THERE ARE those who live life hiding an integral part of their identity, afraid of the dire consequences of suppression and irrational hatendirected towards their kind. They are sexual minorities. The Korean society does not welcome them, the law specifying non-discrimination is an unenforced regulation. What is the reason for such hate? What is it like to be one? Do we really understand the pain that they suffer every day?
Raising awareness through cultural contents
Recently, cultural contents touching on homosexuality have received much attention and controversy. For instance, the movie that managed to gross at number one in the charts in 2006, “King and the Clown,” depicted the psychological aspects of homosexual love. “Beautiful Life,” a television series that aired in 2010, stirred up controversy and heated debates because of the fact that one of the main characters was a homosexual. In fact, the producers of these cultural contents were well aware of the controversial nature of their works, but made the decision to release the work to the public. Why? The biggest reason is that the makers of the pieces purposefully dealt with the issue in the hopes of increasing public awareness of homosexuals and of resolving their prejudices towards homosexuals.
A web comic artist who goes by the online identity Wanzaaa is a lesbian who has come out of the closet. She is doing her part in raising awareness on the lesbian community through her web comic. She says “many people consider homosexuality as an issue that is irrelevant to them. Homosexuals are like strangers living in a far-away country to most of the public. But I think that if every homosexual in the country informs two or three people that are close to them of the fact that they are not strangers, we would see a positive change in the world. I wanted to bring about the change that I wanted to see in the world.” Wanzaaa’s goal is to provide details of her experience as a guide to help other homosexuals in their journey, and also to make homosexuality a topic that is as familiar and approachable to heterosexuals.
NahIm Yoon-kyeong (Prof., Graduate Program in Culture & Gender Studies) sees both positive and negative implications. The fact that homosexuals have a way of demanding fair treatment is a positive effect. But there is also the possibility of a biased, disproportionate representation of the homosexual community due to unequal and subjective methodology in dealing with the issues in the media. “For instance, lesbian issues are not dealt as much because the women tend to hide their sexual desires from others,” says NahIm. This may bring about the misconception that there are fewer lesbians than gays. This is just one example of the many possible misconceptions that may be formed as a result of homosexual contents in the media.
Homosexuality: the controversy
Despite the efforts to break free from the biases to become “normal” in the eyes of heterosexuals, voices against their very existence still runs through our society. On May 10th of this year, the current US president Barack Obama said “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” in an interview with ABC News. He also said that he considered for a long time to make the statement. The caution and careful deliberation taken to make a simple statement, and the resulting public reaction, shows that even in the land of equality, homosexuality is still a controversial issue.
How do Yonseians feel about this issue? Approximately 87.02% of those surveyed responded that they “accept homosexuality.” According to this statistic, it may seem at first that Yonsei University would agree with Obama’s liberal view on the matter. However, a significantly smaller number (58.02%) stated that they agree with same-sex marriage, and an even lower rate of 42.06% believed that homosexual couples should have the rights to raise children. The rights to marriage and to raising children are unquestionable in heterosexual couples, yet the same cannot be said for homosexual couples. It is clear that many heterosexuals see sexual minorities as “the others.”
Jung Young-soo (alias), a student at Yonsei University says that he believes that homosexual marriage and the nurturing of a child by a homosexual couple are both inappropriate. “Marriage usually carries the goal of reproduction. But homosexual couples are incapable of reproducing. In addition, heterosexuality is dominant in our society. If fathers or mothers were to raise a child, the child will be picked on and become an outcast.”
The society considers heterosexuality as the norm. Jung i s not unkind to homosexuals, but he also knows that the children would be discriminated by their parents’ sexual orientation. NahIm points out that “the very controversy of homosexuals’ rights to marriage and nurturing children is discrimination, and evidence of irrational hate directed at homosexuals.”
Causes of homosexuality
There have been interesting explanations and countless studies regarding causes for homosexuality throughout the course of history. However, there is yet to be any conclusive theory, biological or psychological, that has gained enough experimental support or scientific evidence. Of the proposed explanations, the one that students support the most is the “Genetics or other innate factor” (47%), followed by “Homosexuality-related cultural contents” (6.4%) and “Other homosexuals” (3.6%).
