Research Paper: Homosexuality in Korea ROK

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homosexuality in Korea (ROK)

There are two, seemingly identical, questions to be asked regarding homosexuality in any given society experiencing a flooding of gays: Why didn't they come out before, and why are they coming out now?

Much has been discussed regarding the gay flooding in the United States in the 70s, and in light of the recent decision of overturning Prop 8 in California, gays are making progress in claiming their rights.

But Korea presents quite a different scene. Different, but also misleading. American tourists might at first glance see a full embrace of homosexuality in Korea. Teenage girls walk through streets holding hands, and boys openly slap each others' buttocks and give hugs. Men wear skinny jeans and get their hair permed

Yet upon close analysis of people's language, the tourist will rarely encounter mentioning of the words "homosexuality," "gay" or "lesbian." Only so often one might hear two women whispering, "she's a lesbian?" Truth be told, homosexuality is heavily looked down upon.

Ironically, the seemingly open sexual attitudes are the result of the lack of awareness about the existence of homosexuality in the first place. Whereas straight individuals in the United States purposefully avoid any behaviors suggestive of homosexuality, Koreans, as there are no standards to deem certain actions "gay" or not, are rather freer to do whatever they wish, and consequently they have much smaller personal bubbles.

Bubbles aside, Korea is indeed very sexually active. Although Korea is known for its Christ-Confucianist taboos regarding sex and alcohol, and people rarely talk about sex in, these conservative restrictions are at best superficial. These have only led to a culture that doesn't talk about these behaviors publicly. After all, people need their sex.

There are, of course, historical accounts of homosexuality in Korea. I must first like to clarify a common misunderstanding by Koreans (and commonly cited by gay Koreans trying to justify homosexuality today) that homosexuality was tolerated before the introduction of Confucianism in the 17th century. Min-Su Kim, historian of homosexuality in Korea, and homosexual himself, in his study, asserts that homosexuality was not looked down upon in the pre-Chosun dynasty eras, before the introduction of confucianism and before the introduction of Christianity. Kim mentions three kings in different periods of time who evidently played with younger boys. King Hye-Soo of the Shinra Dynasty (B.C. 57-A.D. 935) who reigned from 765 to780 A.D is the first recorded figure in Korean history to have "abnormal sexual behaviors."

We must mainly depend on these governmental records, revolving around the king, to trace homosexuality as these were the only ones kept and preserved. Kim cites two more kings who coincidentally like the first king, died young, all before 45.

For each case, Kim assures that they were never ousted from their positions for their "unhealthy" behaviors and led the respective empires well.

But this seems too good to be true as the average life expectancy for the kings of the Shinra dynasty (keep in mind that these are kings, the most well-treated for individuals) is over 60. Kim even says that many feared for King Hye-Soo's regime as "he dressed like a woman and played with men." We must also keep in mind that the subjects of Kim's study are kings, and thus no one would have outright spoken against their behaviors.

Furthermore, Kim mentions a number of historical songs and written works that "express homosexual sentiments."

These songs are cited also by two other Korean historians, Young-Gwan Kim and Sook-Ja Hahn:

Song of Yearning for the Flower Boy Taemara

The whole world weeps sadly

The departing Spring.

Wrinkles lance

Your once handsome face,

For the space of a glance

May we meet again.

Fair Lord, what hope for my burning heart?

How can I sleep in my alley hovel?

Song in Praise of the Flower Boy Kilbo

Moon

Appearing fitfully

Trailing the white clouds,

Whither do you go?

The face of the Flower Boy Kilbo

Was reflected in the pale green water,

Here among the pebbles of the stream

I seek the bounds of the heart he bore.

Ah, ah! Flower Boy here,

Noble pine that fears no frost!

Ch'oyong's Song

Playing in the moonlight of the capital

Till the morning comes,

I return home

To see four legs in my bed.

Two belong to me.

Whose are the other two?

But what was my own

Has been taken from me, what now?

