Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hong Seok-cheon and Korean LGBTQ Culture

From KoreaBang, about a month ago: Gay [Korean] Celebrity Receives Letter from Nephews, Is Moved to Tears.

I was reminded by my host mother that tomorrow is White Day, the unofficial follow-up to Valentine's Day. In Korea, the tradition is for women to give chocolates to their loved ones on February 14th and for men to reciprocate the gesture by giving candy on March 14th. I wonder what gay Korean couples do on these two extremely heteronormative holidays? Probably nothing. To be queer is to be countercultural, so might as well reject the consumerist bent of these "traditions" as well and demonstrate your love with actions, not gifts.

Anyway, LGBTQ culture in Korea is quite subdued and still very much underground (i.e. on the Internet via forums). The US does have its culture wars with their fierce legal battles (California, I'm looking at you), but its queer community also has tons of pride, love, and support. We've got politicians, athletes, entertainers, religious leaders, and moms and dads doing their part to show the world what an accepting society should look like. Hello Neal Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper, Orlando Cruz, Nate Silver, Tammy Baldwin, Rachel Maddow, and Judith Butler!

Hong Seok-cheon (via
As for Korea... there is only one openly gay celebrity in the entire country. His name is Hong Seok-cheon, and he's paid dearly for his bravery. When he came out of the closet in 2000, he effectively destroyed his acting career; as the news spread, he was dropped from all his shows and struggled to land other jobs due to the stigma of homosexuality. In recent years, however, he's found success as a restauranteur and has finally begun reappearing on talk shows and in other media without much backlash.

In fact, at least one of Hong's restaurants is in Hongdae, and I'm disappointed that I didn't get a chance to check it out last month when I was living there. My hagwon Korean teacher said she ran into him once in this neighborhood, and that he is a very down-to-earth, funny, and genuine person. From what I've seen and read, I really respect him and his resilience. Most of the younger generation of Koreans also seem to support him and, whether or not they support equal marriage rights, recognize that LGBTQ people also deserve to be happy. Here's to hoping he can be a pioneer and help pave the way for other Koreans to feel safe being their full selves in public.

So what am I going to do tomorrow? Nothing romantic or materialistic, unfortunately. Besides visit Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology with my students on a field trip, I'll probably scour my city in search of a single bakery that sells pie. Teehee.

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