Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Gay Christian Debate

The Gay Christian Debate
July 25th, 2015

"Does the Bible condemn homosexuality?"

Last Saturday evening, a public debate was held at the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon, Seoul, between Pastor Paul Warren from Sojourn Fellowship (Incheon) and Reverend Daniel Payne from Open Doors Metropolitan Community Church (Seoul), with moderation by Calon Webb. The topic of the debate was the position of the Bible on homosexuality. This topic has undeniably come under close scrutiny in recent months in South Korea, as the tension has mounted between some vocal conservative Christian groups and the country's LGBTQ community, especially after this year's Korea Queer Culture Festival on June 28th.

I attended the debate and took six pages of notes over the course of the 2.5-hour event. The purpose of this post is to recap the main points made by each pastor as succinctly as possible, and I will add some of my own thoughts at the end. The debate was conducted in English, and it was videotaped, so that a recording with Korean subtitles can be made available online in the near future.

Both pastors were allowed a twenty-minute opening statement. Reverend Daniel (henceforth DP), who takes an affirming position on homosexuality (i.e. the Bible does not condemn it), began by stating that both he and Pastor Paul (henceforth PW) approached the question under the assumption that the Christian Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God, and thus that whatever the Scripture says and means should be followed by professing Christians. DP stated that the Bible is a very complicated book; it has historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts that must be understood. And homosexuality in its modern, twenty-first century context is different from homosexuality as addressed in the six most-cited "anti-gay" passages of the Bible. For example, the sin of Sodom was the sin of inhospitality, not homosexuality per se; also, the Levitical laws against homosexuality were a reference to pagan ritualistic temple prostitution. In these passages and in others, DP stated that homosexual activity of a very specific sort was condemned, but not committed homosexual relationships of the kind we may find today.

PW's opening statement led with the idea of a "back to Creation" ethic of sexuality that could be identified as a common theme throughout the entire Bible. For example, the account of the creation of the world in Genesis highlights the importance of male and female complementarity as part of God's design for humankind, and Jesus' teachings on marriage in the Gospels upholds this. PW countered DP's interpretations of the Sodom and Gomorrah story and the Levitical laws by insisting on no ambiguity in the wordings of what was the sin in question, and similarly challenged DP's explanations of certain Greek words used by the Apostle Paul in his letters to the early church.

Each pastor was then given ten minutes for a rebuttal. DP clarified that the Bible does clearly bless heterosexual relationships and marriage, but is merely silent on the issue of their modern homosexual counterparts. The Bible's sayings regarding marriage should be taken as a descriptive account of the cultural context, but not a proscriptive set of unalterable rules. PW re-emphasized that the descriptions of sins in the Bible were, when taken at face value, inclusive of any kind of homosexuality, and also added that the Bible in its entirety, and the direction it appears to point toward, should be considered in cases of modern issues like same-sex marriage.

Following the rebuttals, DP was allowed to ask PW specific questions in a cross-examination format, followed by the reverse. There was discussion of the meaning of the word "abomination" as found in Leviticus and the case of eunuchs mentioned in the New Testament. Most relevantly, PW reiterated that the Apostle Paul should have been aware of consensual adult homosexual relationships (from ancient Greek writings), so what kinds of relationships that are under question today are not actually new. And DP was asked to define a Biblically-based sexual ethic, so he referenced a passage in the book of Galatians that identifies godly actions and relationships as those that might produce "spiritual fruits", which does not restrict the relationships by gender or orientation.

After a short break, the members of the audience (totaling about fifty) were asked to submit questions to the two pastors. They were asked to clarify issues such as the Bible's stance on lesbianism, transgender people and relationships, and the literality of the Biblical ordinance to "be fruitful and multiply" (i.e. have children), among others.

Actually, the question I submitted was selected by the moderator, and I'd like to share it. I addressed my question specifically to Pastor Paul: "There are LGBTQ Christians in our churches. How do we include them in the church community without relegating them to a second-tier class of believers?" I asked this because I believe that regardless of what any church's official position on homosexuality is, the fact is that LGBTQ people exist and some want to be a part of the community; yet too often the solution is to allow LGBTQ Christians to be members but prohibit them from marrying or taking on leadership positions -- in other words, they are discriminated against. PW's response was, "We don't want to kick anybody out or say that anyone is less. Some might advocate celibacy for LGBTQ Christians. But according to the Bible, there are no second-tier believers; believing and repentance always go together." DP's response was rather pointed: "Your implication is that if I am in a gay relationship, then I can't be a true Christian. The traditional side can't truly love LGBTQ people who are in relationships, despite their intentions, from this point of view. The sad thing is that I've experienced, in Korea, young queer Christians who have ended their lives because of the church's traditional teaching."

