Having been born in a relatively free spirited and open minded country like the Netherlands, I feel quite privileged. I've never really heard many homophobic things and my mom has raised me to be supportive of everything that is non-normative. As I grew older though, I soon came to realize that not everyone is as embracing of the LGBT+ society, and once I started being an active member of the internet I soon found the homophobic slurs flying around my ears. There however are places where the homophobia is even worse than on the internet though, we all know about the anti-gay laws in Russia, and there are many other countries where being with someone of the same gender is forbidden. There is a chance that I might discuss those countries in a later blog, but for this one I want to focus on the two countries I am quite biased towards, which also means that I know a bit more about them: Japan & South Korea.
Now before I start taking on my role as a massive smart ass who likes to share her knowledge with the rest of the world, I would like to point out that I have never actually been to Japan or South Korea, so I have never actually experienced things first hand. Most of the information I've gathered are from several youtubers I follow and the occasional article I've read on the internet. Therefore my knowledge is very limited and might be incorrect, so don't get angry with me if I get things wrong. I'm just a girl with an passion towards Japan, South Korea and LGBT+, who happens to try to combine them all into a somewhat informative blogpost.
Any person who is somewhat like me has gone through the many genres that manga and anime are rich and has stumbled upon 4 particular genres: shonen-ai, shojo-ai, yaoi & yuri. Which are respecitvely boy's love, girl's love and the more adult version of each. Seeing how popular these genres are both inside and outside of Japan one might think that Japan is a very accepting country when it comes to homosexuality. Sadly enough though, that isn't quite how it works. You see, in Japan and South Korea there are two types of homosexuality: fictional homosexuality, and actual homosexuality. The first is celebrated widely, with yaoi and yuri being very welcome and fan service between members of a boy band or girl band being absolutely amazing. But the moment any of it becomes real the sparkly eyes turn into disgusted frowns.
It isn't rare that celebrities who decide to come out soon find themselves without a job. I would even dare say that it seems to be a rule that if you you come out, you're fired. And that isn't where it ends either. Each of those celebrities got a lot of hate following them after that. Not only tabloids spewing mean words but also people actually making big efforts to make your life a living hell. This, combined with the realization that these people will probably also lose many of their friends, and receive very little support, is why I am not surprised that many of these celebrities eventually decide to end their lives. It's a cruel reality. Luckily there are a few strong souls out there who managed to fight their way through the hate and find themselves a way back into the land of the famous, a great example being Hong Seok-cheon. He is, if you like, what could be seen as the male Ellen Degeneres of South Korea. After all the hate he got, and the occasional suicidal thoughts he know carries the title of the most famous gay S.Korean celebrity. On several instances, among which a Strong Heart episode he has shared his struggles with the world and I can't help but admire him. He has started a chain of restaurants which are known to be LGBT+ friendly, and it frequently happens that idols visit the restaurants for some dinner.
The fact that some idols dine at these LGBT+ friendly restaurants is also a sign that not everyone in S.Korea is homophobic, as a matter of fact, there have been several idols who have shown their support to the LGBT+ community to a larger or lesser extent. One of the most recent shows of support came from one of my favorite idols who is known as Kim Jonghyun. It seems like the man enjoys sharing his support of the LGBT+ community in the form of display pictures. About a year ago he shared a picture of his performance with band member Taemin in which they were cuff linked together and brought fan service to a whole new level according to their standards. Just that already got him quite some negative feedback, but things exploded only a few weeks ago when he once again tried on a 'controversial' profile picture. It was a photo of an essay that had been stuck on a notice board of a S.Korean university. It wrote about how people should be more supportive of the LGBT community and gay marriage rights. This too caused much debate among 'fans', many of whom decided that they no longer wanted to be a fan of 'someone like Jonghyun'. I can't help but find this very brave of Jonghyun, and I was very proud to call myself a fan.
Other celebrities have also referred to homosexuality, which would then be responded to with a lot of hate, but this hate didn't always come from the homophobic people. The hate would come from the supporters instead. How can that happen? You might ask. Well, in the specific case I am talking about I think it was mainly a case of misunderstanding. In November Perfume had the joys of visiting America, and in doing so they got to meet quite an amount of American fans. Afterwards they were asked for thoughts on their fans and A-chan ended up commenting on gay couple she encountered. Many people quickly ran for the highway and called her homophobic, but I personally think that it wasn't a case of her being homophobic, I thought it was a case of her being ignorant. It is really a case of how you interpret the words when it comes to her comments, but I think that the angry people should have taken something into account before overgeneralizing: people in Japan and South Korea are often completely ignorant when it comes to the matter of the LGBT+ community. Over here nearly everyone knows that lesbians are girls who fall in love with girls, and that is that, but in Japan and South Korea LGBT+ is a subject that rarely comes up in conversation, which then leads to ignorance. Many people over there think that homosexuality is the same as trans sexuality, and think that every homosexual male automatically acts according to the gay stereotype they have seen in their yaoi anime. None of that is bad intent, they just don't know any better.
The odd thing though, is that things weren't always like this. As a matter of fact there used to be a time when homosexuality was deigned normal in Japan. There are several well known commanders and samurai who had homosexual relationships in the past. This is probably because unlike many of the western countries, there wasn't any religious basis against homosexuality. It's only when they opened up to the west that homophobia became a part of the Japanese culture. I really think that this is quite some food for thought, for this could be seen as a sign that people aren't inherently against homosexuality as some people seem to think. Either way, it has now come to the point that Japan is quite possibly more homophobic than most western countries, and I can't help but hope that they will one day catch up.
Luckily it isn't as if gay people in Japan and South Korea have no place to go until society turns a bit more gay friendly. Some of the large cities have districts that are dedicated to the homosexual community where many go for some reprieve. Sadly enough these places aren't good for everyone though, since things do get a bit hectic and over the top. I just hope that these countries, just like any other country where homophobia is still going strong, will soon get the message until every place is LGBT+ friendly. Then again, I do realize that I probably will never live to see that day.
If you would like to learn a bit more on the subject, here are some of the sources I based my blog post on, many of which dive into more detail on the subjects I have discussed, and also mention other things that I have left out:
- A blog post + video on homosexuality in Korea by Simon & Martina, 2 of my favorite youtubers when it comes to anything Sout Korea: http://www.eatyourkimchi.com/homosexuality-in-korea/
- An article that has more information on the essay Jonghyun used as display picture, along with a translation: http://omonatheydidnt.livejournal.com/12317545.html
- Blogposts by a fellow blogger about the Perfume incidence discussed. The first link leads to the original blogpost, the second is a review of some of the comments that blogposts recieved (including mine): http://okaymusumetime.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/perfume-and-homophobia.htmlhttp://okaymusumetime.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/readers-voice-perfume-and-homophobia.html
- A youtube video about LGBT in Japan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxQYu4MOFCY
- I am currently still looking for the episode of Strong Heart in which Hong Seok-cheon shares his story, but I will add a link over here once I find it.