M. Kim's conclusion is reflective of the opinions of all three aforementioned historians: "Through these individual records and traditional stories, we can see that in history, homosexuality was an accepted part of life and something that was not persecuted or looked down upon."

But I am inclined to think that these poems reflect intimate friendship rather than homosexuality. There are plenty of other poems and songs written around the same period that have clear backgrounds of friendship but reflect the same kind of tone and word choice.

And furthermore, these historical accounts are so rare that it is hard to claim that there was even any awareness by the people of the possibility of homosexuality. Historian Seo Dong-Jin rights "In Korean society, there are no official documents about homosexuality or related topics. Although some sources found in ancient or medieval Korean history suggest homosexual acts, these sources represent nothing more than historical footnotes, and even these brief accounts are exceedingly rare."

Furthermore, what these old songs and poems fail to account for is the fact that confucianism simply solidified the already inherent beliefs of the Korean society- education, respecting elders, etc. Confucianism was introduced at the establishment of the new dynasty, Chosun Dynasty after a military coup brought the fall of Gyoro Dynasty. The new government wished to distinguish itself from the past, and observing the prevalence of Confucianism in China, and wishing to catch up to the arts and scientific power of China, adopted this set of ideals to supplant Buddhism. But what must be noted here is that the principles below were never fiercely implemented by the government. In fact, many simply retained their Buddhist practice and at the same time accepted the new ideals as part of daily life. This was because the hierarchy set in stone by Confucianism was already loosely in place:

The king is the mainstay of the state (Kun-Yi-Shin-Kang)

The father is mainstay of the son (Bu-Yi-Ja-Kang)

The husband is the mainstay of the wife (Bu-Yi-Bu-Kang)

Between father and son it requires chin (friendship)

Between king and courtier, eui (righteousness)

Between husband and wife, pyul (deference)

Between old and young, saw (degree)

Between friends, shin (faith)1

In regards to homosexuality, Confucianism simply put into words the normal concept of having a family and kids. For an agricultural society with a long history, having a family is without a doubt the norm, and having children is necessary for survival. And so it only makes sense that homosexuality was never an accepted practice in Korea. And the concept of love as we know it today did not exist in historic times. As in many other states around the world, Korea practiced math-making, where sons and daughters rarely chose their own spouse. And this was love- something that was forced upon the people. As such, a sexual "identity" really didn't exist. Having a wife and a family was a civil duty, one mandated by the previous generation. The introduction of Confucianism only legitimized, or put into concrete words of law, the practice of obeying the elders and carrying out their dynasty.

In order to look at homosexuality in the modern context, the logic used above must be extracted and applied again: When there is a strong procreative, marital imperative, as was the case for Korea in historic times, homosexuality is less likely to be in prevalence.

A study by anthropologist Dennis Werner confirms just this thought, in slightly different terms. Werner studied 39 societies and divided them into two groups: pro-natalists (those who ban abortion and infanticide) and anti-natalists (those who tolerate abortion and infanticide). "Werner found that male homosexuality was forwned upon, ridiculed, scorned, or punished for all segments of the population in 75% of the pro-natalist societies and that it was permitted or encouraged for at least some people in 60% of the anti-natalists societies." "The aversion to homosexuality is greatest where the marital and procreative imperative is strongest."

In order to find the answer to today's outburst of gays, we must observe the procreative, marital imperative in Korea, particularly around the 1990s, as well twenty years before then, when the gay pioneers of the 90s were in their early years. People blame it on westernization and the cultural attitude of doing what America does. But there is much more to this. The answer involves the economy, the internet age, and government policies during the 70s and the 80s.

Foremost, we must note the general time period where gays cumulated into a noticeable force. A gay activist, and college professor Seo Dong-Jin has watched gay actisvism grow in Korea… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Homosexuality in Korea ROK.  (2010, September 14).  Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/homosexuality-korea-rok/7859075

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"Homosexuality in Korea ROK."  Essaytown.com.  September 14, 2010.  Accessed November 21, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/homosexuality-korea-rok/7859075.