It became a little bit personal at this point, but otherwise, the debate was completely civil. There were more audience-submitted questions about the importance of procreation, how an LGBTQ individual should deal with an unaccepting Christian family, how Biblical interpretation has changed through history, and whether or not God hates gays. In closing, each pastor was given ten minutes for a closing statement. Both of them used their time to cite certain eminent Biblical scholars from both pro-gay and anti-gay sides who interpreted the six most relevant Biblical passages in different ways. DP's closing remark: "The church has changed its mind about slavery, an institution undoubtedly supported by the Bible, and hopefully in the future it can do the same about homosexuality." PW's closing remark: "Sin should not prevent us from being Christian. The struggle we all have with sin is guaranteed. I welcome you all to take up your crosses to follow Jesus."

- - -

The debate ended with an audience poll on whether they thought the Bible condemned homosexuality or not. I was not counting the hands raised, but it seemed that all three times the poll was conducted (before the debate, in the middle, and at the end), the audience was split about three ways between Yes, No, and Decline to Respond. There was mingling afterward, and then a large contingent went out to eat a late dinner (including both pastors). All in all, I enjoyed the debate for the intellectual stimulation, and I learned a few new things. (As a religion major in undergrad, I have already read quite a bit on the subject of Christianity and homosexuality, but there is always more to discover.)

I realized that the event was certainly catered toward English-speakers, and thus the handful of non-English-speaking Koreans in the audience may have felt somewhat lost during the debate. Also, there were no references to the current same-sex marriage debate in Korea. But the video is now available on YouTube (click here!) and the Korean translation are being worked on, so when those are made available, I will edit this post to include them. To be perfectly honest, the Gay Debate has been going on for decades in the US and in Western Christianity, but in Korea and the rest of Asia it has only just begun, so in my opinion, this kind of exchange ideas needs to happen in Korean, and soon.

Lastly, I am fully aware that this blog post left out huge chunks of the debate -- I'm especially sorry that I could not include full discussions of the excellent audience questions at the end -- but if you are curious to know more about what was said, leave a comment! I would be happy to send you my six pages of notes...

- - -

P.S. I should also put in a plug for Open Doors, the church that I have been attending this summer. It is a gay-affirming church affiliated with the Metropolitan Community Church denomination and offers a weekly Sunday service in English with Korean translations, located in Itaewon. Any Koreans or foreigners in Seoul are welcome to attend, regardless of religious background, sexual/gender identity, or interest in Christianity! Haha. I've learned some good stuff here in the past few weeks and made new friends; I will be sorry to leave in August.
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Saturday, July 25, 2015

인자와 겸손

"사람아 주께서 선한 것이 무엇임을 네게 보이셨나니 여호와께서 네게 구하시는 것이 오직 공의를 행하며 인자를 사랑하며 겸손히 네 하나님과 함께 행하는 것이 아니냐?" - 미가 6:8

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

This particular Bible verse has been on my mind a lot recently. In context, the book of Micah is a collection of sayings by its eponymous prophet that detail God's judgment against Israel and other nations but also provide glimpses of hope for a better future. In this chapter, God is telling Israel, through his prophet, that what they need to do in order to get back into his good graces is not more burnt sacrifices or physical offerings, but three simple (yet also extraordinarily difficult) actions: act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

공의를 행하며, 인자를 사랑하며, 겸손히 행하는 것이다.

I can understand where a lot of Christians are coming from when they point out sin and moral corruption in our society and generation. To stop wrongdoing from occurring by publicly calling it out looks like an act of justice. This is, after all, what prophets are best known for doing.

But that is only one-third of what the Lord requires of us, isn't it? All the protest and castigation directed toward sinners sounds less like justice and more like direct hatred when it is delivered with mercy or humility. I think this must be because it's so easy to nest in one's own moral high ground, and because it feels so good to be "in the right".

Indeed, mercy and humility are not easy virtues to carry. It's not comfortable to identify our own privilege and admit that we might have an unfair advantage over people we'd rather dismiss as lazy or sinful. It's difficult to look at something we believe is wrong and consider that we ourselves might be wrong. And it's nearly impossible to judge ourselves by the same standard by which we judge others.

As hard as it is to carry out these three simple tasks God requires, I don't think it is actually beyond any of us. A sermon preached at church a few weeks ago highlighted something that I've heard hundreds of times before but only recently began to see in a fresh and relevant light: "Change is brought about by everyday people."

평범한 사람이 변화를 가지고 오다.

This applies to the prophets of ancient Israel, and to most of the major "heroes" of the Bible. They were ordinary people. Sinful people. People who probably wouldn't have chosen the adventures they are now known for had they had the choice. Sometimes, prophets came from great lineage, and sometimes they were plucked out of an orchard randomly to deliver an important message.

