Translation: Homosexuality in Korean News During the 50’s and 60’s “Determination of Minority-ness and Normalization of Masculinity

The following is a translation of Section 2 of Homosexuality in Korean News During the 50’s and 60’s. I’ll be translating one section a week. If you see any mistakes in my translation, please leave a comment below. ^^ 

The following is a translation of Section 2 of Homosexuality in Korean News During the 50’s and 60’s. I’ll be translating one section a week. If you see any mistakes in my translation, please leave a comment below. ^^ 

As we saw above, even if we can say it is a true story, homosexuality as exposed in the pressfundamentally cannot be a representative of true homosexuality during that time. We will continue to stress this point moving forward, looking at articles and instead of solely thinking ‘Oh, homosexuals were like that during that time’, but also, more importantly, to what extent the specifics of homosexual actions were made visible in the press, and in what context these were followed as matters of interest. Let’s look at this point a little more in earnest below.

In an article from the 1950’s dealing with female homosexuality, there were many cases introduced of “military wives” and their prostitution with the so-called foreign military(外軍). In the “special circumstances” springing from the not-infrequent homosexuality in men we can see a schemata forming with sexual-fueled murder as the result. The following is one specific case. On February 20th, 1958 in Paju the “comfort woman” Choi Jong-ae(31) used a bayonet of a rifle to stab and kill In Kye-sun(31), with whom she had been having a homosexual relationship.18)  In the following court case the story was used as the defendant’s testimony, and to analogize the circumstances, a recreation of the scene was presented. The story became a ‘scandal’19), because the defendant’s motivation for crime was non other than the ‘husband’ In Kye-sun’s “concubine”, essentially accepting another lover as a female concubine. At that time, it was the norm for married men to have a concubine, but here the paradigm of ‘masculinity’ was moved to the cheating partner who played the ‘husband’s role’.

 Donga Ilbo: Scandalous Murder Case Involving Those of the Same Sex 

Let’s look at another example. While we saw earlier that homosexuality was treated as a mental illness, it is interesting to find that later an article perceiving female sexuality as “frigidity” toward men and women relations. In the mid 1960s, in an article appearing in the first issue of the pornographic journal Hope(희망), women with the disposition of having homosexual attractions were portrayed as frigid and as “women rebellious toward men”. The article followed by describing the case of one who “is perceived to be beautiful” and due to a “strong sense of identity” could have frigidity in the sense that they are not satisfied by men.20)  (Gay) women’s sexuality was perceived through men’s eyes. 

Of course, female sexuality or homosexuality is not explainable through essentially ‘that which alludes to masculinity’. However, at the very least, what is treated in the press as it relates to homosexuality is analogous to comprehensive ‘masculinity’, and through this trade-off and the accompanying standards, we will be able to shed light on the ways scandals were embellished. The previous articles acted as such evidence. Furthermore, through these articles we can look at what ways homosexuality was normalized during this period, not necessarily as normalized ‘homosexuality’ but rather as normalized  ‘masculinity’ within that context. In this period the ‘reported’ sexual-minorities only became a ‘seen’ shape when the norms of masculinity were broken. 

However, within this normal ‘masculinity’, in what concrete ways were stories related to homosexuality alluded to? An article from 1932 in the Donga Ilbo emphasized that homosexuality was, contrary to “common wisdom”, a phenomenon common to many men, and the reason male homosexuality did not relatively stand out was due to the following. Normally, men were unlike women in that they did not deeply fall into love and were not “embracing their lover and crying deeply”, and, in comparison to women, men had a “strong stomach, were not brazen, and were brave” and so their romance did not especially stand out. At the same time, the writer continued by describing gay men’s “otherness” countering normal masculinity. 

If two men embrace the other with both arms looped around their necks, placing their rather nice-looking acne-filled cheeks together while playing music such as Galli-Curci, within that we find a more scandalous sight, such as an old bachelor with disheveled hair falling deeply in love with 14-15 year-old boys, his heart burning thinking “My lovely Chongnam! Waiting for you, I was on the verge of death! Your two cheeks, your eyes like morning stars, and your red and luscious cherry-like lips! Ah!” Appearing just as a love letter(艶書) written to one of the opposite sex, won’t people say “how is it possible to find anything more repulsive or comical?” (春川 李石薰, 「Same-sex Attraction Gossip(1)」, 『Donga Ilbo』 1932.3.17., 5.)

In the same manner, while falling deeply into romance fell short of normal ‘masculinity’, we can also find articles on the opposite side of the spectrum. An article from 1969 in Sunday Seoul described how men who drink too heavily may be suffering from a sort of “mental disease” through alcoholism, with Professor Min Byeong-geun(閔秉根) explaining that “It is clear that men who enjoy alcohol, particularly their drinking buddies more than women, clearly have homosexual tendencies”.21) Falling deeply into romance is not the only problem, but similarly having drinking friends, and the associated “homosexual tendencies”, becomes unaligned with appropriate “masculinity”. This is an example where we can see how masculinity becomes normalized through its conflicting connections to femininity

Let’s introduce one more example. In a 1939 article in the Joseon Iblo a piece was written psychologically analyzing a love triangle / murder between homosexual women, where medical doctor Myeong Ju-won(明柱完) described the women as “degenerates“, concluding with an explanation that the jealousy that led to murder was due to “perversion”. At this time, when explaining their jealousy as “perverted”, they made a point of providing an example of un-perverted jealousy, such as the case “where a husband goes out every night, drinks, and comes home late, so the wife fights with the husband and cries”, which is evaluated as the “most universal and commonsensical jealousy”.22) If this language is turned around, we can see what is believed to be the extent of jealous behavior, and they make a point to show what is “normal masculinity”. 

Through these examples of articles related to homosexuality, what is noticeable beyond the fragmentary sketches of homosexual crimes is the unknowing portrayal of “masculinity”, making its way into the stories like a sword dance. Through their arbitrary standards based on masculinity of the time, it is as if stories related to non-heterosexuality were selected to make scandals and present problems.

Leave a Comment