Being Queer in South Korea

Being Queer in South Korea

Coming from Japan, we thought being queer in South Korea was going be a piece of cake. When we first arrived in Seoul, things were looking great for us as we noticed many girls holding hands and being affectionate toward each other. Unlike in Japan, Koreans find it perfectly okay to kiss your partner and hug your friends. Oh, the excitement! Zoey and I could finally kiss, hug, hold hands, and show affection towards each other in public! We quickly learned that all those girls holding hands weren’t actually lesbians and that being a lesbian was in fact, not something that should be displayed too openly. We asked ourselves some questions that you might also ask yourself if you are a lesbian or queer person traveling to South Korea and went on a mission to answer them. Here is what we found:

  1.  Where can we meet other lesbians? 

    • Hostels: Zoey and I met in a hostel in Asia so you can often count on meeting another lesbian in your hostel. However, we didn’t meet any lesbians while we were in South Korea.
    • Lesbian Bars: We went to a lesbian bar once and it was more like a restaurant with tables and groups of girls just talking to each other. There environment wasn’t really a mingling environment so it was hard to make any friends here too.
    • The streets: Beware, many girls look like they are lesbian couples, but they’re not. It can get very difficult trying to find the queer girl in the streets of South Korea. We never had any luck and we even offended a girl when we asked her if she was a lesbian after she kissed Zoey on the cheek and held her hand. Go figure.
  2. Is there any lesbian bars, venues, or events?

    • Yes, according to TimeOut, there are a few lesbian bars and venues in Seoul. Unlike the gay and lesbian bars in Tokyo, these were not all that great. We visited Paul’s kitchen thinking we would find a cool dive bar with other lesbians and it turned out to be a restaurant with an anti-social atmosphere. Not impressed.
    • There were no LGBTQ events during our two months in South Korea.
  3. How easy/hard was it for us to find other lesbians?

    • Very hard. We never met any lesbians or any queer people in general.
  4. How do locals feel about being gay? Is it accepted? Is it shamed upon?

    • We had mixed reactions when we told people we were a lesbian couple in South Korea. The owner of the hostel we stayed at was really intrigued and wanted to know more about us because we were the very first lesbians he’d ever met. Others were indifferent and just treated us like they treated everyone else. And sadly we also came across people who literally shrugged and said “ewww” to a comment mentioning lesbians. So basically, reactions varied depending on the person.
  5. Did we feel comfortable being ourselves or did we have to hide our relationship/sexuality?

    • Because public displays of affection were so common amongst Koreans, it was really easy for us to blend in. We would pass as just friends being affectionate towards each other. This was kinda nice because we didn’t feel like we needed to avoid holding hands, hugging, or appearing too “close” in public. We did get those unwanted looks and stares when we kissed but we get that in most places anyway.
  6. Final thoughts and feelings about the country:

    • I think South Korea has a lot of potential to be a queer friendly destination for the LGBTQ community. Hopefully one day queer visibility will increase in South Korea and people will feel comfortable being their beautiful queer selves in public without having to pretend that they are just “really friendly friends.”
    • Meg Cale from Dopes on the Road, another awesome lesbian travel blog, also wrote about her experience being a lesbian couple traveling though Seoul with her wife. They found some really awesome places to visit, eat at, and explore. Check out her lesbian travel guide to Seoul, South Korea for more info and tips.

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