By Jay Walker
Lifting the ban on Wong Kar Waiís Happy Together opened the closet door
a little in Korea. This Hong Kong movie about two men in love broke down
the idea that only Westerners were gay, not Asians. In my personal experience,
being a gay foreign man in Korea has not been easy, but not horrendous
either. I view gay life in Korea as I do to many other things here, growing
and advancing quickly but still decades behind the Western world.
If youíre gay and lonely in Korea, donít despair. Through
networking, you CAN meet people. Overall, Korean gays can be very friendly,
purposefully aloof, or too terrified to speak to a Westerner. There is
also a hierarchical big brother system prevalent here. If an older friend
is interested in someone, you need to ask his permission before you make
an approach. You are likely to meet Korean men who are actively living
a gay life but have every intention of marrying a woman by age 28 to honor
their family customs and Korean tradition. The attitude towards gay Westerners
here seems to be an even division between being very sought out or completely
avoided since foreign countries are associated with AIDS in the eyes of
Communication is often a problem. Donít think that you
are being picked up if a Korean man tells you you are handsome (minam!).
This is common in Korea, as is the sight of young men holding hands in
the street. Also, many Koreans like to befriend Americans to brush up on
their English so donít be misled.
The life for lesbians here is somewhat more difficult
to assess as they are not so visible in the gay scene here. I have seen
Korean women at gay bars but Iím not quite sure what their stories are.
Pusanís gay scene consists of 30-some bars, mostly small
and featuring a karaoke venue. Donít expect public displays of affection
or a dancer in a cage. There is a very small community of Gay Americans
and Canadians who frequent the gay scene on a regular basis. We often joke
about wearing armbands to the larger Ďstraightí nightclubs. To find us
you may want to cab out to the Pusanjin Market area on a Saturday night
and stick your neck into a few bars, or check The Exit classifieds for
some contact information.
Gay Seoul feels like a trip to New York when you have
been here for a while. In Itaewon there are several dance bars and quiet
pubs with more of a Western flavor. Asians, Americans and men from around
the world frequent these places, as do a small number of lesbians. Public
kissing, close dancing and being able to have a competent English
conversation are more the norm in Seoul. Just do a web search on Gay Korea
to locate these places. (Sorry Pusanners, there is no known web info on
the bars here.) If you have a chance to visit Manila or Thailand or even
Hong Kong, youíll find a much more progressive gay scene.
I guess my biggest problem with being a gay foreigner
is over questions of how serious these relationships can get. If you are
one of the few and proud into love and longevity in a relationship, itís
quite challenging to find your perfect match. Letís face it, we are not
going to be here forever and it can be rather difficult to bring your same-sex
partner back to your home country on a permanent basis. But if youíre willing
to try, who knows who youíll find.
Hereís one last piece of advice for those looking for
gay love in Korea. If you get to the bars here, be friendly and smile a
lot. You usually have to say hello first but donít be overly forward or
youíll be instantly labeled a ďCasanovaĒ. For some reason they love that
word around here.