Being Korean and LGBT: Meet Edward

Posted by christinejaylee
2016.10.25 19:31 EDITORIAL/사회 :: Current Issues

Edward Bellamy Yoo (20)

Korean, Homosexual, “out of the closet”

Edward has been a student at the University of Southern California (USC) for three years now. He’s very involved in the Korean community through organizations like the Korean American Student Association (KASA) as well as the Korean drumming club. However, beyond that he has many different interests and engages himself diversely—from the Pilipino Club to a fraternity. You can see him around campus in a laid-back outfit and a smile on his face. He lightens the mood in any room he walks into. He’s no doubt a people person, able to fit into many different groups of people. After all, by now he’s lived in five different countries.

On the day of his interview, Edward wears a red tank top, a snap back, and holds a small maltese named “Mandu” on his lap. As usual there are many friends at his place, so we end up moving to the room to focus on the interview. The matters spoken about in this interview were very clearly important to Edward. Even though we’ve been friends for more than six years now, he told me many of these personal stories for the first time.

 

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It was very gradual for me. Since I was young I always had this curiosity. I’m a special case; there are people who know they’re homosexual since they’re young but I, because of societal pressures, was forced to lean toward my straight side more. But I was curious as to what it would feel like to have sex with another guy.

The most impactful moment [in recognizing my identity] was when I had my first boyfriend. That was when I really felt that I was safe to come out. Because at that point, no matter what people would say, there would be that one person by me. There are a lot of people that are able to come out even they don’t have anyone beside them but for me my partner gave me the strength to do it.

Before that, I was always conflicted. When I was pledging [a fraternity, freshmen year], I chose to be someone I wasn’t: a straight, young boy that had sex with multiple girls. But second year I had made so many friends that I felt safe being honest with who I am; it didn’t matter if they knew I was gay. To my true friends being straight or not didn’t define who I was. I started to tell close friends one by one.

After a year of having close friends accept my identity, I felt that I’d overcome my greatest obstacle. I felt like I already told all the people that I would’ve gotten most hurt from if they don’t accept me. I began to wonder: why don’t I tell everyone like high school friends, people ive met online, acquaintances, etc.? National Coming Out Day was the perfect opportunity for me. It’s a day that gives the LGBTQ community the leeway or motivation to speak out for themselves. If nothing is stopping you, you might as well just come out. I think some people feel safer on that day. It’s a very important day for the LGBT community.

Since society says being gay is unnatural it’s natural for young children to act out to be straight. When I realized I was bisexual, I told myself, “No, because you like girls and you can have sex with girls too. Whatever you’re feeling is a phase. I can do better. I can be a different person.” When I finally realized I should accept myself and love myself it meant that I valued my opinion before other people’s opinion. I felt not only comfortable, but also I felt like it was something I had to do. I decided I had to love myself and put my opinion first.

Korean people tend to look at things outside the cultural norm, to be unacceptable. I think that’s fair game for other East Asian countries as well but with Korean culture being rooted in Christianity, whenever there’s any kind of homosexuality, there’s a natural tendency for people to shake their heads. It goes with our generation too. Because whenever we grow up the older generations pass down their opinions to us too. Our generation is better at tolerating differences [of sexuality] than the older generations but it doesn’t mean our generation is so pure. And I also think Korean community views LGBT as negative or as needing to be eliminated because there’s no education about LGBT. There’s also no awareness about the sorrows and pains, or the hidden identity that Korean LGBT people have to live with. Many Korean gay people hide their identities, contributing to the ignorance the Korean community. People don’t know what’s going on and people don’t voice their identities. Those two factors combined create this cycle of ignorance and indifference. Young people need to voice out to be an activist in their communities; I am one of the first people in the Korean community to start a revolution. We need to let the Korean community know we exist.

I haven’t come out to my family yet. I am scared to come out to my family. Even though I came out to everyone on Facebook I am not able to come out to the closet people to me. And that implies a lot because even with someone who is as comfortable as I am [with my sexuality] the Korean ideals about LBGT are so toxic and negative that I can’t express what I am to my own family. Two years ago in summer, my whole family went to Vietnam to be with my dad. My dad gave me a phone to use for the time being and I downloaded a gay app on it called “Jack:d” It’s a gay dating app. But when I went back to Korea I forgot to delete it on my phone. My dad saw all my messages. He told my mom about it and they didn’t tell me at first but three weeks later after they found out, they did. It was so devastating for my mom that she had to go to the mental hospital. The doctor had to convince her that it was a phase for me. In the Korean community it can get really, really bad. Even though there are families more open to LGBT in Korea, a family like mine definitely exists and worst exists; and that’s why I didn’t come out to my family yet.