If ordinary people could, in the Bible and in history, become vessels of such great importance, why not now? God doesn't require us to be financially successful, famous, or socially influential. Actually, all he requires is justice, mercy, and humility. 공의, 인자, 겸손.

Anyway, I didn't think I'd be gaining any major spiritual insights while spending a short summer in Korea, but as it turns out, I don't get to decide when God wants to tell me something, so I thought I'd share. Hopefully it can be a bit of encouragement to anybody who is fighting for social justice, anybody who finds themselves targeted by overwhelmingly "justice-happy" Christians, or anybody who considers themselves ordinary but still wants to let God do cool things in their lives.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

North Korean - South Korean translator app



It should surprise nobody by now that the languages spoken in North Korea and South Korea are not the same. The two countries have been geographically separated for decades, with no free communication allowed across the border between them. In addition to that, North Korea's government initiated purges of the language long ago to get rid of foreign words or borrowings (from English, Chinese, or Japanese) and replace them with pure Korean translations. As a result, while South Koreans might want to eat 아이스크림 ("ice cream", transliterated) on a hot summer day, a North Korean will dream instead of 얼음과자 ("ice snack").

When I visited North Korea last year, I found myself unable to understand much of the Korean that I heard being spoken. Of course, my Korean listening comprehension level is fairly low, but it wasn't just me -- even the Korean-Americans in my tour group who were fluent in (South) Korean had some difficulties. Most of it was due to the differences in vocabulary, but there was also the intonation of North Korean, which would have been considered a mere dialectal difference back when Korea was unified, but is now one of the markers of the two languages' divergence. (The line between "language" and "dialect" is a fairly blurry one, even for linguists.)

Anyway, when I came across this advertisement/PSA for a new app called 글동무 ("classmate"). I like the name -- the whole phrase means "classmate", which directly references the app's usefulness for North Korean students struggling to keep up in South Korean classrooms, and encourages a camaraderie among youth. Also, the first word (글) on its own means "writing" or "knowledge". The second part (동무) on its own can also mean "comrade", but I don't think that was intentional.

I have taught camps and tutored students from North Korea in South Korea before, and I can say that an app like this would be very helpful for most of them. (For others, especially younger students who basically grew up in China while their families were in hiding, it would perhaps be less useful than a Chinese-Korean dictionary, but those already exist.)

And in addition to the app's usefulness, its beautiful, simple design and hi-tech programming (it can use the phone's camera to identify unknown words automatically and offer translations immediately) are really compelling. This amazing app is the brainchild of linguists, computer programmers, and sociologists who saw a need in South Korea and came up with an elegant solution. I hope that the work I will do in the future can be as beneficial as this!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Korean Hip Hop Dance Crew Just Jerk

Hat tip to Glen for sending along this amazing hip hop dance piece by the Korean dance crew Just Jerk. 정말 대단한다고 생각합니다. I'm not usually a big fan of hip hop, but this performance is mesmerizing and, interestingly enough, not exactly immediately identifiable as hip hop. It's actually a fantastic tribute to more traditional Korean dance and music styles. How so?

First of all, three of the four songs come from the soundtracks to movies and dramas set during the Joseon Dynasty (the fourth is a hip hop piece by a Korean artist), and secondly, the costumes are obviously inspired by traditional Korean costumes. For the first half of the performance, the dancers are wearing masks, which makes me think of Korean masked dances, broadly known as 탈춤 (talchum). These kinds of dances always tell a dramatic tale, and similarly, I can see how this piece by Just Jerk has a musical arc and a sort of choreographed story.

It's pretty common knowledge by now that the South Korean 힙합 (hip hop) and 비보잉 (b-boying/breakdancing) scenes are huge, and that Korean b-boy crews win international competitions. There must be something in the water here... although one of my Korean instructors once tried to explain that this American genre's popularity in Korea was due in part to the fact that dance circles and community performance aspect of b-boying were similar to Korean folk dancing styles like 풍물 (pungmul) or 농악 (nongak). I don't quite buy it, but all the same, performances like the one I've shared above do in fact do a wonderful job in connecting the traditional with the young and modern.

