Midnight. The witching hour. The whimsical striking of the bells hailing the dawn of a new day. Magical, mysterious, romantic, Cinderella, glass slippers, far-flung Kingdoms and coaches made from winter squashes. The elusive wonder of romance yet to be found, the hour at which all can be won or lost.
The midnight hour in which this story begins is different from the aforementioned in many ways. My Pumpkin coach was one of Seoul’s finest taxis, driven not by a whimsical, shape-shifting door mouse, but by a suicidal, middle-aged Korean. My glass slippers? A pair of trashed beyond recognition Converse. And the Cinderella of this story? A fat, blonde, slightly pissed Scouser embarking one of his first outings to the Kingdom of Homo Hill.
To state that this journey is in any way related to the fairy tales of our sepia hued youths would be an insult to you, the faithful reader. This is more Cinderella in the thick of the action. A what’s what from the front line. A gay ‘waygookin’ on his first series of impressions of the infamous Homo Hill, where the boys who love boys and the girls who love girls (any anybody else in between) come out to play in merry frivolity.
Now we all know the history of Itaewon: the sex, the craziness, the rock and roll. The ‘dark’ neighbourhood of drunken foreigners. Being of the homosexual persuasion, I was always interested in this ‘hedonistic’ corner of Seoul. A number of factors were to play for this interest, but mainly because it is host to Homo Hill, the thriving hub of the majority of LGBT life in Seoul (and the rest of South Korea, for that matter).
A commonly stated (and rather unbelievably held) anecdote is that there are ‘no gays in Korea’, but gay culture is slowly, yet surely, permeating Korean culture. Taking in the small cluster of bars, I opted for the busiest. In my search for a podium and alcohol, I was shocked to see so many Korean couples of the same sex openly kissing and having the times of their lives. This may seem a strange remark to make, but unfortunately I had ever so slightly bought into the whole gayness as a no-go in Korea.
Drink in hand I fought my finest battle: the war of the podium. I had come this far and was damned if I wasn’t getting a whirl on one. Plus Ke$ha had just been dropped by the DJ and considering how well I was re-enacting the antics of the drunken, glitter-addicted tart at this point, I thought it only fair that I was granted my wish.
I then hurriedly set about making some friends and began giving out Marlboros like they were lollipops. People gathered and I learnt about the stigma faced by many gay Koreans. I was informed that this kept the majority of gay society from ever experiencing anything like Homo Hill, and kept them away. Yet for those who frequented it, did so with the guarantee of fun, abandonment and the chance to feel free and not restrained by the conventions of a judgmental society, if only for a few hours. I felt both lucky and saddened that I took this type of thing for granted and we made a toast, raising our glasses we all toasted to ‘friendship’ as we urgently downed the remnants of our lukewarm cocktails.
A little later into the proceedings two holy words were uttered: Drag Show. Being partial to a spot of dress up myself (ball gowns, it’s part of Cinders job requirements), I was fully prepared to cast my thirsty eyes over the offerings and offer my finest critiques. Position scouted, it took me several minutes to realise I was actually watching men dressed as women. These gals could of given the world’s finest supermodels a run for their money! Wigs flounced, dresses twirled, legs kicked as several Liza Minnellis gave their finest ‘Cabaret’ impressions on the miniscule stage. I was speechless and rather jealous – I look more like Susan Boyle when I attempt drag.
Speaking to the bunch of ‘straight’ girls, I learned they came to the Hill every weekend and loved it for what it was: a damned good time, no labels necessary. I was beginning to learn how important an area this place was for the people who needed a place free from the constrains and expectations of ordinary society.
The night’s events rushing through my mind I allowed myself a smile and a breath of contemplation. I loved Homo Hill. Although the Hill was amazing, the sheer volume of people who came here tested the capacity of the bars to full. A lot of this, I thought, came back to the obvious stigma attached to homosexuality in this sometimes unfair land. The times they are a changing and it was an eye-opener for me, a gay boy who likes to think he’s seen it all, to spend a night in these electrifying surroundings in a country still trying to comes to terms with the fact that many gay boys and girls are actually proud of who they are and don’t have to hide it. ‘Adversity breeds strength’ the saying goes, and this is more than apparent in this small, steep, dark, yet very charming corner of Seoul.
Finally, I collapsed into the back of my cab as we made our way through the drunken metropolis of Itaewon. Glancing at the dashboard clock, I hazily made out the time. 5am. Cinders was a little late. The midnight rule had been thrown out of the window.
Well…it was about time she rebelled. I just hoped the ugly stepsisters hadn’t locked her out.
This account of a night at Homo Hill is a condensed version of a post by Christopher Lawless, which will be up on his blog shortly. In the meantime, follow him on .