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EDITORIAL/사회 :: Current Issues

Being LGBT and Korean: Meet J.H.

J.H. (21)

Korean-American, Bisexual, “in the closet”

J.H. has grown up in Los Angeles her entire life. Growing up near Koreatown, she has always felt close to her roots and exemplifies what it means to hold a hyphenated identity.

On the day of her interview, she wore a bright red lip tint, with a simple t-shirt dress, and Adidas superstars. She stands about 5 ft. tall with a cute 단발[1] cut.

J.H. is currently attending a local college in attempt to go to art school, where she will study graphic design. At home, she spends her free time making sketches of everyday things, or practicing how to use Photoshop. She’s been a loyal Big Bang fan since the 7th grade and keeps herself updated on their track releases and daily matters of each member.

At first account J.H. might appear to be a bit shy—she’s extremely polite and reserved. However, within a few conversations you can realize the complexity of her thoughts, and how eloquent she is when she’s speaking about her views. However, she is not vocal very often and simply does not believe in imposing her views upon others. J.H. is always smiling and upbeat although she has recently begun to take SSRI’s to treat her depression. She has said that she does not directly relate her depression to her experience with her sexuality.

She didn’t reveal a huge part of her identity to me for many, many years. I have no doubt that sharing her unique story, albeit under a pseudonym, was something out of her comfort zone. I would sincerely like to thank my friend who agreed to this interview despite still being “in the closet”.


I think I first noticed it when I was pretty young, maybe in elementary school. Girls started maturing during that time. A lot of girls were developing boobs and stuff. I felt confused. Seeing all of this would play into insecurities too. I got my period earlier than others and I would try to hide my developing body parts such as my boobs. While I felt confused and insecure, I felt this weird fascination with girls. I didn’t understand if I was confused or fascinated or jealous. I also didn’t understand why I would feel differently about certain girls. During middle school girls started dressing differently, a little more provocatively, and I started noticing it. But I think in high school it became definite [that I was attracted to those of the same sex].

I suppressed, doubted, and questioned my feelings a lot. Even though I knew the truth. I thought maybe my feelings were natural; girls do tend to be more affectionate towards each other than guys. When I felt like I wanted to kiss a girl, I shied away from that feeling. It didn’t help that I didn’t know anyone who was gay. The concept of homosexuality when I was younger was even less prevalent than it is today. And since I’m bisexual, I would try to focus more on the part of me that was attracted to guys, since I knew that I liked guys for sure. I would try to focus on boys and look for cute ones. Since all my friends would be talking about boys and who they liked, it was easier to think only about that. I tried to forget about the part of me that liked girls.

LGBTQ in Korea and Korean communities abroad is not viewed in a positive light. Definitely not. I know that there has to be a lot of people in Korea that are gay (laughs) but there are not a lot of people that are “out”, especially famous people. It could also be that they just haven’t been able to accept it themselves. But I know that a lot of older Korean people think that homosexuality is a “disease” from Western countries like America. And since Korean people are so focused on a conventional marriage I always grew up listening to questions thrown around like, “When are you going to find a boyfriend?” “How are you going to find a good husband?” “You need to marry this type of man” or “You’re already __ years old and still haven’t married?” Everyone puts so much importance on a woman getting married, to a man as if that’s a goal they need to achieve in life.

When Hong Seok-cheon[2] came out there was a lot of backlash. Now I feel like people use him as comic relief or he’s viewed as a weird spectacle, although his roles in broadcasts has widened, as people recognized him for his talents in cooking. Korean society doesn’t show much respect to him and his sexuality. I understand that they are trying to accept him and stuff, I mean he is a funny character, but I feel like they don’t see anything but his “gayness”—what about him as an individual? They always over exaggerate his femininity, because that’s how they think gay people act, but in actuality he’s is very masculine as well. You could tell he overplays that role because that is what people want to see and many people cannot see him as being “manly”.  I feel like a lot of people in the LGBTQ community deal with unfair stereotypes. Even in all the dramas and TV shows the concept of homosexuality is used for comic relief. A character will suspect his friend, “Is he gay?” and the audience knows he is romantically involved with the main female character therefore he is not gay and then everyone laughs, “Oh haha! He thought he was gay!” It’s so strange how they don’t want actual gay characters but they will use those themes for comedy. It’s supposed to be funny but it’s strange to me. I don’t feel like it’s appropriate. Also, in general Korean values are still very old-fashioned, even though the country has gone through development and there are modern ideas, such as the idea of a “city girl” and an independent woman who makes her own money. But still a great part of Korea expects women to get married and be a good housewife and mother. There are still gender roles that are very much prevalent and men have to work and support families. The overwhelming enforcement of gender roles hurts all genders since it concludes that women cannot be independent and men cannot show feelings or have anything to do with femininity.

