[KS] Re: Public awareness of homosexuality in South Korea
k u s h i b o
jdh95 at hitel.net
Tue Oct 3 20:33:17 EDT 2000
REPLY sends your message to the whole list
Reply to: kushibo at mac.com
Content-type: text/plain; charset="US-ASCII"
Nancy Lee wrote:
> On 02-Oct-00, k u s h i b o wrote:
>> And that leads to my primary question: does anyone know of some relevant
>> resources on homosexuality in Korea, either currently or historically?
> Well, the HanQueerean page at
> gives links to lesbian/gay Korean/Korean-American sites. I haven't
> checked them out myself, but there they are. There's also a page of gay
> Korean links at:
> but most of them are highly un-scholarly and a lot of them don't work.
They will still be helpful, I'm sure. I'll report back after taking a
> And if your Korean is better than mine, you could take a look at
> and see if it's helpful or not. I gather the picture is the actor in
It appears to be (it's a slightly blurred photo, from a distance, so I
say with 100% certainty).
>> know someone who is thinking of doing her research in this field, in the
>> wake of Hong's coming out, but also I want a little "ammunition" against
>> some of the outrageous claims made by our producers who are
>> rationalizing the decision to give Hong the axe. Claims that
>> homosexuality didn't exist before Korea's "westernization"
> Well, the *concept* of "homosexuality" seems to have been a relatively
> recent western invention. My guess is that if you found a Koreanist who
> was a scholar in gay/lesbian studies, and asked them whether
> homosexuality existed in Korea before westernization, instead of
> answering your question they would start deconstructing the world
I'm not sure I would completely agree with that. There is a Korean word
"homosexuality" that is a string of Chinese characters. It's basically
gender love person," or something to that effect. And hasn't
been referred to in literature going back to the ancient Greeks and the
Biblical Hebrews? That doesn't seem to me to be a "recent" western
invention, but I may be missing your point.
On the other hand, there is a subtle difference between "homosexual" and
"gay" which might arguably relate to your point here. "Homosexual"
putatively refers to the act and orientation itself, whereas "gay"
the culture and lifestyle that sometimes surrounds it. Thus, someone
be homosexual without being gay, I suppose. I am not gay or homosexual,
to be honest, I have little contact with openly gay people here in
I may be completely off-base on what I just said, so if anyone with more
information wishes to enlighten me (on- or off-list) I would be most
> Completely unscholarly anecdote here: a Korean immigrant once told me
> that she she couldn't understand what "all the fuss" about gay men and
> lesbians in America is about. She said, "We don't have gays and
> lesbians in Korea. There's no such thing!" She then proceeded to tell
> me that her best friend at Ewha in the 1940's, was widely known to have
> been having a love affair with a female professor. "Everybody knew
> about it, but we never called them lesbians."
I take the view that information on Korea is, by nature, of scholarly
so I will reply. My understanding is that there is a differentiation in
minds of many Koreans between the words *homo* (spelled "homo" in
and *gay* (spelled "kkae"?). The former refers to what we would consider
or homosexual in North America, but the latter refers to gay men who try
make themselves up to look like women. Such "kkae" men are sometimes
featured in the papers, as a sideshow or as the subject of a crackdown,
so the Korean public is somewhat aware of their existence, but under the
impression that they are very rare. If I am correct on this
of terms, this helps explain at least part of the common Korean denial
"gays in Korea." I first encountered this distinction myself when I was
by the same person that there were no "gays" in Korea, but that he did
of "homosexuals" in the Pagoda Park district. To him, the two were
I don't know, though, how this distinction might relate to the term
"lesbian" and thus to your anecdote.
> Since I do not speak Korean and that conversation was in English, I
> can't tell you how she would have said it in Korean. But I gathered the
> impression that as far as she knew, two women who have sex together were
> just regarded as two women who have sex together, they weren't regarded
> by others as a separate species or subculture. (But only they know how
> they regarded themselves.)
That makes sense, in light of what little I know of homosexuality in
My cousin here says that Korea invented the concept of "Don't ask, don't
tell." It's okay to do engage in whatever sexual proclivity you desire
(assuming it's between consenting adults, I guess) as long as it doesn't
upset or disrupt your family and other obligations. This applies, of
to heterosexual adultery that is not only rampant in Korea, but arguably
*expected* after marriage.
K U S H I B O
More information about the Koreanstudies