When I first came out to my brother he told me I should go commit suicide. It wasn’t particularly devastating at the moment and I’m shocked and surprised that I wasn’t so hurt by it at the moment. He apologized to me a week after that but in retrospect I think, “What do Korean people value so much that they would tell their own family member to commit suicide or go to the mental hospital to convince themselves rather than accept my identity?” My brother has accepted my identity to an extent now, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. With parents I told my mom that I was just curious and that I’m not going do it again. After multiple therapy sessions, that’s the answer she was expecting to hear so with that the conversation was over.

I acknowledge that some progress is being made in Korea [in furthering LGBT rights]. I went to the Pride fest and I was surprised at its magnitude and it was a proud moment for me. But even at that Pride fest there was a Christian group starting to pray in the middle of the circle. So I joined them with a rainbow flag over my head and asked a friend to take a picture of me. I personally think that media coverage is the most effective tool in bringing our message across the table. I’m thinking documentaries, video interviews, and movies. When it comes to movies, it doesn’t necessarily have to be centered on LGBT but it’d be nice if it had at least one minor character - a REGULAR minor character (not the stereotypical bald, high pitched) that happens to be gay at the same time. Slight inclusion of this reality into movies to younger generations would be effective. And we need sponsors and publicity – the technical parts. But the beginning stage is for both gay and straight people to have the passion to spread the message through media. I think gay people have so much potential to learn more about themselves and be a positive impact in their community but many of them are among narrow minded people.

I think people also need to know the difference between gender and sexuality. Gender is the biological sex, Male or Female, but sexuality is on a spectrum. In my case, I am more attracted to men, percentage wise. But there’s also diversity in this too. I can have a sexual relationship with females but I want an emotional relationship with men. There is a lot of complexity in this and this needs to be explained to people who may not be familiar with the idea too. Think about it – the US is one of the most open countries in the world and even here people aren’t completely aware of all these issues. That’s where we come in as young leaders and hope to further more awareness for gay community and related issues.

The most difficult moment – even though I live in a diverse and rather open-minded city like Los Angeles, the most difficult part is to be called names and get bullied. And something that gay men experience is being attracted to straight men. This is called the “toxic apple”. He is NEVER going to like you, ever. There is no slight chance. It brings down your ego and it feels like you’re wasting your time. That’s as difficult as it gets for me. Of course, other people may experience worse – like depression and suicidal thoughts.

I consider this my first attraction toward a man. We were in a band in high school. He was a junior; I was a freshman. In a band everyone gets very close and everyone is very open to each other and we get touchy sometimes, because no one expects you to be gay. So I was attracted to this guy and it wasn’t exactly a one way thing. He would always hang out with me too and he’d say, “Hey come sit next to me” and so when he and his girlfriend broke up and I thought I had a chance. I hit him up and I confessed to him and he said cool and we kissed. So I thought we had something going on but he went back to his gf. It was my first real attraction. If that person was accepting to me and we actually developed a relationship I think my life would’ve been different.

I would probably be more flamboyant now. I would’ve been experimenting with different “gay” personalities and if I were to have started earlier I wouldn’t adopted a “favorable” one I think. I could’ve picked up bad habits because I thought it was cool. To defend myself to, I would have been like be a bitch like, “Bye I’m gonna go hang out with my girlfriends.” (laughs)

Most proud – I think is when other people listen to my story and tries to understand who I am. Sometimes they get inspired and say they want to learn more about my story. It’s times like this when I really feel like I’m contributing to the community because I never feel like I’m doing enough. I love myself a bit too much sometimes (laughs) so I’m more concerned with personal matters like trying to graduate and hanging out with friends. At times like this I’m glad I am vocal and able share with people who I am and increase the chances that it reaches people that are in need of help. Interviews like this and even when people ask me for to get a cup of coffee or a dinner going over our life stories. I am able to seize all these opportunities for me to share my story and create differences in the community.

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