Queer Korea: A Historical Perspective


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Slideshow for a presentation on the basic history of queer Korea

Published in: Education

Queer Korea: A Historical Perspective

  2. A BIT ABOUT ME • Reader for LTEA 142 • Student at IR/PS • International Economics / International Development • Korea focus • Time in Korea • Three years teaching English • The Kimchi Queen (03/2012) • Involvement in Korean queer life
  3. DISCLAIMER • White • Cisgender* • Male However, I will try to include information on Korean lesbians and transgender individuals to the best of my ability. *Identify with the gender I was assigned at birth
  4. “Although they do not exist as a significant social reality, they are, nonetheless, existential entities who suffer precisely because of their homosexuality. No matter what anyone says, it is clear that in our society, homosexuality is the cause of discontent. As a result, a "homosexual existence" implies change and resistance- a struggle for a better life. However, when social discourse claims that one does not exist, or in other words, when one is coerced into remaining a non-social entity… How do Korean lesbians, gays, and other sexual minorities create a normative foundation for a brighter future?” –Seo Dong-jin
  5. LECTURE OVERVIEW • Historical existence of queer individuals throughout Korea‟s history • From Japan Annexation to Democracy: The Invisibility of Queer Koreans? • Expanding queer movement in modern Korea • This evolution vis-à-vis film and popular culture
  6. QUEER IN ANCIENT KOREA: HYEGONG OF SILLA • 36th ruler of the Korean Silla Kingdom • Reigned from 765 to 780 C.E. • Described as a man by appearance, but a woman by nature • Preferred the company of males over females
  7. QUEER IN ANCIENT KOREA: SILLA’S HWARANG (화랑) • Group of male youth • Dressed well, wore makeup • Horsemanship, archery, javelin, swordsmanship • Known for prostitution and homosexuality
  8. QUEER IN ANCIENT KOREA: THE KORYO DYNASTY • Same-sex relationships were common among the ruling class • Historical analysis of Hallimbuilgok showed that King Chungsun (1275-1325) had a longtime male lover • King Kongmin (1325-1374) had „little brother attendants‟ as sexual partners
  9. QUEER IN ANCIENT KOREA: THE JOSEON DYNASTY AND CONFUCIANISM • Establishment of Confucianism ideology • Repudiation of homosexuality • Continued male homosexuality in the ruling class and among Buddhist monks • Lesbianism not viewed with acceptance • King Sejong‟s Daughter (순빈 봉씨)
  10. QUEER IN ANCIENT KOREA: THE NAMSADANG • Male performers • When boys (called midong) first joined, played the penetrated sex role • Most likely prostitutes for the ruling class • Ended with Japanese annexation of Korea • Basis of The King and the Clown • (5th Highest Grossing Film)
  11. HOMOSEXUALITY UNDER JAPANESE OCCUPATION • Little known • Publication of Yi Kwang-su‟s Maybe Love in Japan
  12. HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE MID CENTURY: INVISIBLE? • Understanding through personal narratives • Unheard Life Story of a Senior Gay Korean Man, Shin Young Kim • Ch’oe Myung-hwan, Lesbian
  13. HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE THE MID CENTURY: FAKE NAMES “The sonbae I met in the 1970s usually used aliases.[2]Sometimes, however, there were those such as “Doctor Yi” or “Doctor Seo” and “Eun-ja” hyongnim or “Soon-ja” hyongnim who used their real names.[3] I think they used their real names because the names were common enough that they felt comfortable revealing them. The sonbae from those days remember “Myong-hwan,” not “Hyon-ok.” I’ve been using “Myong-hwan” for the past thirty years.” –Choe Myong-hwan • Common practice today
  14. HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE MID CENTURY: MARRIAGES OF CONVENIENCE OR EMIGRATION • Choe Myeong-hwan writes how all her lovers would leave her for marriages • Emigration as a second choice The “One of the sonbaes could no longer stand the pressure to marry and she left for Japan. It’s absurd that we have to keep fleeing when all we do is like women. Anyway, the sonbae refuses to come back to Korea even though she knows very well that she could live in Korea these days.” Choe Myeong- hwan “The tragic irony was that the two different kinds of love could not be compatible in Mr. Jung’s life. Mr. Jung’s care for family members made him feel obliged to be a good brother and father and it meant that he had to give up satisfying a personal desire to live a gay life in Korean society. The reason Mr. Jung decided to get married even though he did not want it demonstrates the priority of his commitment to his family.” Unheard Story
  15. HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE MID CENTURY: FINDING ROLES • Marriage or emmigration not the only choice • Female troupes (국극) in the 1950s • Girl Prince explores this genre
  16. HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE MID CENTURY: UNDERGROUND BAR SCENES • Jongno as a place for men • Myeongdong as a place for women in the 70s • Invisible to the public both in bars and film
  17. BURGEONING QUEER MOVEMENT IN KOREA: 1980S TO PRESENT • 16 distinct themes outlined in Mujigae Korea • Changing public perception • Evolution of film reflects the movement‟s progress