Speaking of young, I checked out Just Jerk's Facebook page, and boy, they all look fresh out of college, or maybe even younger. 수준이 아주 높고 타고난 소질이 있는 듯! Also, as I scrolled down their wall, I was really surprised to see that they have toured internationally to do workshops, and one of their recent locations was UC Berkeley! How cool. Cal's huge dance community is always holding workshops, but I didn't know they brought people in from as far away as Korea. 미래에 JJㄴㄴ캘리포니아에 투어 하려고 다시 오고, 저는 공연을 볼 수 있으면 좋겠습니다!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Konglish Jokes

I made up some Konglish jokes. They will only be funny if you understand and can read a bit of Korean, and also if your standard for humor is extremely low. I have been testing these on my classmates for the past week and they all want me to shut up. :)

1. What country do all the dogs come from?
개나다

2. What did the annoyed mother tell her annoying baby?
아이고!

3. What is a shepherd's favorite number?


4. Looking at a map of Asia, if China is a dragon, what is 한국?
꼬리야

5. What do people get at the post office every day?
매일

6. How does a cow apologize?
소 소리

7. What does oil do to bugs when you fry them in it?
기름

8. What hairstyle do you get if you want to look like the US President?
오파마

9. Where do you go if you want to put a new building in the middle of Busan?
부동산

10. What do you call a movie about rice cakes?
떡큐멘타리

Extra credit! A Japanese joke: What did the one cat say to the other after it took its food?
내 거!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Chance Run-In at a Baseball Game

Nexen Heroes (Seoul) vs. NC Dinos (Changwon) at the Mokdong Baseball Stadium, Nexen's home base.
Last weekend, one of my classmates invited me to a baseball game in Seoul. She's a fan of Seoul's team, the Nexen Heroes, and she knew that I was a fan of Changwon's team, the NC Dinos1. We went with other exchange students as well as my friend's homestay family, which included a teenage son, SW, who is crazy about baseball! All of us got seats in a section of the stadium heavy with Nexen fans, and SW was very enthusiastically using his pink thunder sticks to cheer on his team, so much that his parents kept telling him to sit down and be quieter.

Unfortunately for SW, the Nexen Heroes suffered a devastating (and, to be honest, embarrassing) loss against the NC Dinos, who are one of the best teams in the league this year despite being only two years old. The NC Dinos were leading by a few runs in every inning, which I pointed out gleefully to my rather disgruntled classmate. I took a quick selfie and posted it to Facebook, with the caption, "서울에서 넥센과 NC 다이노스 야구 경기를 보는데 다이노스를 혼자 응원해서 좀 쓸쓸하다 ㅋㅋ" (I'm watching a Nexen/NC baseball game in Seoul, but because I'm the only Dinos fan [in this section], it's kind of lonely, lol).

Then, in the sixth inning, something happened that made the Heroes commit error after error after error... maybe it was the fact that it had begun to drizzle? In any case, the Dinos were able to score ten runs at the top of the sixth, bringing the score to 16-5. Ten runs. What baseball team can score ten runs in a single inning?! The scoreboard couldn't even show double digits for runs, so after the tenth run, the numeral "9" was changed to an "A".

I stopped goading my classmate after that because I felt bad about how my team was trampling hers underfoot. Poor SW resorted to praying for a miracle beside me. On the other side of the stadium, however, the devout NC fans were singing and having a whopping good time. I have always been impressed with NC's fans -- I was once told that the Changwon team's fans all had to jump ship from the Busan team (Lotte Giants) when the Dinos were formed in 2012, and then they worked extra hard to build up their fan base in opposition to their neighboring city. As a result, the NC Dinos fans are among the most ardent in the country. I mean, this was a game held in Seoul (5 hours from Changwon), yet enough fans showed up in their section to hold their own against a stadium full of Nexen supporters and their sound systems, mascots, and cheerleaders.

One of my former students (from Changwon Science High School) is one of these die-hard Dinos fans. How did I find this out? Well, it was quite an unexpected and serendipitous meeting. Shortly after I posted the aforementioned photo to Facebook, she saw it pop up on her Facebook newsfeed. (We weren't friends on Facebook, but another one of my former students Liked the photo, and she saw that.) Realizing that we were both at the same game, she walked over to the other side of the stadium, judging by the background she could see in the photo, and then found me!

I was extremely taken aback when I saw her. This is a student who graduated in fall of 2012. I had only taught her for one semester and hadn't seen her (online or anywhere) for two and a half years! The first thing she said to me was (in Korean): "Teacher! Do you remember me?" It took me a moment because her hairstyle was different, and she definitely looked like a third-year college student, not a high schooler. But I remembered her name. In fact, I remember the exact conversation we had, nearly three years ago, when she explained why her name was rather unique among Koreans because it came from a native Korean word that had no hanja (Chinese character) counterpart -- her name means "sunset"2.

When I told her that I remembered her, she was so happy she didn't even know what to say next. Also, as it turned out, she hadn't kept up with her English studies, so she was very much speechless. She told me that she loved the Dinos and was even wearing a jersey that had been signed by the team. I was just amazed at this coincidental reunion. I wished my student best of luck in school, told her that we ought to meet up again sometime, and took another selfie before she went back to join her fellow fans. Later, during that improbable sixth inning, I texted her, saying, "WE'RE WINNING!" and she replied, in English, "Perfect!" plus a lot of emojis.