The hypothesis that homosexuality is an innate characteristic states that sexual orientation is determined by the gene, brain, or hormones of an individual. However, all of the attempted explanations were refuted by the scientific community on various grounds. The “gay gene” explanation refutes the theory of natural selection and evolution while the brain anatomy explanation has been criticized for not having a representative sample of the homosexual community, as most brain sample were from sufferers of AIDS. Likewise, none of the proposed explanations that suggest that homosexuality is an acquired trait could provide an acceptable reason for the emotional, psychological, and sexual attraction and love for members of the same sex.
In spite of dissenting views on understanding on homosexuality, scientists and psychologists have historically accepted homosexuality as a natural phenomenon. The American Psychiatric Association categorized homosexuality as a personal disorder until 1973, but has since removed it from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The main reason for studies on homosexuality, like any other subject, would be to further enhance our understanding of human beings. But to homosexuals, the attempt at finding the cause of homosexuality may come as an insult. Siu, as an ex-editor of “YonseiJi,” wrote a column about sex and gender norms, stating that “one of the motives for finding the cause of homosexuality is to understand it and find a way to eliminate it.” In fact, many books published during the 70s and 80s on homosexuality delved into finding a way to “fix” homosexuality.
Discrimination, prejudice, and misconception
Some discrimination based on the prejudices still lingers today. While “Beaut i fu l Life” was on a i r, an advertisement was put on “The Chosun Daily.” Saying that the television show must take responsibility when a normal man, after seeing it, turns gay, it further accused the show that left men vulnerable to the spread of AIDS. The advertisement is an example of two very widely held misconceptions: that heterosexuals can be convinced into homosexuality through the media, and that homosexuals are more susceptible to AIDS.
Wanzaaa is sharing the pains she experienced before through comics. In the second episode “Inside the closet”, her friends were suspicious because some rumors said that she met a girl for dating. “I said someone said you are a homosexual. You are not a girl who gets along with other girls.” It is a message from her friend. Her teacher also prayed with her to cure her homosexuality. These events happened under the precondition that homosexuality is negative. Wanzaaa still faces internet bullying through replies to her comics since the main material is homosexual.
Discrimination against homosexuals can be seen even in the government. Section 5 in the 92nd Article of the Military Criminal Act specifically punishes sexual relationship between males. Yet no other part of the act makes an explicit reference to a sexual act between man and woman that i s punishable. In 2010 the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights activist group called “Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea” made a motion to remove or edit the particular section under the grounds that it was unconstitutional and a breach of rights for the gay Korean men. Their action was unsuccessful and the penalty was increased from up to one year incarceration to up to two years.
It is clear from the responses that prejudice about homosexual still exists. Of the students surveyed, 34.21% believed that homosexuality would cause a “collapse of existing values,” 18.15% believed it would “increase venereal diseases such as AIDS” and 17.91% thought it would cause a “decrease in birthrates.” However, if homosexuality is to be accepted as part of human nature, then the current moral values much be changed with homosexuals in mind.
When AIDS first became known to the world in the 80s, it was known as “gay cancer,” thought to only effect homosexuals. The scientific community now knows that the cause of AIDS, is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which is transmitted through blood and other body fluids. According to a campaign to eradicate AIDS known as Sidaction, 49% of AIDS patients were homosexual and only 14% were heterosexual. But, heterosexuals affected by AIDS overcame homosexual victims in 1996. From 1998 to 1999, homosexual victim rates remained at around 29%, but heterosexual rates increased to between 35% and 41%. Other diseases, such as syphilis and herpes, are not the caused by homosexual relationships but by unprotected contact with a carrier of the virus or the pathogenic organism.
The worries over the decrease in birthrate and the decrease in heterosexual individuals are also prejudices that are unsupported by hard evidence. NahIm says “it is not a zero-sum game where if the number of homosexuals increases the number of heterosexuals decrease.”
* * *
Siu compared the discriminations of homosexuals to racism. They show similarities in that in both cases, the majority discriminates the minority. Today, racism is now frowned upon and is even punishable by law. Should the same be happening to those who discriminate homosexuals?