Perhaps one of the strangest and most socially violating things I've ever experienced was being introduced to a Korean person. Within the first four minutes, they had extracted an extremely uncomfortable amount of information while our mutual friend stood by, watching and nodding as they confirmed all of my answers- two years worth of trust and what-not required to gain that.
요약: 서울에서 살면서 젊은 게이한국인들이 첫인상으로 보통 질문 5개 물어본다. 이름이 뭐냐, 몇 살이냐, 어디서 왔냐, 월급이 얼마냐, 성향이 뭐냐? 성향은 항문성교 할 때 마짜 (남자성향)나 때짜 (여성성향)이냐는 의미이다. 그래서 그 질문에 대해 생각하면 매우 간단하고 단도직입적인 그리고 매우 무례한 질문이다. 성향에 대해 질문을 받은 12명의 사람들은 너무 불안해하는 느낌이었고, 응답 이 후에 12명의 그들은 서로 미소로 속삭이고 인터뷰를 끝냈다. 첫 인상에 자주 프라이버시의 침해와 반대심문 같은 인터뷰를 받은 듯 보여서 그 행동의 이유를 알고싶었다. 한국인들이 목적적이고 직접적인 사람이기 때문에 그러한 질문을 물어보는 것일까? 한 명의 마짜친구는 친구들을 충분할만큼 사귀었기 때문에 데이트하려는 때짜들을 만나고 싶다고했다. 그래서 시간을 낭비하지 않도록 성향이 뭐냐고 물어본다. 그것은사람들이 기본적인 편의는 시간낭비라고 생각하기 때문에 사람들이 이미 작은 알고 있는 정보에 대해서 해산시켜야 하는지 그리고 공격적으로 전체 하위문화를 주도하는 이것은 무엇일까? 그리고 게이한국인들은 왜 그렇게 생각할까?
It was beyond disconcerting but I soon found that it was a normal practice over here in the Hermit Country, and perhaps in Asia as well. I soon learned to adjust and over the course of a very long period of time, grew confident enough to refuse answering questions I didn't like or felt no need to answer. Suddenly, I was back in my comfort zone. Then, I was taken for the first time to a Korean gay bar, and BAM! Back into a world of reeling discomforts.
Over the course of my year in Seoul, I discovered that a lot of the young gay guys I would end up interacting with had basically boiled that initial grill (첫인상) to five very simple, fast, and increasingly violating questions.
1. 이름이 뭐냐 (What's your name)
2. 몇살이냐 (How old are you)
3. 어디서 왔냐 (Where are you from)
4. 월급이 얼마냐 (How much money do you make)
5. 성향이 뭐냐 (What is your sexual position)
Upon reaching question four, I was already wriggling with displeasure at the conversation. I'm trying to down a bottle of soju here with you and our mutual friends- why do you need to know how much money I make? I'd dance around the question as best I could, and always qualify it somehow- "Oh, I make xxx amount, but I send at least half of it home every month". The truth, but embarrassingly unnecessary.
Then, we hit question five, and I'd immediately blush. The first time someone asked me was in front of a group of twelve people total (among which I knew only one), all staring intently at me and waiting for me to answer. I was already anxious and nervous about the whole situation- no one was speaking English and I was struggling just to follow the conversation! I fumbled through some BS answer to try to avoid giving any sort of definitive response, but it was too late- the others would smile and whisper among themselves, and the interview was over.
I had hoped that this would be an isolated incident, but it wasn't. Every time I would be out with some of the Korean gay buddies (regardless of how well I knew them), these five questions would come out as a sort of test for me to pass- not only with how I answered, but the exact vocabulary I would respond with (성향, for example, literally means 'tendency, inclination', but among the boys, it means top or bottom). There are special, Korean-only words for the positions, and my understanding and use of them would leave a variety of impressions.
Looking back to the year in Seoul where I was repeatedly subjected to this, I think I'm beginning to realize the reason for the whole process. It was a sort of interview, I think, because Koreans in general are very goal-oriented, 목적-driven people. Once, a guy told me that he has to ask right away because he was a bottom (마짜) and only ever was interested in meeting a top (때짜)- he already had enough friends (all bottoms) and only wanted a boyfriend and didn't want to waste his time.
It reminded me of this strange and prevalent belief back in the States that men and women can't be friends. Tops and bottoms couldn't be friends, according to that group philosophy, and it just weirded me the hell out. I have gay friends back home that I've known for years and whom I had no idea (or interest) as to whether they are a top or bottom. To me, it's always been irrelevant.
Yet, to many of these young guys, they just don't know how to interact with someone if there isn't a clear goal in mind. They have their friends that they 'play' (놀다) with, and the boys that they want to play with. The aggressiveness of it all was strange and frightening to me and so far, wholly absent in the more provincial city that I currently reside in.
Perhaps it's just inner-sight blindness, but I can't really recall anything too terribly similar to this at home. Readers, writers, and the community at large: any thoughts as to how this came about? I have some ideas, but before I share them, I'd like to hear back. What is it that drives an entire sub-culture to such aggressiveness to the point where people would dismiss an entire half of their already-small subculture simply because they believe even basic friendliness to be a waste of time?
Please share. I hope to include reactions and thoughts from the community along with my own ideas in the next entry.