J knew she was lesbian before she even knew the word. Now 27, she has come out to her close friends but not to any of her family, as she doesn’t want her family and other acquaintances to know. J works for a Korean non-profit organization and she met her partner two years ago when she took a short course at the SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) Academy. J is excited about celebrating Valentine’s Day with her partner.
When did you become aware of your sexual orientation?
I became aware I am a lesbian when I was a little girl but I was in the closet even when I was 20 years old. I felt so sad and lonely at university, as there was nobody I could talk with about this. Since then, I decided to come out of the closet and accept my identity.
How did your friends react when you came out?
All my friends know that I have a partner. Most of my LGBTI friends have met her, however, my hetero friends have never met her and I think they don’t really want to meet her.
I am affectionate with my partner all the time, such as holding hands, kissing cheek to cheek, and hugging.
I don’t really care what others think, so I don’t notice their reactions. However, one time, when I was stroking my partner’s hair while waiting for the subway, an old lady yelled at us saying “aren’t you a lesbian or something?” That was not a pleasant experience.
What challenges do LGBTI couples in South Korea face compared to opposite-sex couples?
We are not recognized as a couple in this heterosexual-oriented society. For example, my partner might not be able to come to my parents’ funeral because I didn’t come out to my family.
In South Korea, heterosexual couples can start and build their relationship naturally, sometimes even accidently in their daily lives, however LGBTI couples need the special ‘gaydar’ to meet someone. To meet someone, we have to make extra efforts. For example using a dating app, attending queer events or meetings or asking queer friends to introduce other queers, etc. I guess we have less options to meet people than heterosexual couples.
Are you excited for Valentine’s Day? Any unforgettable memories?
I like Valentine’s Day because I like chocolates a lot! On Valentine’s Day, there are many fancy chocolates out there and I love it.
Last year’s Valentine’s Day was special because it was the first with my partner. We gave each other very delicious chocolates. I still remember my partner’s face when I gave her chocolates and the taste and flavour of them. I always feel happy when I think of that moment.
How will you celebrate this year, did you pick a present for your partner?
I have a present for her, but it’s a secret! (Because she is helping me answer these questions now!)
What do you think of the South Korea’s government and wider society’s treatment of LGBTI people?
I think the Korean government and society try to erase us being here. The media often use “Bromance” (브로맨스) or “Girl crush” (걸크러쉬) when they describe two men or women’s love or affection, they don’t want to recognize the existence of “gay” or “lesbian”.
We don’t have same-sex marriage or civil partnerships so LGBTI couples cannot receive any benefits or protection from the government even if they have lived together for a long time.
What changes do you hope to see to enhance equality among couples regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity?
I want to see our society accept diversity. In order to create this culture, we need to provide queer friendly education to schools and families. To provide such education, we need an “anti-discrimination act”. We also need to legalize same-sex marriage.
Millions of people across the world will celebrate love this Valentine’s Day, but what if your government or society doesn’t view your love as equal?
Five LGBTI activists from Asia tell how they plan to mark this 14 February, and their hopes to end different kinds of discrimination the LGBTI communities face.