Drag queens remain a rare sight in Korea but no doubt are the number of them increasing in 2021, especially for a country that’s still quite conservative (보수적인) when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. If you’ve always been curious about the existence of Drag Queens in Korea, we hope that this post was a fun read for you!
Where Are Drag Shows Held?
Majority of drag shows happen in Itaewon (이태원), a diverse international neighbourhood that has become the capital’s main gay district and is known as “homo hill” to the LGBTQ community and locals. The first Seoul Drag Parade held in 2018, attracted over 1,000 participants, far surpassing the initial estimate of 100 people.
Korea’s Largest LGBTQ+ Festival
Compared to the past (과거), drag culture exists in more diverse forms for both men and women and now Korea has drag queens performing on stage at (the annual) Queer Culture Festival which is Korea’s largest LGBTQ+ festival, attracting over 150,000 participants in 2019.
Drag Is A Form Of Expression
Like drag queens around the world, Hurricane Kimchi (a Seoul-born Korean queer artist and activist) uses performance to express himself, break stereotypes and get rid of toxic masculinity. Korean society (한국 사회) as you can imagine is crazy stressful.
Working hours are so long, kids have to study until really late at night and there’s a need for an escape (탈출). Drag is a way of getting away from what you usually do, having fun and showing off what you are good at.
Drag Empowers Those Still Figuring Their Identities
Gender-fluid drag queen and YouTuber, Serena 303 uses K-pop and ’70s fashion models as inspiration for her looks, which includes a transparent (투명한) plastic dress paired with a pink visor. Her videos, in which she offers makeup tutorials and shares what it’s like to be in drag are designed to empower those still figuring out their identities.
“I want to tell them that it’s OK to be who you are and show them that someone like me can do drag,” she said. “The most important thing is that people are going to love you.”
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
There remains a pervasive “don’t ask, don’t tell (묻지도 말하지도마)” attitude towards gender-nonconforming and LGBTQ+ communities in Korea. Hurricane Kimchi (허리케인 김치), who uses public transport (대중 교통) to travel to his weekly show said that no one dares to look at him during the 30-minute (30분) journey.
“People might think and judge but they wouldn’t say anything out loud,” he said. “Even when I walk around with my drag makeup, people don’t even look at you, they don’t really do or say anything.”
Conservative Social Attitudes Remain Prevalent
Conservative social attitudes remain prevalent throughout Korea, which does not legally recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions (시민 조합) and homosexuality remains illegal in the military (군) where it is punishable by up to two years in prison. In 2014, Korea’s National Institute of Korean language (국립국어원) reverted its 2012 decision to make the word ‘love’ gender-neutral after complaints from religious groups. It now defines love as a feeling of affection “between man and woman.”
Living As A Sexual Minority In Korea
The LGBTQ+ population (인구) are labeled as going against the Bible (성경) or going against Confucian tradition and parental values by a lot of people, especially the older generation in Korea.
There are even arguments made that gay and lesbian (레즈비언) people are pro-North Koreans, that they are kind of traitors to their nation. Whether you are gay, lesbian or transgender, living as a sexual minority in Korea can be very difficult.
The Influence Of Pop Culture
The influence of pop culture has been helping the drag community in Korea gain greater acceptance. Hurricane Kimchi said the arrival of Netflix (넷플릭스) in Korea in 2016, which brought shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” exposed many Koreans to drag culture for the first time.
The internet (인터넷) is also taking drag culture out of the clubs and into the bedrooms (침실) of young Koreans. Before the internet, the drag world would have been confined to the physical space of the club but now with the internet and Youtube, one can kind of fashion themselves and their own style and persona, communicating with other people virtually.
That’s a really interesting phenomenon and it’s having a wider impact on Korea’s LGBTQ+ community. “Parades (퍼레이드), events and shows all help to bring drag to a broader audience”, Hurricane Kimchi said.
Drag Is Not Just About Performing
To Hurricane Kimchi and many more drag queens in Korea and all over the world (전세계), drag is not just about performing — it’s about breaking down barriers and encouraging other people to embrace their true identities.
“I’m not going to be the prettiest beauty queen or the best performer, or the highest paid drag performer,” Kimchi said. “Those are not my goals. I want to combine drag with activism and art and provide people safe space where they can perform drag and try out drag.”
Did you enjoy today’s blog? We hope that this has helped you learn a thing or two regarding the drag scene in Korea and about Korea’s LQBTQ+ community!