Sunday, June 14, 2009

Queer Culture Festival, Seoul 2009

I made it to the 10th Annual Korean Queer Culture Festival yesterday. Having read about it and written about those reports last summer, I wanted to see what it was like for myself. And it was pretty nice. (That's a section of the Berlin Wall next to the sign.)

Yes, it was smaller than such an event would be in an American or European city of comparable size. That mainly made me nostalgic, since I am old enough to remember when public gay gatherings in the US were generally much smaller than they are today. Yes, it was relatively tame -- the foreign gays were the loudest participants -- but I can live with tame quite happily. (It's one thing to be noisy and sassy because you feel like it, and another to be so because you think that's what you're supposed to do.) And it was relatively closeted: people with cameras were required to register as Press whether we were press or not, with admonition not to take (or at least "use") pictures of people wearing no-photo stickers. That's okay, and I was mainly pleased by the level of organization in getting that message across. I insist on everyone's right to be no more out than they are ready to be, and not many queer Koreans are ready to have their pictures splashed all over the Internet. (Though I also still insist that it's not honest to speak of Gay Pride until you can get rid of the masks, the paper bags, the no-photo stickers. Since this is called the Queer Culture Festival, though, that's not an issue.) I was frustrated that so many people with the best costumes were wearing no-photo stickers, though not, happily, all of them:

Speaking of the foreign contingent, special mention goes to the blog-friendly tank top slogan worn by the young woman below:

I especially regret that almost all the performers in the mostly-female Farmers' Dance group were wearing no-photo stickers, because they did a great job and were glowing with pleasure in their performance, but so it goes.

The number of organizations involved was fairly small, but it's growing and there was more attention this year to gay youth. (A lot of the people wearing no-photo stickers were very young, probably high school students, and anonymity / invisibility for people that age is still a good idea for most in the US too.)

The Pink Revolution group had a "2MB OUT" sign (against President Lee Myung-bak) hanging inside their tent, but most of the revolutionaries were wearing no-photo stickers so I was never able to get a picture.

The entertainment was predictable. Korean techno and hiphop played over the loudspeakers most of the time. MC's were in various kinds of drag.

There were two different gay men's choruses, both of which performed the traditional Korean ballad "Like a Vorgin." ("Virgin" is very difficult for Koreans to pronounce.) G-Voice were the better singers, and even had a CD, which I bought in solidarity even though gay men's choruses put me to sleep.

The parade took off at around 4 p.m. I don't know how many people participated in it directly. The organizers warned that those who wanted to participate should register in advance, or they'd have to follow behind the parade. I think they overestimated the impermeability of the barrier, especially in Pride Parades, between onlookers and participants.

Time was when the Queer Culture Festival was staged in Itaewon, a district associated with foreigners: American soldiers stationed in Korea often go there on the weekends to party and shop, as their Japanese predecessors did during the colonial period. Tourists also like Itaewon, because venders accept a wide range of currencies. There are lots of restaurants of foreign cuisine, especially Middle Eastern and South Asian. Also a fair number of gay bars that try to cater to foreigners, which made it a natural for Queer Culture Fest.

But a year or so ago the Festival moved to the plaza in front of a commercial building in Euljiro-3-ga, a district near City Hall, very Korean. Most of the onlookers and passersby were Korean, including older men who looked on with the kind of anxious bemusement I haven't seen in the US for years. I shouldn't be too sure about them, though: some may have been gay. At any rate, I didn't notice any harassment of the participants, as apparently happened last year. Some families passing by stopped to get their children's faces painted, which led to the spectacle of four- and five-year-olds happily carrying Queer Pride balloons; other parents grimly dragged their loinfruit from the decadent scene.

Other people who caught my notice but not my lens: the big-framed high school boy who, after performing a lip-synch routine with some of his friends, put on a high school girl's uniform and Mickey Mouse ears and walked around for a few hours, sometimes making small graceful hand movements at odds with his size. The (white, I think) guy in backless leather chaps (but underpants) and harness, with false moustache who strutted delicately around with his Korean boyfriend, often being photographed with some of the other attendees; later his boyfriend put on the leather and the moustache and strutted around himself. The skinny boy in a little black dress with gorgeous red shoes who I had to hear talking before I was sure he was a boy.

Thanks to Alicia, who offered to take my picture.