When late night rolls around, Adam Van Eeckhout—a gay Korean-American who lives in the LES and works in fashion—and his friends will sometimes migrate from Hells Kitchen or Chelsea’s gay bar scenes to Koreatown’s 32nd Street for a dose of 4am karaoke and drinking/food. “All my friends are gaysians,” he shares, “and Koreatown seems pretty open and gay friendly, especially the karaoke places.”
Indeed, on any given day or night, Ktown’s many 24-hour restaurants, coffee shops, Pinkberry and karaoke joints see their share of gay folks, both Asian and otherwise. Yet lately there is something even more obviously queer going on around here. Posters for major Korean movies and pop stars depict men that are prettied-up, primped and feminized in a way that’s way beyond metrosexual.
One of these major Korean pop stars in particular, Jo Kwon, gives Johnny Weir and Lady Gaga a run for their flamboyance—he dons 7.5-inch heels and a feathers-meets-S&M wardrobe in his recent “Animal” video. The new, elaborate Sherlock photo book/CD package by boy band Shinee features homoerotic albums of the members shirtless and cuddling like horny puppies.
Despite this, South Korea represents an intensely conservative society where our love still dare not speak its name publicly. Jo Kwon’s existence is like that of Boy George in the early 1980s, with rumors of his relationship with a member of boy band U-KISS dismissed by a fabricated relationship with a female pop star and a temporary arranged “marriage” on a TV reality show. He can be as gay as he wants as long as he doesn’t say he’s gay. In fact, public displays of affection between members of these boy bands are so common that there’s a term for it: skinship.
“It’s a weird thing, because [Koreans] don’t believe in homosexuality and the girls who adore these stars are adamant they are straight,” says Jack Lee, a Korean-American who works at Marie Claire, “but I can say for a fact a few are not straight. Almost every boy band has a Lance Bass.”
Because the likes of Jo Kwon, Shinee, and this pretty-boy style are so embraced by the Korean mainstream without being deemed “gay,” actual gays can work some fierce style, sass, and essentially live out loud as long as they don’t actually say the words “I’m gay.” A Louis Vuitton bag raises not an eyebrow. Ditto for lip-synching and working Beyonce choreography. With no taunts of “fag,” gays can act as sassy as they want, bring some gender-bending realness and remain completely stealth to their peers.
But what can be done to turn accepted behavior into overall acceptance?
“Gay parties in Koreatown would be the next step,” Lee notes. “It would show people we do exist.”
And that idea might not be as far off as some might think. You can call the party “Skinship.”
Via Next Magazine