Monday, September 28, 2009

Homosocialism and the Korean Way

While this may be a subject with plenty of potential awkwardness and possibilities for offending it's one that's loomed prominently in my awareness and so like any responsible blogger, I must share it with the world. That topic?

How Gay is Korea?

Now, before I get into my personal experiences here I should mention one pertinent fact which is that there are no gay people in Korea. A popular sampling of Korean opinions by my peers has determined that generally speaking gay is bad, and that Koreans will have nothing to do with it.

Now, this may say more about social pressure, ignorance, and the great river of De Nile that passes through the center of Korea (silly you, thinking it was in Egypt) but that's an essay for another time. For now let's just roll with it and agree: there are no gay people in Korea. Their statistical 10% was shuffled off on some other country, probably Japan. Koreans hate Japan.

Now while the people of Korea are emphatically ungay is the technical sense I will argue that as a country Korea is super gay. I will present my evidence in three arguments:

I. Korean Homosocialiam

a. Koreans tend to socialize with those of their own sex. While this is not totally unexpected in a grade-school it seems to extend even to their adult lives. Office functions I've attended have obviously been of mixed gender but any other social occasions I've been invited to have been all-female. Even among the staff groups tend to split between male and female with the women having their coffee circle before morning classes and men (presumably) doing the same elsewhere. Close mixed gender friendships between unmarried men and women seem uncommon. In fact, single younger men are so incredibly shy in my presence that I'm amazed that the people in this country have managed to procreate at all. It might just be my aura of foreignness though.

b. Koreans are super, super affectionate towards same-sex friends. Both women and men will hold hands with their friends and hang off each other and (according to one teacher friend at an all-girls middle school) kiss each other on the mouth. I have also heard tales of boys sitting on other boys laps and other behavior that would be questionable in the states. Obviously this can be more uncomfortable for western males to experience then western females, and I've heard some pretty hilarious stories about one male teacher's vice-principal nearly making it to third base with some vigorous drunken thigh-rubbing.

II. Everything is Cute

a. From cities to roadsigns everything is Korean is covered in cute cartoons. Even banks have adorable round-limbed mascots speaking to you in pink bubbly word balloons. Even the firehouse, that final bastidion of traditional masculinity, has a cute widdle animal on its sign. God forbid I have to ever visit the ER because if I have to be operated on by a surgeon in a mickey-mouse facemask I might just lose my faith in modern medicine.

b. There is no Korean equivalent to Marlon Brando. Men here tend to be attractive on the scale of boy-bands and metrosexual movie stars. All varieties of pink feature prominently in menswear, including fuchsia, and every single man in my school over 25 dies his hair.

III. K-Pop

a. Case in point:

The "Haengbok/Happiness" Music Video from the band Super Junior (SRSLY).



I think one of the things that makes Korea such a gay country is its nominal lack of gay people. In America people can be so paranoid about appearing gay ("not that there's anything wrong with that") that they'll refrain from showing any sort of physical affection with members of the same sex and try to display their straightness by racing to the extremes of masculine and feminine behavior. It's unfortunate that in Korea such a loose and all-encompassing definition of masculinity can only seem to come at the price of severe homophobia.


  1. you are wrong. I'm not korean but korean entertainment tends to come in two extremes. it's not just the metro boys. you obviously have never seen the movie "oldboy" which has garnered international acclaim. there couldn't be anything further from "metroboy" in that movie

  2. A very valid point. Thanks for chiming in!

  3. you are beyond right!!! I want o blog about this myself. There does not seem to be any limit in how close teen boys can get... I have seen them litterally embracing and hugging, sitting on laps, holding hands, like really holding hands. Some of my male colleauges also have no problem grabbing my upper leg and holding on. Al this seem very innocent when you get used to it, but one is forced to wonder how often it becomes sexual?