You know, I can't remember all of my former student's names. I can't even remember all of my current Korean friends' names -- it's just harder for me to mentally store and retrieve Korean names, compared to English ones. But I will never forget a student's face. And I'm glad my student didn't forget mine.

That night, I was thrilled that my team won, but what really made my day had nothing to do with the game at all. It had something to do, I believe, with the sunset.

- - -
1In Korea, professional sports teams are literally named after their corporate sponsors. Nexen Tire Corporation is a Korean tire manufacturing company. Its name is a portmanteau of "next century". The NC Dinos are owned by NCSOFT, a video game development company. Thus, I know many names of Korean sports teams, but I rarely know what city they are meant to represent.

2Okay, her name doesn't actually mean sunset. It actually refers to the glow of the sun at sunset or sunrise, which is... what, Rayleigh scattering? Or just... red sky (in the morning, sailors take warning...)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Legal Battle for Marriage Equality in Korea

The year 2015 has seen marriage equality (legalization of marriage between two men or two women, also known as gay marriage or same-sex marriage) coming into effect in Ireland by popular vote and in the United States by Supreme Court ruling. Now, the stage has been set for Korea's own legal showdown, as a well-known gay couple has filed a lawsuit against the district office that denied them a marriage license in 2013.

Kim Jho Gwang-soo, a film director perhaps best known for his feature film Two Weddings and a Funeral as well as his LGBTQ activism, and his partner Kim Seung-hwan (David Kim), have found themselves at the forefront of the battle for sexual minorities' equal rights, at least in terms of media focus.

The following is my translation of the first few paragraphs from a Daum News article:

On the afternoon of July 6th, a film director shed tears in front of many cameras, supporters, and a large audience. Behind him was a court house, and before him was the world's prejudice. He said to those before him, "I beg of you to recognize our relationship before I die." He was Kim Jho Gwang-soo, one-half of the country's very first gay couple that held a public wedding ceremony in 2013.

The couple (부부) Kim Jho Gwang-soo and Kim Seung-hwan appeared at the Seoul Western District Court (서울서부지방법원) in Mapo-gu last Monday afternoon. The two of them had filed an appeal against the proceedings of the Family Registration Public Office, and this was the day of their hearing. Previously, the two had held Korea's first gay public wedding ceremony on December 10th, 2013, which is International Human Rights Day (세계인권의 날), and had also filed applications for marriage licenses. However, the Seodaemun District Office refused them, citing the civil definition of marriage. This is the country's first gay marriage lawsuit, and the case has now begun.

(I especially like how the Sino-Korean word "부부" was used to refer to the couple, since the Chinese characters "夫婦" refer to a man and a woman, but its usage for the case of Kim Jho Gwang-soo and Kim Seung-hwan acknowledges, in a way, that their relationship is equal to the traditional kind of couple. At the same time, the gender-neutral English loanword 커플 is also used to refer to them in this article, which is also progressive in its own fashion.)

From a HuffPost Korea article, the Seodaemun District Office's reasoning for rejecting their original license was that "same-sex marriage is invalid due to the settled civil definition of marriage" ("동성 간 혼인은 민법에서 일컫는 부부로서의 합의로 볼 수 없어 무효") as being between one man and one woman. However, the couple's appeal, submitted last May, states that, "nowhere in the civil law are there provisions against same-sex marriage, and through an interpretation of Section 36, Clause 1 of the Constitution that recognizes the right to marriage and equal rights, same-sex marriage must too be accepted." (민법 어디에도 동성 간 혼인 금지 조항이 없고, 혼인의 자유와 평등을 규정한 헌법 제36조 1항에 따라 혼인에 대한 민법 규정을 해석하면 동성혼도 인정된다")

During the news conference, Kim Jho Gwang-soo said, "I promised not to cry in court, but actually I ended up crying," and "I only ask that you recognize our relationship (단지 우리 관계를 인정해달라는 것), but I want to know why we are receiving so much hate. I've done my military service and fulfilled all my obligations as a citizen, so why do I have to appeal to the court, crying [for my equal rights]?"

The HuffPost article also has plenty of photos (courtesy Yonhap News) from the news conference following the court appearance (which was not open to the public). In the audience were supporters sporting rainbows and carrying signs saying 평등, 사랑, 존업 (Equality, Love, Dignity). There were also, of course, protesters, who carried signs saying things like "A male daughter-in-law? A female son-in-law? NO!" and "Our children need a mom and a dad!"
The news conference following Korea's first same-sex marriage lawsuit appeal (Yonhap News)
Every single one of the articles I've seen about this trial have referenced the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. Even this opinion piece written by Kim Jho Gwang-soo himself (which I will try to translate later, but it's so long...) begins with the news of victory from America and a quote from President Obama. Historically, Korea has taken cues from the United States in the political and social spheres, but when it comes to rights for sexual minorities, many of the Korean groups that oppose them are actually playing the anti-foreign intervention card in a gamble to preserve Korea's moral traditions.

