Following on with our accidental gay-themed week in celebration of Korea Queer Culture Festival, we decided our ‘Blog of the Week’ this week had to be The Kimchi Queen. Although relatively new on the blog scene, the regularity of posting and the research that goes into the site already makes it an excellent resource for gay individuals living in South Korea, as well as anyone who is curious about queer life in Seoul and beyond. We spoke the Kimchi Queen himself and he came up with some interesting answers to sate our inquisitive questions – did you know that there are over 100 gay bars in Jongno, for example?
Firstly, how have you found yourself living in Korea?
Like a lot of foreigners my age, I’m an English teacher in Korea. I was attracted particularly to Korea because I met some really interesting Koreans when I was a student in Bulgaria. At first, it was mostly about money and getting away from the States. Now, I love everything Korea (especially the men and the food… in that order).
Why did you start a blog?
I started blogging because all of the gay information about Korea is static and, like all of Korea, gay life here is continuously changing: not only bars, but also society’s perception of the LGBTQ community.
Would you say that blogging has changed the way you experience Korea?
Now whenever I am traveling in other parts of Korea I am constantly searching for gay life and trying to report about gayness outside of Seoul. Having the blog also adds some regularity to my life since I try to write at least one post a day. It also makes me much more active: going to events and festivals that I would normally be too lazy to attend.
You have a great section on the blog called ‘Gayspeak’ where you explain how to use Korean vocabulary relevant to being queer. How important is learning the language when it comes to dating in Korea?
For dating Korean gay men, the language factor can be HUGE. I’ve met some guys that I’ve really liked, but just couldn’t make it to the next level because my Korean was at a intermediate ability. Dating, however, is one of the best ways to learn a language. With all the flirty texts and intimate moments, you really open yourself up to acquiring a new language.
Can you tell us what your favorite word you’ve learnt so far is?
My favorite gay word has to be 끼스럽다, which is an adjective to describe people when they are being a bit femme. The best part about it is it is used pretty much only with the queers.
What do you think of the gay community in Korea? Is there an actual ‘community’ considering the social stigma of being out-and-proud?
I think that people tend to dismiss the level of the gay community in Korea. Of course it isn’t as vocal or in-your-face as what I’m used to in the States, but there are tons of support groups, including Chingusai and iShap, and online resources like Ivancity that are slowly empowering the gay community, especially in Seoul. When you combine that with the HUGE amount of bars in Jongno (more than 100) and the very out and proud Itaewon, I’d say that the gay community is larger than people think.
The next logical step in solidifying the Korean gay community is the collective coming out process, and I see that happening now, especially with more LGBTQ youth coming out to their families.
I would have to say, however, that the gay men community is stronger in Korea than the lesbian community. Of course, Hongdae has its clubs and some lesbian cruising parks, but it isn’t nearly as large as Jongno/Itaewon. This is also reflected in TV and movies, with a lot more films dealing with man-on-man relationships than lady-on-lady.
What advice would you give to other gay people who are either living in Korea or are thinking of coming to Korea?
I’d unfortunately have to tell gay people to be very careful with who they come out to. I came out at 회식 at a pretty drunken moment, but I was lucky and my co-workers were like ‘ok, we thought that might be the case’. However, you will definitely find plenty of other gay foreigners and gay Koreans once you make it to Korea and your obligatory journey to Homo Hill in Itaewon. I’d definitely say the best place for any queer to live in would be Seoul, but you can find gay bars all over Korea (but I have yet to find a place to dance outside of Seoul).
Do you ever feel alienated by Korean society?
As a foreigner, I have a get-out-of-jail-free card. My sexuality hasn’t really affected me much, but it does get annoying to lie to my co-teachers and students about going out with my girlfriend when I really want to talk about my lovely boyfriend. Then again, I have been extremely lucky with some of my co-workers, who are aware of my sexuality and don’t give a damn.
Of course, like any foreigner in Korea I feel alienated for just being a foreigner. It’s usually not connected to my sexuality, however.
Totally agreeing with T.O.P from Big Bang as one of your ‘Man of the Week’ choices in April, but who is your main Korean crush?
Probably Lee Sang Woo. He plays a gay character in the drama Life is Beautiful and his smile is delicious. He’s probably straight, but that doesn’t mean I can’t salivate over his pictures.
You have a lot of bar reviews on your blog. Where’s your favourite place in Seoul to hang out?
Right now, I’d have to say Owoo bar in Jongno. It is full of a lot of younger Korean guys and they have pretty decent martinis at a cheap price. The only problem is the young guys tend to flee to Itaewon at around midnight to get their dance on. No judgement there.
It sounds like you’ve had a great experience in Korea so far despite having to navigate around some obstacles due to your sexuality. What is one entirely positive thing about being gay in Korea?
I went to school in Boston and as I’m sure you know, gay marriage is legal in MA. This has kind of affected the bars and clubs in the area. They are just so … straight. The secret identity part, albeit oppressive, adds a layer of excitement to being gay. Wandering around the back streets of Jongno and trying to find a secret bar is exciting, and so is belonging to a group that doesn’t identify with mainstream Korean society. Having similar sexual identities is a great way to break down cultural barriers.
A huge thanks to The Kimchi Queen for answering these questions, as well as allowing us to use screenshots and pictures from his blog.
Interview by Loren