AROUND THE WORLD: Candy Yun, South Korea

Jun 19, 2021 | 2020 Fall - Out at Work, Around the World

By Candy Yun

The first time I recognized myself as bisexual, I was in high school. I fell into a terrible unrequited love for someone of my own sex. It was a stormy time and my unrequited love was unsuccessful, but this experience helped me realize that I could have same-sex attraction. A few years later, a friend introduced me to a lesbian community website. In the “Introduction to Terminology” section of the site, I first learned the word “bisexual,” and I could see that it described my experience.

During the next few years, I had no community, and I didn’t worry much about identity. Even though we’ve had pride parades since 2000, most of the South Korean LGBTAIQ+ community is based in Seoul, the capital city, so people who don’t live in Seoul have difficulty finding actual community spaces (like bars, clubs, and organizations), except online. Perhaps for this reason, though I had adopted a bisexual identity, I did not think of myself as a member of the LGBTAIQ+ community. During the seven years I spent with my now ex-boyfriend, my heterosexual community was very stable and solid, so my identity as bisexual was not much more than a word to describe me.

The situation changed after I moved to Seoul. I moved there in search of a new job, but I quit after just over a year. At that time, I didn’t tell anybody in my workplace about my sexual orientation. I was not sure about my colleagues’ sensitivity toward LGBTAIQ+ issues and I didn’t want to take any risks. But it made me kinda lonely at that time, so I decided that I would find work at a place where I could express myself. That’s why I started working on the “Sexual Minority Committee” within the “progressive party” that I had previously never paid much attention to. Since then, most of my life has been focused on LGBTAIQ+ issues. When I started working for the Sexual Minority Committee, I formed a transgender organization in connection with transgender issues and it led me to the Korean Sexual-minority Culture & Rights Center, for which I now work. KSCRC covers various activities, including cultural events (such as Pride House PyeongChang), education (lecture and research), advocacy, etc.

I don’t know how much everyone knows about South Korea. In short, it is a country in which being LGBTAIQ+ is not a crime. We have had Pride Parades for more than 20 years, and Korea is a country where one can legally change one’s gender marker, and various LGBTAIQ+ organizations are openly active. However, social invisibility, discrimination, and hatred are still high, and even though being LGBTAIQ+ is not a crime, consensual sex with a same-sex partner in the army is illegal, and same-sex marriage is not recognized. During presidential elections, the question Do you agree or disagree with homosexuality? is a regular question for TV debates, and only a small number of celebrities have come out publicly. Can you imagine what South Korea is like?

I always explain that South Korea is on the verge of crossing a hill for change. We all know that change will accelerate once we cross this hill, so those who oppose us resist getting over the hill, and we who want change struggle to figure out how to move forward quickly.

Living in South Korea as a bisexual and as an activist, I face various concerns. Rather than organizing separately under each identity, our LGBTAIQ+ movement is united together under “sexual minorities,” working together to reduce hatred and discrimination and achieve our rights. Bisexual people are generally subsumed under this broader category and are often erased in the public conversation. Same-sex marriage, for example, is often referred to as “gay/lesbian marriage” because for the public, it is easier to message “gay/lesbian marriage” than lesbian/gay/bisexual marriage. More diverse sexual identity movements are being discussed and recognized, but it seems to take a little more time for them to spread to the public.

However, there have been changes, and a bisexual movement has emerged over the years. A bisexual group was established in 2013. One of its activities was the publication of bisexual webzines (which have been temporarily suspended since 2017). The organization I work for began celebrating Bisexual Visibility Day online in 2015, and in 2017 we marched with a giant ten-meter bisexual flag at the Busan Queer Culture Festival. In 2018, an organization called Non-mono Planet was formed, and they are actively doing podcasts and hosting regular events. Still, bisexual people hear a lot of “once in a lifetime [just a phase]” or “confusion.” So, being able to find something visible plays a big role in clarifying that my identity is not fake or a mistake.

It is my hope to create a place to discuss each movement’s agenda in terms of bisexuality, including what the direction of the movement is from the perspective of bisexuals in the LGBTAIQ+ movement and what same-sex marriage means to bisexuals, and so on.

But what I am most proud of is that when the people in the LGBTAIQ+ movement refer to us as “gays and lesbians,” I remind them that we should say “LGBT” instead because we also have bi and trans people here. And I organized the 10-meter bisexual flag that was unfolded and displayed in a Pride parade.

Next thing you know, I have been working in LGBTAIQ+ spaces for more than 15 years. In that time I met a friend, met a partner, and found a purpose for my life. And still I learn how to respect and love my bi identity every day. Within the movement community, I can meet my partner at the camp for queer women, and meet my friend at various projects like organizing a pride parade or film festival, or promoting the anti-discrimination bill. And because we—my partner and friends— have similar interests and sensibilities, I feel that “finally I’ve gotten my chosen family!”

My girlfriend and I have been together for 11 years. I dream of marrying her someday. And I dream of a day when this “same-sex marriage” of mine is introduced precisely as “a same-sex marriage of a lesbian and a bisexual person,” not as “a lesbian marriage.”

Candy Yun, 39 years old, lives in Seoul, South Korea with her partner and two old-but-still-cute cats.

Candy Yun

Candy (left) and friend at pride parade

Candy’s first design for a bisexual sticker for pride parade

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