When 'Gay' is 'Gay!'
How do you know if another boy is gay? I asked some 15 year old boys.
1. A gay boy stands close to other boys
2 A gay boy strokes other boys
3. Gay boys likes to hold your hand
4. Gay boys kiss other boys
5. Gays hug people
As for gay girls, I’m told: you can’t really tell if a girl is gay because all girls hold hands with their friends.
So! It would appear most Korean boys and many men are gay!
The use of the term ‘gay’ in Korea is fairly new to me and I certainly don’t recall it being as prevalent in the past as it is now. However, the term is only ever used within the context of ‘homosexual’ and doesn’t carry the broader western connotation, ‘bad,’ ‘crap,’ ‘shit’. etc, which can be applied to anything. In Korea, you won’t find any ‘gay’ books, or ‘gay’ movies and unlike my last UK school, where even chairs had ‘gay’ graffitied on them, there are no ‘gay’ objects. Though they might react differently if they someone were gay, their use of the word lacks all nastiness. I imagine that the idea of someone really being gay, is so alien that the the term can be used without emotion. That someone could be ‘gay’ is as likely as someone being a ‘martian.’ In the west, when kids use the word as an accusation its purpose is very often to assert an appearance of heterosexuality, the rationale being if you want to appear heterosexual, simply behave in a homophobic manner. When ‘gay’ is used as a derogatory term in the west, it’s never simply spoken and is often heavily invested in emotion even to the point of being spat out with hatred. The Korean use of the term ‘gay,’ by comparison, is the most naive and innocent I have ever heard. Indeed, Koreans use the term ‘gay’ in the gayest of ways. Of course, for Koreans in the closet, derogatory comments are as insulting as they are in the west and that they seem to be voiced in the absence of malice probably symptomatic of the success with which society has oppressed/suppressed same sex relationships.
Most of my classes are co-ed but a few weeks ago, as we were trying to group abilities more closely, we were left with one class which is solely boys. I’ve read a few posts by teachers who get annoyed at displays of skinship during lessons and have to admit, since the girls left, the amount of petting and pawing has increased. The class consists of 5 boys , divided into 2 groups (3;2) and which are very tight peer groups, that is to say boys who attend the same school, same classes and in many cases will have been friends for a long time. Both groups are inseparable and are by their own definition ‘dick friends.’ (고추 친구). In Korean culture, between men or boys, one cannot count a friend close until you have seen each other naked, eg at a bathhouse, at which point you become ‘goch’u ch’ingu,’ (고추 친구). The last thing most western lads want to see is their mates dick and any interest expressed in this direction would be a deemed ‘gay.’
The main protagonist of the skinship is Mark, a boy of about 15 (English reckoning). While the other boys sit in the same seats, all the front row, Mark seems to change seats each lesson and will paw and fiddle a different lad correspondingly. Stroking hair, massaging shoulders, holding hands are all common but on two occasions he has also kissed other boys on the cheek, albeit as a joke. His friends tell me he claims to be ‘in love’ with a different boy each day and accuse him, in the nicest and gayest way possible, that he’s ‘gay’ – on two occasions this has been the point he has kissed the current object of his interest.
As for the list supplied by the boys:
1. A gay boy stands close to other boys – in the school office this afternoon one boy was laying on top of another one (aged 12)
2 A gay boy strokes other boys – in every class boys fiddle with each other
3. Gay boys likes to hold your hand – that means all my best friends are gay. And yesterday in the bathhouse I actually saw two boys, most likely brothers aged around 12 and 7 respectively, the older boy of which was sat on the side of the pool holding his brothers dick as he talked to him and when the younger boy went to run off the older boy pulled him back with a tug.
4. Gay boys kiss other boys – I don’t see this often but I have had Korean male friends (certainly straight) kiss me.
5. Gays hug people –again, my male friends have hugged me.
Perhaps a more pertinent question might be how do you tell if a Korean man or boy is ‘straight?’ Any insights into Korean homosexuality warmly welcomed!
© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.