Queer Seoul Series
An Expat Guide to Queer Seoul
Part I: The Hidden Ten Percent
Seoul is a city teeming with millions. Millions! Wikipedia puts the number of Seoulites in the metropolitan area at 23 million. Now as an expat I naively thought that meant the gay population of Seoul would be bursting at the seams, so to speak. A population of 23 million should, at least according to Kinsey, equal two million three hundred thousand queer folks! That’s bigger than most cities back home.
As you can imagine I envisioned Seoul as a hidden gay Asian Mecca; the San Francisco of the East. I pictured rainbow flag covered streets, openness, and wall to wall gay guys. And once I arrived what I saw didn’t exactly dissuade me from that notion. Everywhere I looked I saw guys in skinny tight jeans, fitted shirts, and huge over sized man bags. Men wore so much pink that I thought it was the new black. Out in the open I would glimpse guys playfully getting all touchy feely with PDA that, if displayed back home, would draw pointed looks if not outright stares. Here? Nothing. Just walking a few blocks would set my gaydar off like a Geiger counter in a nuclear reactor. San Francisco had nothing on Seoul or so I thought.
Reality came crashing down soon enough thanks to a friend explaining the close knit social structure of the Korean people. As I understood it, it’s not that all the touching and hand holding between K guys is gay. It’s more like those primates in the National Geographic Specials that groom each other to show affection and brotherhood. OK, I accepted that explanation of homo-social behavior even though back home the same thing would only happen if the two guys had just beaten each other to a bloody pulp. And even that would just amount to a brief arm around the shoulder or an obligatory punch in the arm as they awkwardly tried to make amends.
Everything else he chalked up to fashion. I hardly believed it. As we sat in front of the Coffee Bean sipping iced coffee I’d randomly point out a guy.
Me: Two O’clock in the bright neon pink shirt muscle shirt. Totally gay.
Friend: No. Fashion.
Me: Three O’clock with the big man bag?
Me: The guy in the skinny black jeans and his friend in the Capri pants?
I have to admit I was somewhat relieved that my gaydar wasn’t actually broken until I realized it would be completely useless. Applying the social norms from back home to the land of morning calm just wouldn’t work. I had to throw out all I knew and start again. In Korea, metrosexuals aren’t just fictional creations seen on television. No, they actually exist out in the real world roaming the city streets in such large number that it’s a wonder my gaydar didn’t induce an aneurism.
With my new understanding of Korea firmly in my thoughts I asked the only question I could think of:
Me: Where are all the gay people?
Friend: Gay? There are no gay in Korea!
Me: That’s like saying there’s no air in Korea.
Friend: True. Korea no gay.
This left me even more perplexed considering the whole conversation occurred with his hand squeezing my thigh while he spoke so close to my face that we were a hairsbreadth shy of an Eskimo kiss. If the straight guys were all like this I feared I’d never find any gay ones. So I did what anyone faced with a problem today does: I ran to the nearest PC bang, jumped on the internet, and Googled.
To be Continued in Part II: Thar be gays in dem online waters, matey!