puberty. We both had acne but Melanie also had glasses and braces. I wasn’t any better. I accidentally shaved off part of my eyebrow and had armpit hair by the sixth grade. Not cute.

Melanie and I left home at about the same time. She went to college after graduating high school, and I moved to Costa Rica for what would have been my senior year. I think we were both so excited by our new adventures that we weren’t really sad about being apart. We wanted to show that we were independent and could take care of ourselves. But, we haven’t been close (geographically) since.

I was super excited to have the opportunity to be near my sister once again. She moved here at the end of last November, and I came right before New Year’s. We’ve met up a few times already: both in Seoul and when I went to visit her. It takes about two hours to get from my place to hers on the subway:

I'm purple. She's red.
I’m purple. She’s red.

Since I’ve arrived here in Korea, the main difference between my sister and me isn’t the length of time that we’ve spent here but rather our jobs, experiences, and the locations that we live/work in.

Me My sister
I was picked up at the airport and driven two hours to my neighborhood. She landed on base so she didn’t have to go anywhere.
My apartment was already picked out for me. She got to stay at a hotel on the base for a week and shop around for her apartment.
My apartment’s a studio and I don’t pay for it. Her apartment has three bedrooms and she doesn’t pay for it.
A small thing of peanut butter costs $6 in my grocery store. She can buy pretty much everything you can get in the U.S. for cheap
Legs and subways all the time She has a car.
The principal of my school (an English school) needs someone to translate in order to talk to me. Her whole area is pretty much half Americans. All the signs are in Korean and English and people speak almost perfect English in all the shops.
 There’s a 7-Eleven across the street from me. There are three Turkish kebab places within walking distance of her.

So, we’ve been living in very different worlds in Korea. Although I think it’s harder for me to adjust because I’m outside of my comfort zone and America-land, I’m hopeful that this immersion will give me the opportunity to master enough Korean language and culture to get around on my own. But having my big sis around has definitely been a huge help. She’s gotten me sheets, towels, silverware, and PEANUT BUTTER from on base. What a godsend!

She’s also taught me things about how to live in Korea that I assumed my school would tell me. Like that you have to buy special garbage bags and separate your trash. Now, how the hell was I supposed to figure that out on my own? I had just been throwing my Wal-Mart bags in the big pile of garbage outside my apartment. But, you apparently have to separate organic matter from general waste from the different recyclables and put each in its own appropriately colored bag.

But which one’s which?

And every part of Seoul uses different colors. Fuck me, man. Why it gotta be so hard?

In conclusion, thanks a ton Mei Mei for letting me invite myself to join you in Korea and unknowingly going on this adventure with me. I’m looking forward to traveling, drinking soju, eating tons of Korean food, and going to gay bars with you. You’re my favorite big sister.

LOL (Lots of love),

PJ

A duck and the kid from Up

A photo posted by @pitajones on

Leave (Get Out) of DC

Leave (Get Out) of DC

I have the amazing power to find the negative in anything. It’s a curse more than anything, but I think that I’ve improved the severity of it over the years. Still, I find myself super discontent with life at times and always striving for something that I don’t have.

This grass is always greener mentality hit me hard while I was in DC. All throughout college, and pretty much life, I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to get a real job, live in a big city with a fancy apartment, wear nice clothes, work out all the time, and have a really nice body. Some of this happened in DC. The body’s still a work in progress.

 

I liked a lot of things about living in DC once I finally made friends. I loved being around other young, driven, international-minded people who were intelligent and could actually understand what I did at my job. I loved brunching and going to happy hours and playing kickball with my posse.

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But eventually everything kind of fizzled out. I no longer had a friend group that regularly hung out. My two best gay friends moved, so I had no one to commiserate with about how terrible being in a city filled with gays can be.

Me and my gays

My kickball friends stopped hanging out altogether. And a lot of stuff just plain sucked. I would stay home on Friday nights and watch TV by myself. That was fun the first time, but it got really lame after that.