But with growing international pressure, plus domestic pressure as events like this year's enormously successful Korea Queer Culture Festival (and Pride Parade) greatly increase the visibility of Korea's LGBTQ community, the issue is sure to take center stage in the near future. And when that happens, the status quo could very likely change. The hope is that while the United States took around ten years to come around to complete marriage equality (with the last two years in particular seeing the tides turn dramatically -- watch this amazing video illustration!), Korea, a country whose public opinion and social environment can evolve quite quickly, will shift in favor of full rights for sexual minorities in even less time, followed soon by its laws.

Links and Sources
Kim Jho Gwang-soo's HuffPost Korea opinion piece (Korean) and a public Facebook post he wrote about his feelings about the legal battle ahead (Korean)
My Fair Wedding, a documentary about Korea's first publicly gay couple, came out on June 4th (English)
- Three short articles (in English) about Korea's first gay marriage lawsuit, here and here and here.
- Two longer articles (in English), from The Telegraph and Korea Joonang Daily.
- The articles (in Korean) that I translated/used as sources, here and here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Korea Queer Culture Festival & Pride Parade 2015 (퀴어문화축제와 자긍심 퍼레이드)

"In a world where I can be myself, all love is equal."
This year's Korea Queer Culture Festival had its opening ceremony on June 9th and its closing parade on June 28th. I went to both events and took photos to share with you all.

(I have translated this post into Korean. But I have not had it checked at all, so it's going to be messy. Sorry in advance for the errors!)

올해 한국의 퀴어문화축제는 6월9일에 개막식이 열리고 6월 28일 자긍심 (프라이드) 퍼레이드가 열렸다. 저는 사진을 찍어려 갔다.

(저는 한국어를 잘 못 해서 실수가 많이 있르 것이다. 미안합니다!)

To my Christian friends: a good number of you may be against events like Pride and the values that it stands for. I understand this. Years ago I also used my religion and my deeply-held beliefs about Biblical morality to fuel my disapproval of all things that had to do with LGBTQ expression.

저의 기독교인 친구들에게: 아마 너희들중에 이런 행사와 성소수자의 이상에 반대하는 사람이 많은 것 같다. 저는 너희들의 생각을 이해한다. 저도 이전에 기독교와 성경을 믿기 때문에 동성애와 다른 성소수자의 표현을 싫어했다.

My point of view has changed, however. I believe now that it is only fair that LGBTQ people have the same rights as everyone else: the right to celebrate their own culture, the right to get married, the right to create families and contribute to society without being condemned or threatened because of their differences in gender or sexuality.

하지만 이제 저는 생각을 바꿨다. 지금 성소수자들이 평등권리를 받야 한다고 생각한다. 퀴어 문화를 즐기는 권리며, 결혼 권리며, 가족을 이루는 권리며, 혐오나 협박 없이 사회에 공헌할 수 있는 권리도 필요한다.

Furthermore, I believe that the Christians who have historically opposed LGBTQ activism have done so in a largely unloving and foolish way. While Christ calls us to love even our enemies, Christians were the first to cast stones at the oppressed sexual minority communities, or else stood by and watched discrimination become entrenched in society without lifting a finger to help. Christians should have been the first to help an oppressed minority, because God's love transcends petty human ideologies.

또 한, 이전에 성소수자의 활동주의에 반대하는 기독교인들은 야박하고 어리석게 했다고 생각한다. 예수님이 우리가 원수를 사랑하라고 했지만, 억압당하는 성소수자들을 공격하는 사람들이 기독교인들이었다. 선소수자들이 사외에서 차별을 당할 때 손가락도 까딱하지 않은 사람들이 기독교인들이었다. 오히려 기독교인들은 먼저 도와줘야 했었는데요. 왜냐하면 하나님의 사랑이 인간의 이상들을 초월하기 때문이다.
Seoul Pride Parade 2015
So here I was at Seoul's Pride Month events, happy to see Korea's LGBTQ community come together in strength and solidarity, and at the same time dismayed (yet unsurprised) to see huge numbers of conservative Christian protestors loudly declaiming against homosexuality, AIDS, public indecency, and gay marriage. They flew the Korean flag and a cross flag to symbolize the ideals of faith and tradition that drove them to protest, and they countered all of the Pride events with rallies and performances of their own.

