When we heard about The Meet Market we thought it sounded like an interesting, alternative and necessary event for the Seoul nightlife scene. We were eager to find out more so got in touch with kim thompson, one of the event organisers, and grilled her about what The Meet Market is all about, her opinion on being homosexual in Korea, and why the event is so important for the LGBTQ scene.
Can you explain what the Meet Market is for our readers?
The Meet Market is a party for queers and their allies. It is held at Club Myoung Wol Gwan once every 5-6 weeks and is hosted by “the Butch-hers” kim thompson and sw. The purpose of the party is to create a safe space for both queers and their allies, and to bring both foreign and locals together under one roof. Beyond being a dance party that provides people with the chance to meet others we also try to regularly provide “queer” entertainment like drag, and at the next Meet Market on 28th April we will be showcasing a live burlesque show by White Lies Burlesque Review for the first time.
Why did you start the Meet Market and how long has it been going?
We had our first Meet Market in October 2011. The Meet Market was originally started by Rachel Miller and kim thompson and when Rachel moved back to Canada in Feb. 2012, sw took over for her. I (kim) started the Meet Market in order to create a space in which gays, lesbians, transgendered, gender queers, and allies could come together under one roof, which to our knowledge has not existed before- as generally speaking meeting places for lesbians are in Hongdae and for gays in Itaewon etc. The other intention for my getting involved in this was and is as a way to hopefully provide queer Koreans with a safe space to mix and mingle and to hopefully discover that being queer doesn’t mean that one must live a segregated and/or isolated life and that there are many people who are actually “allies.”
What do you think about the gay scene in Seoul at the moment?
I don’t think that any westerner living in Seoul can speak accurately about the Korean LGBTQ scene in Seoul as western queers come from a very different landscape than Korean queers. As a queer Korean adoptee who grew up in the states, I think that we as westerners can only speak accurately/authoritatively about our individual experiences as members of the foreign queer community in Seoul, as Korea’s queer scene is very different than what most of us are used to. It is often stated that in comparison to the States, Korea’s queer culture etc. is about 20-30 years behind the states, but again this observation is made by western foreigners. sw, who is one of the Butch-hers, is a queer Korean and would be able to speak more accurately about the queer scene in Korea than I would be able to. I think it would be safe to say that the queer scene in Korea is much more underground than in North America and most of western Europe, which often causes westerners to mistakenly identify/judge queer Korean culture as being “backwards” or “repressed” instead of being “different” and in a very different place. Obviously it will be wonderful the day that queer Koreans are able to feel that they can exist in society without fear of discrimination. However, to say that Korean queers need to go about this in the same way that westerners have would be incorrect as obviously change and progress are also connected to giving consideration to the cultural norms that already exists — i.e. taking into consideration how Korean family relationships function etc. It will be interesting to see how Korea eventually embraces its queer citizens as it seems inevitable that this will have to happen at one point in order for Korea to continue on in its progression in a “global society,” BUT as to how and when this happens seems to remain unknown/unclear.
Do you think there is a lot of homophobia in Korean society?
As a westerner I think that this can be viewed in a few ways. On one hand because being queer is much more underground in Korea the flipside of this is that there are much fewer physical hate crimes than in the west. However the reality is, the reason that Korean queers have to remain so underground is because to be outed means risking losing one’s job, family, and even friendships. I would say that I have also seen homophobia expressed in areas of Seoul with high populations of foreigners who express their own homophobic hatred towards queer westerners. Currently, respecting the anonymity of queer Koreans is important and vital as even accidentally “outing” a queer Korean could cause them to lose their job or rupture their relationships with their families or friends. While it is not like this for every single queer Korean it does seem to apply to and for the majority of queer Koreans and so it is important that even as events like the Meet Market that we and others remain respectful of this reality and refrain from posting photos of queer Koreans on public websites etc. without their express consent. The Meet Market does not assume that it can or will be able to eliminate the homophobia/discrimination that exists in Korean culture but what it does hope to do and seems to be doing, is to help bridge some of the gaps that exist in providing a safe space that is not dominated by westerners or Koreans but that instead allows for both groups to exist and intermingle in the same space just as it seeks to allow queers and their allies to be in the same space together.
What would you say it’s like for a foreigner to be gay in South Korea?
I think that every foreigner living here who is queer would have something very different to say about this. I know that some find being queer here to be very difficult whereas others seem to move about without little to no problems. It seems like a lot of this has to do with the spaces in which one has found to live and work in and the kinds of communities one has formed etc. I would say that I believe that what makes the Meet Market unique in Seoul and in Korea is that it provides a space not only for gays and lesbians but for ALL who fall within the LGBTQ spectrum whilst also providing a space for our allies to participate with us and show their support etc.
How often do you have events and who are they for?
We run the Meet Market once every 5-6 weeks and the parties are open to all queers AND their allies. The ONLY kinds of people who “are not welcome” are those who want to exploit the safe space that the Meet Market seeks to provide (i.e. straight males who are expecting to see a “girls gone wild” kind of event etc. anyone who causes those in attendance to feel that their safety is being threatened will be asked to leave, as it is extremely important to us that the Meet Market is always known as and viewed as a “safe space.” It should be noted that thus far this has never been an issue nor do we expect it to be.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers about the Meet Market?
We are excited that at every party not only do we have our “regulars” who have been supporting us since the beginning but that at every party there are at least 70-80 new faces both from the foreign and local communities. We hope to keep improving the Meet Market and that it continues to be a fun party in which queers and their allies can dance, see some good drag or burlesque, meet others, and just feel that they are in a space in which they are free to be themselves. We are seeking to walk the fine line/balance of creating a space in which both Koreans and foreigners feel comfortable and where queers from both people groups are able to feel supported not only by their own known existing communities but also to realize that they have a lot more allies in the straight communities both Korean and foreign, than they may have realized. AND of course at the end of the day the Butch-hers and the Meet Market and those at Myoung Wol Gwan want to provide everyone with just a really fun Saturday event that is hopefully just a little different from everything else that already exists.
The next Meet Market, “The Spring Meet Market” will be on Saturday 28 April at Club Myoung Wol Gwan in Hongdae. There will be burlesque by White Lies Burlesque Review at midnight and the event will be MC’d by Sheri Slick.
9pm – close: 10,000 won +1 free drink
For directions to Club Myoung Wol Gwan (MWG) add the Meet Market as your Facebook friend and then you can view our event invite which has the map to Club MWG