Secret loves emerge from shadows

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Secret loves emerge from shadows

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Every time she fell in love Kim Eun-joo (not her real name) would have painful fights with her family because they hated the people she was dating. Or, more specifically, they hated the women she was dating.
“My mother told me she would have more pity on me if I came home pregnant,” said the 25-year-old lesbian. “She cried, saying she would find it easier to forgive me if I was a murderer.”
Ms. Kim, who spoke to the JoongAng Daily on the condition that her identity be concealed, bit her lip as she remembered the fights at home. On one occasion, her mother drove Ms. Kim and her partner to a bridge over the Han River and suggested they all jump into the water and “end this shame forever.”
“A homosexual daughter was just too much for her to accept,” she said. Ms. Kim was raised to believe that lesbianism is sinful. To her mother, a sincere Christian, her lesbian daughter wanted a lifestyle that was the ultimate transgression.
When I met her she sat with her legs crossed on the floor of her small basement apartment in western Seoul. She offered me coffee and had a banana for herself. She twirled a pen between her fingers as she tried to find a way to describe the pain she suffered when she first discovered her sexual orientation.
As a child, she said, adults always saw her as a tomboy. Her friends had mostly been boys, and she liked playing with toy robots. She took the role of the father when playing house. When she went shopping, her mom scolded her for picking out a pair of sneakers instead of a shiny pair of Mary Janes.
She soon realized that being called a tomboy was not a compliment. She said she felt she was not like other girls, but didn’t know why ― until she was in middle school and realized she liked an older girl at her Sunday school much more than she should.
“My heart beat so hard when I was with her that I couldn’t look her in the face. I would dress up in my best clothes on Sundays to look nice for her,” she said. “Like all adolescents, I had a crush on someone.”
She never had a chance to tell this girl she loved her. But in high school, she met another girl who reciprocated her feelings. They met secretly after school. Some kids joked that they might be lesbians, but they did not care. They thought they were safe because nobody would believe there could be real lesbians in a prestigious all-girls Christian high school.
When she became a senior, she found the courage to write an email to the owner of a gay bar in Itaewon. She said she wanted to meet more people of her sexual orientation.
“Do you get a lot of people like me in your bar?” she wrote. But before she could send the letter, it was found by her father. “My life turned upside down,” she said.
Her parents screamed at her, then consoled her, then prayed for her. Then they confronted her partner’s parents who also screamed at her and told them to never meet each other again. Word spread and her classmates began to ostracize her. She discovered that Korea has taboos against lesbianism and female sexuality, the latter based on the idea, deeply rooted in Korean culture, that a strong sexuality is the preserve of men.
Despite her efforts to stay straight, in 2005 Ms. Kim fell in love again with another girl who lived in the same apartment building. She was the daughter of her father’s boss. When her mother found out, she panicked. She sent her daughter to live overseas with missionaries.
“She told me I was sexually sick and told me that I might be cured through prayer,” she said. She said she tried very hard to “overcome” her identity. “I prayed every night that I would be normal again,” she said. But, one day, at a missionary camp in Russia, her pastor read Romans Chapter 1 verse 24 from the Bible. It refers to homosexuality as sin and she felt other people were whispering and pointing at her. For months, she had endured being treated like a patient. But this time, she exploded. She ran out of the chapel crying. She still knows those verses well.
“God will give them up to desires of their hearts to such impurity as dishonoring their own bodies,” she read. “For this reason God abandoned them to shameful passions. Their women perverted natural functions for the unnatural.” She stopped reading and smiled. “Hey, but did you know that in Western countries the verse has other translations?” she said. “There are pro-gay Bibles.”
Ms. Kim did not know that then. She confessed to her pastor that she was a lesbian and must be possessed by the devil. Everyone prayed for her and said they would be her friend. For once she felt happy, but her religious euphoria did not last.
When she came back to Seoul in 2006, she found nothing had changed. Her feelings for her lover remained. In college, she found out that there were lesbians who met online but they refused to recognize each other on campus. By contrast, male homosexuals were holding public protests for gay rights and television shows often dealt with gay issues.
Ms. Kim said she now vists lesbian cafes and bars without feeling guilty. She no longer believes her sexuality is a sin. She just keeps her lifestyle separate from her family.
“The places are just the same as any bar, but no one stares at you just because you are with a girl,” she said, explaining that Sinchon and Hongdae have several lesbian bars.
Ms. Kim said she thought about joining a lesbian rights group, but decided not to out of deference to her family’s feelings. “We don’t talk about it at home anymore, and I try not to remind them that I am a lesbian either,” she said. “We Korean lesbians joke, you know, even if the whole world knows you are a lesbian, don’t let your family know.”


By Lee Min-a Staff Writer [mina@joongang.co.kr]
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