  18. 1: DEVELOPMENT OF A GAY BAR SCENE IN JONGNO • Started in Jongno • Secretive • Lack of visibility • Development of Itaewon in the mid 1990s • Effect of American military presence • Targeted toward foreigners • Recent renaissance • Hongdae for Women
  19. 2. THE FIRST LGBT ORGANIZATIONS 1991-1993 • The first group was Sappho, which was created by an American lesbian for lesbians in Korea. • In 1994, Chingusai was established, which still operates today. • Kiri Kiri, a new lesbian group, decided to go beyond a social group and focus on activism and eventually opened Lesbos in 1996.
  20. 3. BOOKS AND TRANSLATIONS FROM 1994. • A number of books began to be published both by Korean authors as well as translations from foreign languages into Korean. • Same-sex characters began to appear in works by Song Gyeong-a, Yi Na-mi, Seo Yeong-eun, Yun Dae-nyeong, Baek Min-seok 4. THE FIRST UNIVERSITY STUDENT GROUPS IN 1995. • Seven students at Yonsei created the group Come Together at Yonsei, which was largely publicized (and criticized). • It was not allowed to officially be a group since Yonsei was a Christian university. • Other universities followed
  21. 5. THE INTERNET: ANOTHER LOVE AND EXZONE FROM 1996. • The development of the internet helped create a space • “The observation that public lesbian/gay/queer (hereafter l/g/q) cultures emerge most frequently along with late capitalism, the rise of the middle class, consumer culture, urbanization, and mobility appears equally applicable to Asian contexts … [however] it seems plausible that an additional factor has been at play: computers and computer-mediated communication” Chris Berry and Fran Martin 6. GAY FILM FESTIVALS FROM 1997. • The first film festival to be held at Yonsei University was cancelled last minute by the administration • University cut the power and locked the doors to ensure it did not happen.
  22. 8. THE KOREA QUEER CULTURE FESTIVAL FROM 2000. • Gay pride parades started with the name of „Rainbow Festival‟. 7. BUDDY MAGAZINE IN 1998. • Published in 1998 • Not held in bookstores • Has since gone out of print
  23. 9. THE FIRING OF HONG SUK CHUN IN 2000 • First entertainer to come out • Apologizes to fans 10. THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION IN 2001 • April 2011: Allowed citizens to file complaints if they faced discrimination • Worked on changing disparaging definitions of homosexuality in dictionaries, stopping the censure of gay websites, ending sexual violence in the military, allowing gays to donate blood, and changing the Healthy Families Basic Act Lee Song Hee-il’s White Night
  24. 11. INTERNET CENSORSHIP - EXZONE AND THE YOUTH PROTECTION ACT – 2001. • The Youth Protection Act of 1997 stated that minors should not be exposed to the topic of homosexuality. • This meant censoring gay websites. • Was removed from the government‟s categories of harm 12. ACTIVIST CHANGES FROM • Some working with the IGLHRC (International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission) • AIDS awareness (ISHAP) and sexual identity education.
  25. 13. MILITARY ISSUES • Did not allow gay servicemen, but • No longer discharges them for „mental illness‟ • Men can face up to a year in prison. 14. RECOGNIZING RELATIONSHIPS. • In 2003, a lesbian woman asked the courts to recognize her 21-year old relationship. • In 2004, a public gay wedding took place (though not legally recognized). • Kim Jho Gwang-su‟s Marriage
  26. 15. THE ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAW. • In 2006, a law against discrimination based on sexual orientation • Much opposition by conservative Christians. • Removed from consideration 16. TRANSEXUAL ISSUES • Harisu, the first transsexual (MtF) entertainer • Legally recognized as a woman in 2002.
  27. IN FILM: FROM CAMOUFLAGE TO BLOCKBUSTER? • Colin Singer argues that there have been three periods of queer film • Invisibility • Ascetic (Woman & Woman) • Camouflage • Bungee Jumping of Their Own • Memento Mori • Blockbuster • King and the Clown • No Regret
  28. BUNGEE JUMPING OF THEIR OWN “Kim Dae Sung's film Bungee Jumping on their Own (2001) challenges this heterosexual bias by playing with the possibility of having one of the romantic pair reincarnated within a re-gendered body. Thus, what began as inherently heterosexual abruptly begins anew, but this time as inherently homosexual, while each lover continues to assert his heterosexual identity.” Aaron Han Joon and Magnan Park
  29. NO REGRET I’ll let you guys analyze this one!
  30. MAJOR THEMES • State regulation of sexuality • Hidden expression of sexuality through the Japanese annexation / Park dictatorship • Re-emergence of hidden identities • Christianity / Conservative continual resistance • Changing Perceptions • Myth of “modern-day acceptance”
  31. SOURCES • The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality • Mapping the Vicissitudes of Homosexual Identities in South Korea by Seo Dong-jin • Male Concubinage: Notes on Late Choson Homosexuality by an American Naval Attache by Carter J. Eckert • En-gendering re-gendered romance of multiple lives: reincarnation in Bungee Jumping of Their Own by Aaron Han Joon and Magnan Park • Mujigae Korea by Doulgas Sanders • Korean Literature in Translation with Gabriel Sylvian • Syncretism and Synchronicity: Queer'n'Asian Cyberspace in 1990s Taiwan and Korea by Chris Berry and Fran Martin
  32. SOURCES CONTINUED • Ch’oe Myung-hwan, Lesbian by Sujin Park-Kim • Unheard Life Story of a Senior Gay Korean Man by Shin Young Kim