February 1, 2024

How to Say Gay in Korean

In the world of East Asian languages, there are very few words that acknowledge sexual orientation outside of heterosexuality. As a result, it can be difficult for Koreans and Korean Americans to come out to their families, and even more difficult for them to explain their sexuality to themselves. In order to do so, they often use foreign language: gei (gay), rejeubieon (lesbian) and, recently, ilbanin (different person).

While the term ibanin is a good step forward, the fact that it still carries connotations of ostracization and otherness remains problematic. That’s why it is important for queer people to reclaim these terms and others like them, so that we can have more of a voice and be able to express ourselves more freely.

In South Korea, celebrities are becoming more vocal about their sexualities. But, according to Kwon, their public actions are often not enough to change the cultural climate. When TV host Hong Seok-cheon came out as gay in 2000, he was met with immediate backlash and was asked to drop shows and commercial offers.

Homophobia is still rife in South Korea, and while the country does not have comprehensive anti-discrimination laws like those of Japan or Taiwan, it is slowly starting to accept homosexual couples. However, it is important to remember that just because the culture is slowly changing does not mean that the attitudes of individuals are changing. It is the responsibility of those in the entertainment industry, and all of us, to push for change.


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