그런데 제가 퀴어문화 축제를 다녔는데, 한국 성소수자들이 같이 모이는 것 하고 그들의 공동체의 결속을 보여줘서 고무적이고 감동적이었다. 반면에 수 많은 보수적인 기독교의 시위자들이 ‘동성애 아웃’, ‘에이즈의 광란’, ‘동성결혼 싫어’, ‘외설죄 반대’라는 구호를 시끄럽게 소리치는 것도 봐서 조금 속상했다. (역시 보수적인 기독교의 시위자들…) 신앙과 전통의 상진주의 위해 태극기와 기독교의 십자가 국기를 올렸고 퀴어문화축제에 반대의 그들은 자기의 행사를 열렸다.

I just want to show you what it looked like from the perspective of a non-Korean, Christian, gay man. I went to enjoy the events, and I went with friends, and I never at any point felt unsafe. I was happy to see the joy and pride at KQCF. I hope that the Christians who support LGBTQ rights will be encouraged that even in a conservative country like Korea, a celebration like this can happen. I also hope that the Christians who do not support LGBTQ rights will see despite their opposition, the right way to win hearts is not through anger, disgust, or despair, but through love.

저는 그냥 직접 목격한 것을 좀 보여드리고 싶다. 저는 한국인 아니며, 예수님을 사랑하는 게이 남성인데 올해 퀴어문화축제에 즐겁게 지내려고 갔다. 친구들이랑 무사히 다녀왔다. 제가 KQCF에서 행복한 분위기와 모든 사람들의 자긍심이 보일 수 있어서 기뻤다. 여러분, 성소수자를 지지하는 기독교인들이 한국과 같은 보수적인 나라에서도 이런 축제가 열려도 되는것에서 위안을 찾으시면 좋겠다. 그리고 성소수자의 권리에 반대 하는 기독교인들이 다음 진상을 아시면 좋겠다: 남의 마음을 얻는 것을 위해서 가장 좋은 방식이 분노, 혐오, 절망으로 아니고 사랑으로 해야한다.
Dance performances at KQCF 2015
To my Korean friends: a good number of you may be curious about what KQCF is, even though it has been held annually in Seoul for sixteen years now. Here's my short explanation: Some people think homosexuality is something that recently came from Western societies into Korea. Actually, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) people have been in Korea for hundreds of years, but the recognition that sexual minorities are normal and not mentally ill or perverted is more recent. And even more recently, there have been movements around the world to show acceptance of these sexual minorities.

저의 한국친구들에게: 아마 너희들중에 ‘퀴어문화축제’가 뭣인지 궁굼할 것 같다. 한국에서 지난 16년 동안 열렸거든요… 어쨌든. 동성애가 서양 사회에서 한국에 들어온 것이라고 생각하는 사람도 있다. 사실은 LGBTQ (레즈비언, 게이, 양성애, 트랜즈젠더, 퀴어 등) 사람들이 한국에 옛날부터 있었지만, 이 성소수자들이 실제로 정신 장애가 없고 변태가 아니라는 인식이 현대까지 안 나왔다. 그리고 더 최근에 전세계에 성소수자의 승인을 구하는 운동들이 시작되었다.

Seoul's "Korea Queer Culture Festival" began in the year 2000. LGBTQ activists have had to fight to gain recognition that LGBTQ people even exist in Korea. But there are more hurdles to overcome. Discrimination against LGBTQ people is widespread: in Korea, a gay or lesbian couple cannot get married, a person can be fired from their job for being queer, and, of course, LGBTQ teenagers can be bullied to the point of wanting to commit suicide. Activists and allies in Korea want to change laws and public opinion in Korea so that Korean society will become a safer place for sexual minorities.

서울의 ‘퀴어문화축제’라는 행사는 2000년에 세웠다. 이 전에 한국의 성소수자들의 존재를 대채로 인식되지 않았다. 요즘은 퀴어 사람들이 옛잘 보다 자주 보일 수 있지만 성소수자에 관한 사회의 문제가 많이 남았다고 생각 한다. 성소수자에 대한 차별이 정말 많다. 예를 들면 한국에서 게이나 레즈비언 커플의 결혼은 불법이다. 그리고 어떤 성소수자가 성적 성향 때문에 일에서 해고될 수 있다. 또, 퀴어 청소년들이 자주 자살하도록 괴롭힘을 당하고 있다. 한국 성소수자 운동가들 하고 동맹자(친구)들은 한국이 성소수자에게 안전한 사회가 되도록 한국의 법을 개정하고 여론을 바꾸고 싶다.

Of course, KQCF is also a big party, too. LGBTQ people value freedom, love, and equality for all people regardless of who they are. The reason the celebration can be a little bit wild is probably a direct response to the intensity of the community's historical oppression. If you go to a Pride event and see crazy costumes, leftist slogans, or people behaving in a way that is surprising to you, I encourage you to remain open-minded and remember that there is a reason for all of the things people do and believe, and that it is better to try to appreciate that reason than to immediately dismiss it because you don't understand.