In February, my job offered me the opportunity to travel to Nairobi for a week, but not until September. So, despite my urge to leave the city ASAP, I stuck around so I could get my free trip. Once I got back from Africa, my plans to relocate were put into action.

At first, my goal was to find a job that allowed me to work remotely. Maybe DC would be more bearable if I could periodically take extended trips and not have to deal with office morons. But, most remote jobs seem to be aimed at people who have actual skills, so no one was ever interested in hiring me because I don’t have any. Thanks liberal arts degree, seven internships, and two full-time jobs! The internal deadline to leave DC I had set for myself was the end of 2015. When I didn’t hear anything by the beginning of November, I knew it was time to enter the world of teaching English abroad.

I had tried to avoid becoming an English teacher for as long as I could. I went to school to study international relations and wanted to do something relevant to my degree. A lot of people with my major seemed to use teaching English as a fallback plan for when their dream job proved too hard to get. So, I associated teaching in foreign countries with not having any alternatives left.

I thought I was lucky to find an internship in Armenia with the UN and then a couple of jobs in DC in international development. But then I realized that I hate working in international development and the non-profit sector. So many people just suck at things like basic office technology. My supervisor at my last job once made hand corrections to a Word document, scanned it, saved it on our shared drive, and then told me where on the shared drive it was so that I could make the corrections in the Word document. And Webinars! Jesus God, no one knew how to do a webinar. I began to think that I had no alternatives left, so I embraced that teaching English abroad was now a legit option for me. I could live in a different country, travel more, and hopefully save up some money. It had to be better than sitting on my butt all day and doing nothing.

My older sister is in the Air Force and received an assignment to be in South Korea for a year. Although I was looking for any job that would start by January 2016, I thought it would be neat to find something in Korea so that sissy and I could travel/hang out together. We hadn’t lived in the same place since high school, so Mary-Kate and Ashley could finally be BFFLs again.

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with our beaus

After several intense weeks of scouring job forums, sending my resume to sketchy email accounts, and buying a Groupon for an online teaching certificate, I finally started receiving job offers. Chinese companies were super eager to offer me positions. I was a white American, which, it became obvious, is all they are looking for. But, the jobs seemed to be in random towns or in big cities that had smog warnings.

South Korea seems to hold prospective teachers to a higher standard. Although being white is also a big plus for them, they like candidates to have some sort of qualification or teaching experience. I volunteered as an ESL teacher for adults in DC, but that wasn’t necessarily enough to easily get a job in Korea. I had no experience, or truthfully any interest, in working with kids. I wanted to continue to teach adults. But, I took the first job that offered me a start date I wanted and a good location in the capital even though it would mostly be teaching elementary and middle school-aged kids.

When I decided to tell my job in DC that I was leaving, I expected a reaction along the lines of “What a surprise! No one can replace you. You’ve been such a good employee”. I was one of the few guys in the office, and people always commented on my sense of humor. But the vibe I got was more “Ok, bye. You’re replaceable.”

The last two or three weeks I worked there consisted of me listening to Serial and preparing to move abroad as fast as I could. I had to move out of my apartment, sell my furniture on Craigslist, and get my documents in order for Korea. I made my last day of work the same day as the office Christmas party, so that it wouldn’t be as awkward of a goodbye. It was still awkward though. We had a White Elephant, which one overbearing employee decided to make stressful and not fun. After that, they said here’s your going away present but open it fast because we have a meeting in here in five minutes. Some people didn’t even say bye to me. In an office with about a dozen people, it’s not that hard to just stop by and say bye on your way out. Maybe they just didn’t want me to see them cry.

Once I submitted my documents to my school in Korea, I had to wait for the immigration department to process my paperwork in Seoul before I could drop off my visa application in DC. Although I had quit my job and sold my bed, I had no ticket to South Korea or even a for sure idea of when I would leave. I was nervous that my job offer would fall through or be rescinded for whatever reason. But I really didn’t care that much. It was a godsend to sit in my apartment all day and watch tons of TV. Almost reluctantly, my approval came through and I bought a one-way plane ticket to Seoul that left in less than a week. Time to GTFO.