Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2014 Seoul Pride Parade

This was totally covered by a number of other blogs and online news sites a while back, obviously, because it happened at the beginning of June, but once again I neglected to keep up with posting, so, you know, here it is 5 months later. 

This year the Seoul Pride Parade was in Sinchon, and the route was a little longer than the little circle they made last year in Hongdae. Technically I was at that one too, but had decided to get my hair cut at Hair & Joy before going down to watch it. I had three pictures of myself from three different angles, all of the same haircut that I wanted again. It didn't seem like rocket surgery, but after about two hours of just taking more and more off even as I was saying "No. No. NO DON'T", the completely inept stylist's grand work culminated in a poofy K-Pop boy haircut that, in the greatest tragic irony of last early-summer, made me look like a lesbian just in time to completely miss Pride.

(As evidenced by these photos, the second of which is me drunkenly saying, "Ow, the little brick pillows they have in jjimjilbangs are super uncomfortable")

But that's okay, because I did go to a drag show that night:

So anyway, this year I went right after working a shitty Saturday shift, which I guess is pretty redundant. Faith came down for a little while, and then I spotted John standing on a telephone booth across the street as things were getting heated and spent the rest of the night with him and his friends.

At first I was told that the parade had been officially sanctioned and permitted by the city, but then found out that it hadn't, and that they'd just decided to continue with it anyway. I guess that'd be kind of interesting by itself, but then the obstructionist Christian protesters started showing up and laying down in the middle of the street.

Where to start with the signs they were carrying and things they were saying? Let's see..

Some of them claimed outright that the LGBT community is the cause of AIDS, and that homosexuality is an American import, that it never existed in Korea before the arrival of foreigners (which is, sadly, a fairly common sentiment). The people who deny that homosexuals exist in Korea are usually the same ones who also deny that prostitution and sexual violence against women exist, of course.

Early on the protest leader faked a heart attack in the middle of the road so that an ambulance had to wade through everything to get to him - one of their many tactics to hold up and delay the continuation of festivities, but definitely one of the most selfish and irresponsible. 

The primary morally reprehensible tactic they employed (as good Christians), though, was the use of the Sewol disaster. A lot of them started bringing the ferry - at this point the sinking was still quite recent - into it as an excuse to legitimise their sit-in, because law enforcement has been on the side of those who continue to protest the shockingly senseless tragedy rooted in government corruption, acting merely as unarmed, un-armoured crowd- and traffic-controlling observers. 
At one point, when it was all coming to an end and I was chanting "Love not hate" with John's gay and lesbian friends, an older man told us to stop and gave me the above reason when I asked why. He was trying to say that, if it was also (made to look like it was) about the Sewol, we just couldn't be against them in any way. This is, though, the same Sewol distaster-logic that produced reactions like long-planned concerts and family vacations abroad being cancelled, though: you're not allowed to do anything even if it actually has nothing to do with the ferry. Oohhkay then.. 

The best part of the whole thing was before I ran into anyone I knew, when the police had just started filing in and forming neat rows around the street-layers. I was standing with a small group of lesbians from the U.S. and Canada, and naturally they were getting pretty offended by the almost-belligerent Christians. Don't get the wrong idea, though; at least a few of these women were Christians, too. My favourite thing the one we ended up hanging out with yelled was, "Hey, guess what? Jesus loves the gays, too! Quelle surprise!"

Two of them decided to march right into the midst of the demonstrators and start making out and feeling each other up. Their friends were pretty mortified with worry at first, but a lot of people were cheering them on. An old lady got up and started to swing her sign at them as if to strike them, but a large man bearing rainbow and anti-racist (might as well, right?) symbols had also come forward, put himself between them and scolded her until she slunk away. He continued standing protectively in front of them with his arms raised for a while.

Sadly enough, the police ordered the protesters to disperse, but totally without conviction, and only as they were encircling them to protect their right to demonstrate. Demonstrate during another demonstration. Blocking a road for hours. I mean, literally, hours. We stood and sat in the street in support thinking the parade would be able to continue until it was dark and getting late, but in the end, the obstructionists outlasted the scantily-clad dancing cowboys and confetti.

One young Korean guy, the partner of one of John's friends from the UK, was so upset and frustrated by this outcome that he disappeared for a few minutes, reappearing with eggs from the convenience store. When we made eye contact and I saw what he had and wanted to do, I told him I understood and would protect him as best as possible, but that the blows would be many and that they'd probably come raining down pretty hard. There was a moment of silent mutual understanding about not sinking to the level of pettiness these bigots were displaying, and before we all parted ways a little bit later, he thanked me. I told him to go home and make an omelette, "an omelette of love and acceptance", lol.

The young Korean women I talked to on our side just said they were deeply embarrassed and disappointed, rendered nearly speechless. These were university students who had spent time abroad, in the West; one was on the phone with her mom for a while ranting about how she couldn't believe she had just come back and that this kind of bullshit was still happening in her country, like she was experiencing reverse culture shock. I mean, you'll get this conservative reaction to Pride events in developed nations anywhere, but not on this scale, and not in a way that is so clearly favoured and protected by the corrupt conservative government over the rights of the progressives.
Several people were crying at the end of it when we finally dispersed and went home. The event leaders and organisers on the floats (including one female politician) made short, heartfelt speeches about not totally losing hope and continuing to fight the good fight, but the fact that the hate element won was just too much to deal with for people who already live in an extremely judgemental, image-obsessed, intolerant country. 

The following Monday (which was the day I showed up still drunk and in the Bat Girl shirt from the day before after having spent the night on my coworker's bathroom floor because we had finished off an entire bottle of Absolut together, and perfectly enough the only time I've ever been officially observed by my manager, for those of you who know me), I brought up Pride with out clients, consisting mostly of professionals in the financial sector. The first woman I decided to do this with was a statistician with a Ph.D. who was more like a robot than a human. Having her at 6:45 every Monday morning was physically painful, and she did not do small talk. At all. She did the extremely dense text from one of the extremely boring upper-intermediate business books. Once I asked her how her weekend was, and she said flatly, "It was nothing".
So I figured, today's the day, I've going to bring up something provocative and elicit some form of response, damn it. Interestingly, the reaction I got from her was pretty emotional, though she raised some valid points that were echoed by a few other people throughout not only the day, but the week, because I just kept bringing it up.
Among the highly-educated and successful, the general opinion seems to be that people who live alternative sexual lifestyles don't need to and should not parade around in shocking, skimpy outfits (sparkly and adorable though they may be) and separate or segregate themselves (further) from the general population. While Korea is and even a couple of these people were very conservative and anti-gay, I found this reasonable. As one guy put it, if you want people to accept and understand you, showing them that you're just like them is probably the best way to do it. That you're just a normal guy who lives a life like any other, has friends and a nice family, is gainfully employed, not a deviant, et cetera. Well, fair enough. Making a spectacle of yourself might not be the best way to get a population that prides itself on sameness and not displaying opinions or emotions to think more of you. 

Here's the video I took of some of the shenanigans, including police officers being shoved by Korea's notoriously inconsiderate and ill-mannered grandmas:

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