Same gay planet, different gay worlds


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I’ve been going back and forth on doing a post like this for a while now, but I think the recent sanctioning of the Korean SNL provides a good opportunity to talk about how the issue of gay rights in Korea gets perceived by English-speaking K-Pop fans.

Anyone who witnessed the “Tough Cookie” brouhaha has to notice that the accidental use of an American homophobic slur in a song written by someone whose English is not so great got a LOT more attention in international K-Pop circles than an instance (not the first!) of institutionalized, government-sanctioned homophobia. Given the silliness of the skit, with this sanction the KCSC has effectively ruled that any portrayal of homosexual activity, regardless of context, is inappropriate for a teen audience.

Because the Sexual Orientation Fairy doesn’t visit until your 18th birthday, don’t you know.

Anyway, the commission took up this issue because the skit generated complaints (so these people were busy). It is going to be interesting to see if they also respond to this skit, which aired about a week later:

or if Jackson just doesn’t have sufficiently committed haters.

I do think it says a lot that this kind of government action didn’t touch a nerve internationally the way “Tough Cookie” did. I’m sure one reason is that K-Pop fans tend to perceive idols as these kind of puppets to judge and control. No one is getting in a lather because the KCSC isn’t shaving its head and groveling before them because it’s too abstract, and an entity like that isn’t going to listen anyway.

But I also think that this kind of homophobia is largely outside the experience of (oh my God I’m actually saying this) Young People in America Today. There’s this kind of naivete about how acceptable homophobia can be–which is a good sign, I think, but it can blind people. When I was in high school in the latter half of the 1980s, for example, nobody else at school knew what the word “homophobia” meant. When I explained it to them, they thought the concept was hilarious–There are people out there who actually think there’s something wrong with hating gay people!! HA HA HA!!!

Those were the days….

But having had that experience is why I didn’t assume Zico’s apology for “Tough Cookie” was bullshit, as so many other (younger) Americans did. As I hope the sanctioning of SNL made clear, “[Zico] has no prejudice or negative intention with respect to homosexuals, and he has respect for sexual minorities” was not a statement that his label had to release, otherwise he’d lose his audience because everyone would hate him–that’s just not the case in Korea (at this point).

That naivete about Korean attitudes toward homosexuality can be quite startling. For example, here’s an interview with a very out young gay man about how awesome it is to be in Korea and back in the closet.

The truly scary thing is, he doesn’t even realize he’s in the closet! He has fallen into the Tolerance Trap that was so very popular before AIDS came along–everyone “tolerates” you for being gay until they find out that you are gay. It’s exactly the same way we “tolerate” child molesters!

[ETA: And the video I put up in my next post has a great example of the kind of thing that can create the impression that Korea is really open to gay people–but that doesn’t really mean that at all.

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Yup, just a couple of dudes, sleeping on each other in the same bed. Looks pretty damned gay to us, but as Ask a Korean notes, that’s because we’re simply more aware that homosexuality is a possibility. The Zico/Park Kyung kiss got dinged because it removed all deniability from the subject.]

The communication gap runs the other way, too. I mean, obviously, if people aren’t going to accept “[Zico] has no prejudice or negative intention with respect to homosexuals, and he has respect for sexual minorities” as some kind of statement in favor of gay rights, then there’s not much hope. But it’s also true that things that Mean Something to Koreans don’t necessarily Mean Something to international fans.

Things like:

#블락비 동생들. 최고핫한 #아이돌 멋지고 착한

A post shared by Tonyhong1004 (@tonyhong1004) on

블락비 지코와

A post shared by Tonyhong1004 (@tonyhong1004) on

have a certain meaning in Korea, and it’s not “I hate gay people!”


7 responses »

  1. Tony Hong, if that’s his English name, and I’m not sure of his Korean one, is so freaking fabulously out of the closet, that I have trouble believing Korea is that homophobic.

    I mean, he’s everywhere camping it up. How would that be possible if being gay wasn’t accepted?

    • You mean, why doesn’t the KCSC sanction every single show he’s on? I’m sure they’re working on it….

      Of course it’s been a REALLY long road for Hong–he spent close to a decade basically exiled from the entertainment world, and he seriously considered leaving the country altogether. He stayed and fought the good fight, though, and obviously he’s made a difference. His commitment to gay rights as a cause and doing stuff like adopting his sister’s kids basically won the Korean public over.

      But the fact that there’s one or two openly gay Korean celebrities doesn’t mean that homophobia isn’t still common–hell, there were African American celebrities in the United States back when lynching was still a commonplace event. Attitudes are changing, but it’s still perfectly legal for a government entity to enforce openly homophobic policies in Korea.

      • At least he’s setting an example to make it easier for the next generation? Anyway, he’s not kissing anyone on tv, so that’s probably why he’s gettin away with things.

        • Yeah, he’s very committed, and I really admire him.

          I did see him freak out once at the Idol Olympics a couple of years ago because he was kind of patting one of the idols on the team (who was of course much younger) and one of the hosts was like, “Hey, what are you doing there!” I think the reprimand was intended as a joke, but his reaction was very…yikes. Like his whole life was flashing before his eyes. That’s when I realized that this actor I really liked who always seemed to play flamboyantly gay characters was actually gay in real life.

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