I want to believe in the good of Korea. In its progress and in hope. But last night when I walked through my door I could not shake away the feelings.
Only one thought crossed my mind: ‘I experienced homophobia within my first few days of being in Korea.’
This was back in 2008. And now here I am in 2015 and someone has attacked me on the basis of reading an article about something relating to gay rights issues.
We often say that this is an isolated incident. That the man was insane and that it’s not how everyone else thinks. But I question if there is ANY thinking happening on the topic of equal human rights in Korea at the moment besides those who are directly impacted by the lack of said rights.
A recent poll suggests that 39 percent of Koreans are more open to the idea of homosexuality. 39 percent of WHAT PORTION OF THE POPULATION? And of that ridiculous and flailing number, what percent is open to it as long as no one in their family is gay? And of the percent that is still open, how many care enough to actually help us fight?
I don’t believe in the 39 percent. Seeing everyone on the train. Seeing their looks of confusion at the man and then at me as if they had to figure out who was MORE WRONG for causing the situation in the first place. Korea has a lot of global growing up to do. A country so obsessed with gaining global recognition and making global profits yet so allergic to global social progress.
Racism, classism, sexism and homophobia all run rampant here – I have learnt to just put up with it. I put up with my students referring to black people as too dark or scary. I put up with watching females think their place is in the kitchen and to get married and be a housewife. I put up with all the Koreans who choose NOT to sit next to me on a bus or a train or tell me to be quiet but keep their mouth shut when other Koreans are laughing and joking loudly nearby.
But I will not put up with a man telling me to go back to my country because I am gay. I will not put up with being physically harmed for any REASON. Would he call my mother a disgusting traitor for fully supporting her gay son. Would he call her dirty for marrying outside of Korea and for having a child with an American man? A gay child at that? I question how many others I encounter on my daily commute feel the same. Maybe most don’t have any opinion on the topic. And yet this is almost worse in that it suggests that I just don’t exist.
I am not going to blame Korea or the ignorance that I have encountered while living here. There is ignorance everywhere. This is bigger than a country. This is a human issue when we sit here and we assume that the only point of life is to procreate. That family is one man and one woman with their offspring. That two men can’t possibly love each other as much as Romeo and Juliet did. That two women can’t both be powerful breadwinners and raise a family. That children in our communities and families are too young to understand gay relationships so let’s shelter them until they are older. That a man who was once a woman somehow means that he is now a lesser human being.
When are we going to grow up? When do we start putting our biases aside and see truth through rationale?
I was told to go to the police. I have dealt with the Korean Police before. They did nothing to help me in the past when I was the victim of a very traumatic xenophobic attack. Plus, after seeing the way they have brazenly joined opposition in denying permits for the Queer Pride Prade, I have no faith they will truly help.
Beyond this, I am sure with all the CCTVs in Korea I could, if I wanted, eventually find him. I could shame him like he humiliated me on that train. But I don’t want that for him. I know he is probably a father and a husband. I presume he is terrible at being both but I do not want to shame him. I want to be bigger and fight the bigger battle. He is one cell in a body of cancer. We have to keep looking at the bigger picture. We have to keep creating change on our local levels. With our communities, through our social media, through our friends and families.
We have to break misconceptions and misperceptions with our activism and our compassion.
June 1 was not my day. But as I have become more and more vocal about my life and my gay identity, I see this not as a curse but as a sign that I am on the right path.
I was embarrassed to make a video talking about the incident. I felt like it was going to be attention seeking and dramatic because there was no blood spilled.
Now I see that this is what the opposition wants. They want me or “my kind” to believe that we are not worth discussing. But it becomes clearer everyday that, not only do we need to continue voicing our struggles, but the recent increase in aggressive homophobia in Korea means we are being heard.
Korea, speak out against hatred and intolerance. Be better than that man on the train who tried to rob me of my pride and spirit.
I thank him. He has made me stronger.
A Detailed Account of The Incident:
I was sitting on the edge seat of a train car when new passengers got on board. I noticed no one would sit next to me. In fact, one came close and looked at me but then chose to stand instead. So a drunk older Korean man took his seat next to me. He first looked at my tatted arms and made sure to grunt with dissatisfaction. We made brief eye contact and I chose to ignore him and kept using my phone. I had clicked on this article detailing how the Seoul police and Christian Extremist groups are prohibiting the Queer Festival from taking place. I assume he had been watching my phone because after only 10 seconds of having opened the article he exploded. He elbowed me and got up and screamed, “If you gay, go your f***ing country!”
I was in a lot of shock. I asked him what he meant even though I knew exactly what he meant. I just had nothing else to respond with. He then continued to scream at me. Finally he turned to the other passengers and began to tell them about me. I heard broken korean phrases like “Man” “Gay” “Korea” and a lot of swearing. He was not your typical drunkard. He looked well educated and he clearly spoke English well enough to know what I was reading. This was not some dumb drunk, I’ve encountered many of those in Korea. No, this was a man with a lot of hatred in his head and his heart.
I felt very humiliated to stay seated in front of everyone. So I got up and left the train car. Before I knew it, he had not only followed me but he very aggressively hit my arm and grabbed me, spinning me around. He grabbed at my chest with a lot of force and continued to scream at me. So I pushed him back and luckily some younger man from the previous car grabbed him as he was swinging a fist at me. They got into a struggle and it took me a while to realize I should take his picture. By the time I got my phone ready, he had run off the train.
The man who helped me apologized to me in Korean on the bigot’s behalf and returned to his car. As I stood in the new train car, everyone was watching me. I wasn’t sure what to feel. All I could sense were the eyes of a hundred passengers just dissecting me. Everything on my surface. Everything underneath. I never thought in a million years I would be the victim of a hate crime in Seoul. I believed it was possible in America.
But no place is free from hatred and fear.
First published by Nicky Neon on his blog. Reproduced and edited with the permission of Mr Neon.