Gay Korean Actor Reveals Coming Out Struggles

Popular K-pop music videos often show beautiful women kissing each other, and South Korean soap operas many times feature adorable gay couples. But is South Korea really as accepting of homosexuality as it appears to be on screen?

After Hong Suk-chun, the first openly gay actor in South Korea, discussed in a lengthy talk show the struggles he has faced since coming out as a gay man in 2000, many online reflected on the country's changing attitudes toward homosexuality.

Hong, who was fired from almost all of the shows he appeared on after coming out of the closet, has since made a comeback, currently appearing on numerous TV programs.

Image of Hong Suk-Chun by user , Wiki Drama

Hong Suk-Chun. Image from DramaWiki user Hanjae.

Twitter user @ShrimpChung [ko] lamented that there are still straight men who fear gay men being attracted to them, which rarely happens in real life:

@ShrimpChung: ㅎㅅ사람들과 차를 마시는데 어제밤 힐링캠프에나온 홍석천이 화두. 불쌍하다는 의견이 대부분인 가운데 동성애자가 자신을 좋아할까봐 두렵다는 말이 나옴. […]

@ShrimpChung: I drank tea with my colleagues and the main subject of our conversation was Hong Suk-chun from last night's Healing Camp. Most of them showed empathy toward him, while some said the thought of gay men liking them gives them the creeps.

Twitter user @_krpapa [ko] wrote that social change comes at slow pace:

@_krpapa: 홍석천이 소수성애자들에 대한 인식을 바꾸는데에 노력을 한거 같지만… 실상은 아직도 안좋게 본다는거….

@_krpapa: Hong Suk-chun tried very hard to change people's preconceived notions about sexual minorities. But things haven't changed much in reality.

@Reservoir_fox_ [ko] pointed out that the talk show, with Hong as a guest, touched on no other issues than the so-called “gay subject”:

@Reservoir_fox_: 근데 한국 방송이 웃긴건,홍석천이 나오니까 이야기 주제를 처음부터 끝까지 ‘동성애'로 고정시킨다는 점이다

@Reservoir_fox_: What's funny about Korean broadcast is that having Hong Suk-chun as a guest, all the conversations revolved around homosexuality issues from the very start to the end.

Although gay characters often appear in Korean movies and soap operas, some social media users raised questions about how homosexuals are being ‘consumed’ in the cultural context, arguing that there is no real gay in any of those products. @emotionalboy83 [ko] wrote:

@emotionalboy83: 동성애에 대한 존중없이 입맛대로 골라서 상업적으로만 동성애가 소비되는 것이 불편하다. 문화 안에서 게이코드는 있지만 게이는 없고 백합물은 있지만 레즈비언은 없는 것이 현실 아닌가?

@emotionalboy83: It is uncomfortable to watch homosexuality being used commercially without respect for these people. There is a ‘gay code’ (or gay context) in the culture but no actual gays and there is no lesbian in lesbian cultural contents.

User @niefou [ko] blamed the media for distorting the image of homosexuals:

@niefou: 동성애자들은 왜 티비, 소설에만 나오면 뭔가 방황하고, 불쌍하고, 절망하고, 가정에 ‘문제’있는 사람으로 나오는 건지… ‘동성애’를 이런식으로 ‘소비’하는 건 그들은 우리(이성애자)와 틀리다는 부정적 인식, 편견에서 나오는 것 같음.

@niefou: All homosexuals on TV and in novels appear as a kind of lost child – miserable, in despair, and suffering from family issues. How we ‘consume’ homosexuality is actually based on a negative stereotype of gays, which claims that they are actually different from us, the heterosexuals.

Young South Koreans, however, seem much more accepting of homosexuality than previous generations, enough to joke about it in a harmless way. Lee Seung-hwan in PPSS blog analyzed [ko] the attention to this famous Facebook post [ko] of a father holding cards that read “I fix my machines all day. But I cannot fix my gay son– because he is not broken”:

멋지고 감동적이라는 댓글도 많지만, 상당수가 자기 친구들을 태그로 소환하며, “XX야. 넌 문제가 없어.”, “XX야. 너희 아버지 심정이 이럴 거야.” 등의 댓글을 달면서 놀고 있었다. 물론 나는 이런 글을 남기는 사람들이 악의가 있다고 생각하지 않는다. 또한 이들이 동성애에 대한 편견을 가졌으리라 생각하지도 않는다. 오히려 동성애에 대해서 관용적이기에 이런 농담을 하는 사람들이 더 많을 것이다.

Although there were many comments saying this post is great and inspiring, still many, tagging their friends, wrote ‘Hey, XX (name), see? It is not a problem” or “XX (Name), this is what your father would think’ –kinda of fooling around with their friends with these sorts of comments. I don't think they've written these comments with malicious intentions, or because they hold a prejudice against homosexuality. In fact, people who are tolerant of homosexuality can make such jokes.

And he continued [ko]:

표면적으로 한국은 동성애에 대해 상당한 관용을 가진 것 같다 […] 동성애자들은 종교와 문화 등으로 인한 편견으로 사회적 차별을 받는 데다가, 눈치 본다고 자기들끼리 뭉쳐 목소리를 내기도 힘들다. 물론 이전보다야 나아졌다고 하지만, 반복하자면 ‘슬픈 일이 웃을 수 있는 일이 되기까지는 긴 시간이 필요하다.’

At first glance, it seems South Korean society is fairly tolerant of homosexuality[…] [However], homosexuals still suffer from discrimination stemming from religious and cultural prejudices. Many claim things have gotten better for gays, but still, as I said before, ‘it takes a long time to make a joke out of a sad situation.’

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