But a growing number of young Koreans are expressing their identities publicly via YouTube. They make videos on all aspects of their LGBTQ lives: coming out, pride parades, Q&As for the simply curious, and more.
The Korea Herald met with some of these Korean YouTubers to discuss why they make their videos, and what it means to be part of the LGBTQ community in Korea today.
Coming out in Korea
|YouTuber Luke Williams (Luke Williams)|
When Luke Williams was outed as gay to his parents by his high school homeroom teacher, the response was unexpected.
“My parents were really supportive. I cried when my mom told me, ‘You are my son anyway. I love you just the way you are,’” he said.
He started broadcasting via YouTube in 2015, when he realized many did not have such positive experiences. His first video is entitled, “Coming Out in Korea.”
“I saw one article about 70 percent of LGBT teenagers in Korea trying to commit suicide, and I thought my coming out was not that difficult compared to other Koreans. So I decided to share my experiences of gay life in Korea on YouTube,” he said.
Responses to Williams’ videos are largely positive but his openness is still a foreign concept for some who are used to living closeted lives.
“Actually, some Korean LGBT people think I am making the community worse off by showing our lifestyle. They want to keep our culture secret,” he said.
Williams recently moved to the US for work and study, but says he will continue spreading awareness of Korea’s LGBT culture.
“I will not stop being a gay Korean YouTuber until every LGBT person can be happy, with equal rights,” he said.
New channel on genderqueer issues
|YouTuber Hayden Royalty (Hayden Royalty)|
For Hayden Royalty, realizing they were “genderqueer” -- an individual who does not prescribe to socially defined concepts of “man” or “woman” -- was a moment of clarity. For this reason, Royalty uses “they” and “their” as preferred pronouns.
“Sometime in college, I met people who told me they identified as genderqueer. And when they explained that to me, I felt like they were describing me,” Royalty said.
Launched in late 2016, Royalty wants their channel to add diversity to YouTube -- a non-binary, Korean-American perspective.
“Luckily, my experience of being queer in Korea hasn’t been a problem. I think foreigners are perceived differently and they get a pass for a lot of behaviors,” Royalty said.
In a community that Royalty feels is still quite disconnected, LGBTQ YouTube channels may also help to stimulate dialogue and solidarity.
“I was really surprised to hear that lesbians didn’t have any gay male friends and vice versa. You don’t have to fight on the front lines and show up for protests, but educating yourself and others and exchanging conversations definitely helps,” Royalty said.
Although Royalty originally started the channel to make insightful videos, Royalty hopes their channel can increase visibility in wider popular culture.
“I would love to be shown in mainstream media and help make queer and Asian people here and in America visible. My dream would be to play a queer character in a show or film,” Royalty said.
Not alone: reaching out through YouTube
|YouTuber Soo Not Sue (Soo Not Sue)|
At first, Soo’s YouTube channel was just for fun -- a way to combine her love of social media and an interest in photography and video-making.
But what was initially a hobby is now part of a bigger voice. Along with three other YouTubers, Soo was one of six ambassadors for the 2017 Korea Queer Culture Festival.
Being a public face of a largely underground community has its drawbacks though.
“Some people say I’m disgusting. I try not to care, but sometimes it hurts me because I’m also human,” she said.
Despite challenges, Soo wants to keep making content that resonates with people like herself. She was touched when fans she met at this year’s pride festival said her videos were encouraging.
“Many closeted people feel like they are alone because they don’t have queer friends with whom they can share their story. But when they watch my videos, they feel like they are not alone,” she said.
She plans to make more short film-style coming-out stories, starting with her own coming out as a bisexual woman just a few weeks ago.
Although she has been on YouTube for two years, she now finally feels comfortable enough to be honest about her identity, and hopes others can do the same.
“You can love who you love. There are so many queer people like you in this country. Be proud of yourself,” she says.
By Chantelle Yeung / Intern reporter (firstname.lastname@example.org)