My blog post from last year, “K-Pop and an Alternate Masculinity” is one of my most-viewed. I guess it’s a really popular topic, not just because of K-Pop, but hopefully too because of interest in alternate masculinities and gender issues.
Left: Lee Taemin from the boy group Shinee, in last December’s Vogue Girl.
At least one commenter on that post was kind to take the time to explain that there’s another side to this – that despite the fashion and such within these music videos, and despite whatever we might be able to say about alternate masculinities (the beautiful, soft, boy who’s physically intimate with his friends, even while being cis-het, yet at least at the same time being quite different from the standard macho bro, or other “mainstream” versions of ideal masculinity as constructed within Western culture/society), this is not an indication of any level of acceptance of any gender identities or sexual orientations beyond cis-het in South Korea.
Meg Ten Eyck, in an article last week in Posture Mag entitled “Is KPop as Queer as it Appears to be?: Androgynous Fashion, Fan Service, and Boy Love in Korean Pop Culture,” explains out a bit more starkly, and in more detail, South Korean attitudes about LGBTQ and gender identities. And what she portrays is rather discouraging, even disturbing, saddening. Even those people who do identify as LGBTQ (how did Eyck find them?) don’t do so too publicly, and apparently coming out even to your parents is so taboo, so not thought of, that some of the people interviewed even laughed at the idea. Eyck writes:
Siwon Choi engages in graphic boy love fan service, including stroking and kissing his male band members while shirtless on stage and making out with fellow band members. Essentially Choi, and other artists are claiming that their androgynous style and boy love fan service is acceptable because it’s driving sales of their albums and merchandise. However, if someone proclaims their identity as a queer person and engages in the same behaviors, the majority of Koreans would not support them.
This certainly complicates the issue, and I’m not entirely sure what to say. Can we really not, as a society (as any society, American, Korean, or otherwise), have a more pleasant balance, accepting alternate gender identities and sexualities in a fuller spectrum? In the United States, LGBTQ rights, equality, continue to make progress, and to find growing acceptance (though of course some very serious problems still continue as well), even as the kind of things we see in K-pop remain almost entirely absent, and suppressed, excluded, from mainstream pop culture; and meanwhile, in Korea we see guys on TV, in music videos, in posters, etc., with all kinds of soft, sweet, baby faces, wearing makeup and jewelery and fashion and dyed pink hair, caressing even kissing one another – but any actual, real, admission of queer identity is all but unheard of, and all but unaccepted. Here’s hoping that both of our societies can get it together and see some expansion of acceptance in the coming years.