물론 퀴어문화축제는 축제이잖아요. 성소수자들은 사람들의 차이에 상관없이 자유, 사랑과 평등을 소중하게 생각한다. 축제가 가끔… 광란(격렬?)하는 이유는 성소수자들의 역사상의 억압에 직접 반응인 것 같다. 너희들이 프라이드 행사에 다니시고 괴짜의 의상, 좌파 구호나 이상한 사람을 보시면, 므음을 열기를 바랍니다. 인간행동과 우리의 믿음이 개인에 딸라 다른 것을 잊지 마세요. 남의 다른 자가표현을 알아듣지 않아서 싫어하지 말고 그들을 이해해보시기 바랍니다.

To my LGBTQ friends: Have courage, and happy Pride!

우리 게이, 레즈비언, 양성애의, 트랜즈젠더, 퀴어 등 친구들에게: 용기를 가지세요. 힘내. 화이팅. 해피 프라이드!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Half the Battle

A scene from tonight's taekgyeon class. We have just finished our warm-up.

관장님: Okay, um... now get on the floor.
[My two fellow trainees and I do as we are told.]
관장님: Now do eopdeuryeo palkuphyeo pyeogi1.
Me: ...?!?!?! What is that?
관장님 (in English): Do push-up!
Me: Oh, okay. How many?
관장님: One hundred.
Me: One hundred?!
Other guy: What?!
관장님: What's the problem? Be grateful it isn't two hundred.
[Seventy push-ups in, I notice that my fellow trainees have stopped.]
[Thirty push-ups later, I collapse to the floor.]
Me: Aigo2... So, uh, how many did you do?
Other guy: Oh, I just did fifty.
Me: Fifty? Come on! Well... at least pani sijak... ida3.
Other guy: What?
Me: Um... pani sijakida?
관장님: Pani... Oh! You mean sijaki panida4.
Me: Ah, that's right. Sijaki panida. Haha, I'm so stupid.

- - -

For those for whom this made very little sense, an explanation: I meant to encourage my fellow trainee with a proverb that I had recently learned in Korean class. The proverb is "시작이 반이다," which is basically equivalent to, "Starting is half the battle" (or the clever rhyming version I found online: "Well begun is half done"). He'd done fifty push-ups, and he was halfway through!

Unfortunately, I mixed up the two nouns in the expression and ended up telling him something more along the lines of, "Half is just the beginning." Even if it did make any sense, it probably wouldn't have been very encouraging at all! You've already done fifty eopdeuryeo palkphyeo blah blah whatever, but that's just the start of it... *cue evil laugh*

When it comes to using the new Korean words and expressions I've been learning in class, I inevitably make foolish mistakes. In the best case scenario, I bring a conversation with a Korean friend to an awkward halt because I sound like a stilted textbook example. In the worst case scenario, my friend decides to switch to English because they literally can't make sense of what I'm trying to say.

But in embarrassing times such as these, I remember another proverb, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." Or the Korean version: 범의 굴에 들어가야 범을 잡는다5. You need to enter the tiger's den if you want to catch it. In my case, the tiger is fluency in a foreign language and the cave is an endless abyss of silly and awkward misunderstandings.

- - -

1 '엎드려 팔굽혀 펴기' is a ridiculously long word for 'push-up'. I mean, seriously?!
2 '아이고' is a common Korean expression of pain, discomfort, or dismay.
3 '반이 시작이다' does not mean anything in Korean.
4 '시작이 반이다' is a common Korean proverb.
5 In Chinese (for the heck of it): 不入虎穴,焉得虎子.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Flag We Fly

Happy USA Day! Barack and Michelle Obama paid a visit to the US Embassy's booth at Seoul Pride last week!
Today is the Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day. This is the holiday when Americans commemorate their declaration of independence from Britain (way back in 1776) and celebrate American values such as liberty, freedom, democracy, and the right to shoot other Americans if we feel threatened by their existence. Just kidding about that last one...

Except that it's not actually something to kid about. As an American, I feel very lucky to have certain privileges such as the power of my passport, a top-tier education, and, well, freedom. But I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that my country is flawed and deeply imbalanced. Though I have able to reap many benefits in my life, many of my fellow citizens suffer daily from systemic racism, hiring practices that put them at an inherent disadvantage, social expectations that don't support their self-expression, and a majority culture that shamelessly and ignorantly allows all of this oppression to happen.

Anyway. I'm proud to be an American, but I will not let my flag fly idly and be silent about the problems our country has to solve. What day is better to reflect upon how to improve America than the anniversary of her birth?

P.S. The photo above was taken at the Korea Queer Culture Festival! Many more photos and a recap post to come soon. Congrats USA, and thank you Supreme Court, for passing marriage equality in all fifty states. Happy Pride!

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