From Sleepless in Seattle to "I Seoul U": How Korean Gay Men Narrative, Negotiate and Reproduce Discourses of Race, Culture, Religion and Sexual (In)Visibility
Thomsen, Patrick Saulmatino
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In both Seattle and Seoul, Korean gay men have often been constructed as marginal, whose perpetual invisibility to the public sphere has been attributed to intensely-heterosexist cultural configurations complicated by Christianity. This dissertation project deploys a 3-paper/chapter format to investigate how Korean gay men are navigating this marginal space through qualitative research methods. Over the course of 2-years in (1 year) Seattle and (1 year) Seoul, I completed an ethnographic study that included interviews with Korean gay men about how they navigated questions of sexual visibility in the form of the coming-out narrative as an affective discourse. I found that Korean gay men have their coming-out story affected by a complex milieu of factors that were also affected by the transnational context in which their conceptions of the self was also formed. In the first analytical chapter, I story how Korean gay men in Seattle navigate the complex nature of a Korean American community that is constructed around the primacy of the Korean American Christian Church. From this phase of fieldwork, I identified how Korean gay men construct what has been coined here as: Situated Embedded Narratives (SENs). Where along with select family members, they construct a heteronormative narrative to allow them to present as heterosexual to extended family and the Korean American community at large. In doing so they are able to live as “out” gay men in the American work place and among non-Koreans without upsetting the normative constructs of the Korean American community. I argue that this is an adaptive strategy that is culturally-sensitive, which suggests Korean gay men do come-out, but due to their relative intersectional-status, do so in a way that reflects the complex intersections of racialized/ethnic others with a gay sexual identity. This also brings into question the appropriateness of coming-out models that have been valorized in the West, premised on a public performance of sexual identity being an important proxy for a healthy gay identity. In the second analytical paper/chapter, based on the narratives of informants in Seoul, I investigate how Korean gay men are affected by the discursive power of Western constructs around gay sexual liberation and a cosmopolitan gay identity. In Seoul, informants’ narratives demonstrate how notions of a coming-out and gay futurity was directly impacted by Western normative constructs around a gay identity through a variety of transnational flows including television programs, music, Western celebrities and direct travel to Western countries. As a result, Korean gay men are now imagining a type of gay futurity that has also adapted to the pressures of a globalizing Korean society. Where they take-up the project of self-cultivation as a way to negotiate a new type of relationality and postionality within their families and wider South Korean society. I also argue that in order to do so, it required informants to construct narratives that placed Korean society as “lesser” than the West in relation to gay sexual identities. Their narratives also suggest the idea that a Korean family may be a site of negotiated futurity as opposed as just rigidly heterosexist. Opening up new sites of possible futurity in South Korea for gay men. The third analytical paper/chapter brings together the narratives of Seattle and Seoul informants to demonstrate how they are coopted subjects in formations of racialized modernity that orbits around whiteness as its referential. In this chapter, I show how informants are both subjected to racialization and coopted agents of racialization due to the unique Korean configuration of racial hierarchies that derives from Korea’s own history and contemporary context. I also argue that due to the power-configuration that posits Korean views of gay identity as inferior to the West, a racialized connection, or inverted convergence functions to re-inscribe Western hegemony. Thus, both coinciding with, and re-inscribing Korean racial hierarchies that mirror processes in the West. This places non-White ethnic groups below Whites in the gay communities in both the US and Korea. This dissertation also makes a unique epistemological contribution to the Korean Studies literature through my positionality as a Samoan-New Zealander. Data generation for this dissertation used talanoa dialogue, an interpretivist, culturally-sensitive research method from the Pacific that connects to Western-ways of knowing through its constructionist nature. As such, this dissertation contributes to knowledge in both substantive and methodological ways that opens up new frames in which we can understand Korean gay men’s visibility.
- East Asian studies