I think being Korean has not helped at all, in letting me feel comfortable in my own skin. Even in America there are a lot of obstacles in the LGBTQ community. For example in the lesbian community, there’s the term “lipstick lesbian” which means a lesbian  that  looks like a straight women: high heels, lipstick, long hair, etc. and some lesbians will say they want only a “lipstick lesbian” as their partner. This reinforces the strange rules on how a woman must have long hair and wear dresses and men have short hair. There’s a lot of this attention to appearances in the gay community where some people refuse to be with people that do not fit in their standards of a “real woman” or “real man”. There’s already that mess going on in America so in Korea, I assume it would be worse since in Korea there is a lot more focus on appearance than America.  And it’s just my opinion but for Korean people the scale of shock is different for each type of sexuality: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender...etc If you’re gay? They are not as shocked as if you’re bi. You’re seen in a totally different light and if you are transgender you are a freak show, or seen as worse than gay/lesbian. Not to say that gay people have it easy, but people are more accepting of gay and lesbian people. There are many misunderstandings surrounding bisexuality. They think bi, and think, “You like everything?” People think bi people like anyone and everyone, which is not true. I think transgender people are seen negatively in the US as well, and not just Korea. There are always running jokes about asexual people as well. People who are not gay/lesbian seem to be misunderstood even more because people have had less exposure to them than gay and lesbian people.

I saw a Korean TV show recently, which is supposed to show strange phenomenon, and in those shows often, they record a 아저씨[3] that dresses like a women. He’s just a man dressed in drag but they’ll attack him with questions like, “Why do you live like this?” It just seems like they are trying to feed off people’s amusements and make money, and in turn take away an individual’s dignity. I remember I would see at least one of those types of episodes come out every now and then—a camera crew stalking a man that dresses like a women. And I’d just sit there confused. Why are they showing that footage, just following him around at first and being like can we record you? And when I saw that one episode recently I was shocked because I thought they had stopped making those types of violating episodes. But the fact they still do that shows that Korea really hasn’t developed towards accepting LGBTQ. Because I don’t think I’ve seen a show like that in America. No one would do that. Korea uses individuals in the LGBTQ community for entertainment at times, and it’s painful for us.

Korea still hasn’t legalized gay marriage. I think that needs to be changed. Like come on Korea step it up. Not to say that legalizing gay marriage solves all the problems. In America we wonder why only a certain demographic is represented in the media—like why are all the actors White? From my perspective, where are the gay actors and characters? Or more like, gay characters that have important roles. I think in general Korea is realistically not going to get there anytime soon. I think I’m going to be like an 아줌마[4] by the time I’m saying, “Oh Korea has finally legalized gay marriage.” But there will be people that still hold hate toward the LGBTQ community no matter how much you try to emphasize equality for all sexual orientations. It’s sad to think about for me. The older generations of people that hold a bias against homosexuality are passing away, but they are passing on their opinions towards their grandchildren and raising them to be homophobic. We need more representation and to be taken more seriously without being harassed, such as when a transgender individual tries to use the bathroom. But there will always be people going out of their way to take away our rights to pee or get married. It’s sad, the fact that I actually don’t know what we can do.

Even in America there isn’t a lot of representation of homosexuality in the media and honestly any movie where there is a gay couple involved they aren’t the actual main character. Usually gay characters don’t see happy endings in movies and TV shows. It’s absurd. We’re not asking for much; we aren’t asking for the entire stories to be centered on LGBTQ—we just want to see a normal LGBTQ couple on TV. We just want to be portrayed ordinarily. But they either break up or want to kill themselves or they just choose to get married to a man because they decide being a bisexual woman is too difficult. And this is all concerning America. I feel like Korea has not even reached the point of openness America has reached. And Koreans think America is so liberated but there are so many problems here. Even in America there is so much to be done in the way we deal with those that are LGBTQ so sometimes I feel that Korea would need centuries to catch up.

The worst I’ve ever felt is when the shooting in Florida occurred.  I don’t know why but that time when I got the news I cried so much. I was really affected by it and I can’t pinpoint why but I felt really depressed for a long time. I’m going to cry now just thinking about it. (sobs) I just slept a lot. I would cry a lot and oversleep, and sleep during the day, then get up and see more news and updates on what happened. I felt like not going out at all and I felt scared to go out even though I’m not “out” as a bi person. I felt really sad I guess.

My most happy moment…I feel like I haven’t really felt it yet. But I always feel really happy when I see posts of LGBTQ individuals on blogs; they post pictures of themselves with their partners. I’m sad because I couldn’t go to the recent pride festival. I feel really happy when I see posts of people that go to PRIDE. Or whenever I see pictures and posts of people on Coming Out Day. There were posts that said: “’Out’ ‘Considering’, ‘In the closet’ regardless, you are beautiful the way you are no matter what we accept you”. It was a very positive post. There were many posts about Tyler Oakley[5] who is doing everything he can for the [LGBTQ] community. There was a collage of him with several pictures of him—he was draped with a rainbow flag, and he captioned the picture saying #NationalComingOutDay! I felt really happy when I saw that picture.

For those still "in the closet", I know it’s really confusing and scary but don’t rush anything. Only come out when you are ready and safe. And no matter what anyone says, your identity is valid.

[1] A short haircut, popular in South Korea

[2] Hong Seok-Cheon is a Korean Television personality who is considered the most openly gay celebrity in Korean media

[3] A Korean term referring to a middle aged man

[4] A Korean term referring to a middle aged woman

[5] American Youtube celebrity who is dedicated to LGBT rights and LGBT youth