The Korea Herald


Should a feminine boy be told to take up martial arts to be more manly?

Top psychiatrist sparks debate after giving advice to ‘correct’ gender-nonconforming children

By Yim Hyun-su

Published : March 17, 2022 - 15:11

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“My Golden Kids” (Channel A) “My Golden Kids” (Channel A)
When a TV psychiatrist in South Korea recently gave advice in hopes of correcting the gender nonconforming behavior of a child, some experts and LGBT activists expressed concern.

Critics say that seeing such behavior as “problematic” and “something to be corrected” can limit children’s gender expression and can also be harmful in worse cases.

The latest episode of “My Golden Kids,” which aired March 11, centered on a boy who likes to wear makeup and feminine clothes. The TV show features star psychiatrist and university professor Oh Eun-young, who observes the behavior of children and provides tips to better parent them.

Being the youngest of the six siblings and having a single mother, the boy said he likes skirts because “they are pretty.”

When asked why he likes to wear makeup, the kid answered, “I like getting pretty while looking in the mirror.” He also called his older sisters “unnie” instead of “noona.” While both terms mean “older sister,” the former is used by younger girls while the latter is used by younger boys.

In one scene, the kid dances to a Blackpink song while wearing heels and smiling.

Though Oh highlighted the difference between assigned sex and gender identity, she said a “deeper look” is necessary and essential education did not seem to have been provided in terms of sex typing -- the process through which certain activities are associated as appropriate expressions of maleness and femaleness.

Later in the show, Oh suggests to the parent that the kid take up taekwondo to mingle with older boys and get physically stronger to overcome feelings such as fear.

But Dr. Horim Yi, who has a Ph.D. in public health and is also an activist at the Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea, said such an approach “lacks scientific backing” and can be harmful to children’s mental health.

“It’s quite worrisome that an expert who should be aware of these latest views said something that could spread the misunderstanding of children’s gender expression and that it was broadcast,” Yi said.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, efforts to change the core gender identity of youth whose gender identity clashes with their sex anatomy have been described under the “conversion therapy rubric.”

Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea, an LGBT rights and counseling organization, also expressed concern.

“Dr. Oh Eun-young is a very influential figure and people who firmly trust her might be quick to diagnose children’s gender expression.”

Kim Ji-hak, who heads the nonprofit organization Diversity Korea, said what influential figures like Oh say will have a significant impact on society.

“Many parents with transgender children might go to Oh or other people to seek counseling and ask to correct their children,” Kim said.

In the recent episode of the show, the child also received a lesson from a sex education teacher.

“Does a skirt only belong to women? It’s OK to differentiate men and women, but discrimination is not OK,” the teacher said.

Later in the show, Oh also pointed out that the child had been raised by a single mom and said that through the process of a divorce, boys can turn against their father and want to look as far apart as possible. She also said that daughters who have a bad relationship with their mothers can end up acting like a tomboy to resemble their father more.

These remarks perpetuate traditional gender role stereotypes, said sex columnist Eun Ha-sun.

“In my view, the idea that it’s a problem when someone even slightly strays from gender roles and to seek counseling because it needs to be corrected is reflective of the social frame that is hostile to sexual minorities.”

Many have stood by Oh as they agree that given the lack of friendliness towards the LGBT community in South Korea, characterizing the kid’s gender identity would have been too revealing on national TV.

But others have said it is time different approaches were explored.

“You don’t have to characterize children as sexual minorities, but counselors should be open-minded,” Eun said.

While refraining from categorizing the kid’s identity, Kim said it is a dated notion in general that a major incident or episode is always behind people’s gender identity or being a sexual minority.

“If (as Oh said) the experience of going through a divorce and being fearful of a father changed the child’s behavior, how would you explain the other five siblings who weren’t displaying similar behavior?”