On June 26, 2015, The United States Supreme Court ruled that the ban of same-sex marriage is against the basic human rights that the United States Constitution states. Journalists rushed out of the court to spread the news. Rainbows were everywhere in the U.S. that day. And after two days, on June 28, 2015, the 15th Queer Festival took place in Seoul, South Korea. Quite a nice timing, isn’t it?
Text: Yeonwoo Baik // Photo: Boji Party
The City Hall Square of Seoul flooded with people, both with supporters for sexual minorities and those who were against them. Last year, haters blocked the parade route and supporters were stuck in the middle of the route for three or four hours without being able to move an inch, while the police did not do anything really. This year, the parade went smoothly and the police did quite a good job. It is unclear what made such a difference just within a year. Perhaps it is because quite a few people working in foreign embassies expressed their support for the Festival.
But nonetheless, the Internet was bombarded with comments written by haters after the Festival. One of the most common kinds of comments was criticism about the revealing clothes of LGBT people, saying that their position as minorities does not give them right to break the societal rule on dress code, on “the right time and place”. They kept saying that they are not against sexual minorities, that they just wanted minorities to appeal themselves in a more “proper way”. Perhaps we can name their argument as “conditional acknowledgement of rights”. As long as you follow the rule the society has set, then I will acknowledge that you have the right to be who you are. But then, who sets the rule?
Who decides «the right time and place»?
The way societal rules work is inherently conservative. It attempts to maintain the society as it is by making people follow certain codes that already exist. In a perfect society where everything is distributed equally and no change is needed, this might not matter that much. However, there are majorities and minorities in our society, in terms of power relation. Here, the conservatism inevitably leads to the maintenance of such imbalance. Then we can think about the questions mentioned above in this way. Who gets more chances to get their voices reflected when setting rules? Who wants the society to remain the same? The answer will be: those who have more to lose when there comes a change. To make people follow rules and codes of an imperfect society without any question means to make them turn their eyes from injustice.
Here lies the problem in the statement such as “I support the rights of sexual minorities, but I am skeptical about the way Queer Festival takes on—it is too radical for the majorities to embrace. They should devise more proper and kind way to deliver their voices.” It is a statement for the majorities’ right to censor what the minorities say and do. The subjectivity of minorities is denied, and only surveillance and censorship take place.
Furthermore, some sexual minority people in South Korea show negative attitudes towards the way Queer Festival takes on, partly agreeing to those kinds of statement made by haters. They say radical sexual minorities ruin their image and make majorities more critical towards them. However, accepting the statement eventually means accepting the surveillance and censorship. To be radical might make more people turn their back away from sexual minorities for now, but in the end, it will be the people who try to be “nice and kind sexual minorities welcomed by the majorities», that will eventually do harm to the right of the sexual minorities.
What exactly do they hate?
Moreover, you know what? It is not that South Koreans do not like revealing clothes. They go enthusiastic about young celebrities wearing revealing clothes, and hidden cameras to secretly film women’s bodies are everywhere. They still have an event called “Miss Korea” where women in swimsuits show off their bodies. And they argue that to like sexy people and erotic materials is human nature. Then why are they reacting so negatively towards the revealing clothes of sexual minorities? Well, here is one similarity in the cases mentioned above. Half naked bodies of young celebrities, women’s bodies filmed by hidden cameras, women in swimsuits showing off their bodies in front of the panel. The women are mostly aimed to please someone else other than themselves.
Then what about the revealing clothes of sexual minorities in Queer Festival? They wear such clothes to enjoy and celebrate their existence and rights. They are not there to please others. It is the same with ‘SlutWalk’—there are many people who are enthusiastic about women’s naked bodies but do not stand ‘SlutWalk’. Sexuality with subjectivity carried out by minorities, whether they are minorities in sexual orientations or in gender, is considered dangerous, because it defies the power imbalance between the majorities and the minorities. The majorities allow the minorities to be sexual beings only when they can objectify the minorities. Here, the revealing clothes of sexual minorities in Queer Festival act as a part of a performance devised to overturn the existing conventions that suppress and deny the subjectivity of them.
Three lesbians formed a group called «boji party», and they baked and sold «boji-pulbang»(a.k.a. bozzy madeleine) during the Festival. «Boji» is originally a neutral word-meaning vulva in South Korean. (And as the name tells, the madeleine looked like a vulva). However, the word has been used to belittle women for quite some time. On many male-dominated South Korean websites, it is easy to see people who overtly express their hatred and sexual desire towards women at the same time. Most of the time, they call women by the word boji. In these contexts, the nuance of the word boji has now become closer to cunt. Thus, many people said that the madeleine was vulgar, both in its name and in its form. However, there are evidences that so many people love boji. Then why was the madeleine criticized so much?
Because it was one of the rare occasions, where boji was not owned and said by males. Women who openly show their sexual desire are still often considered vulgar—it is at this point where the word boji turns from a neutral word to a word with negative connotation. These lesbians defied the expectation of the society by openly speaking out loud the word that people use to express their hatred and derision towards women, stating that they are sexual beings with sexual desire and that that they are not ashamed of it, that there is no reason that the word boji should be used to belittle women. Plus, they are lesbians, who can live without males. In this situation, how could males, who are the majority of the society, not feel threatened by the bozzy madeleine?
As long as there exists power imbalance, there will always be someone who feels uncomfortable and threatened by a social movement, since there will always be someone who has to give up some privileges that have been something so natural to him/her until then. Conditional acknowledgement of rights equals denial of rights in the long term, because the power imbalance will never disappear when the decision of the condition and acknowledgement is in the hands of the majorities. People who are willing to accept sexual minorities only when they behave in a way that suits their taste and does not defy them—can they ever call themselves tolerant?