Homosexuality is outlawed in many countries and generally people do not know the reasons which are mostly related to religious views. Perhaps not everyone is familiar with the western vocabulary, as it often happens with the LGBTQIA asylum seekers from the Sub-Saharan Africa or the Indian Subcontinent, but they have an idea of what makes them different.
There is also another reality: governments so intrusive and absolute that are be able to even erase any concept that can be distressing. It is the case of North Korea as A Mark of Red Honor, the soon to be published memoir by Jang Yeong-jin recounts. The author, exiled in Seoul for the past twenty years, discovered his homosexuality at thirty-seven, after reading an article right after arriving in the South Korean capital.
Jang knew he wasn’t in love with his wife and felt ashamed for: “having ruined a woman’s life”. During the course of his life, he tried to speak up about it many times. “When I attended Pyongyang University I went to see a neurologist, trying to understand why I was so different from anyone else. But as soon as I started talking about my feelings, I had to run out of the office, because the doctor started yelling at me” he tells a CNN interviewer in anticipation of his biography release.
Jang knew since childhood, he felt something special for his best friend, which whom he maintained an intense relationship for years in his adulthood. Their wives weren’t concerned as they seen it as an old, tight friendship. “One day, my friend came to visit. That night, I left my wife’s side to join his. My heart was beating so fast as he slept and I couldn’t figure out why I felt so hurt by him. I got up, went outside and saw a wild goose flying over my head. I knew then I had to leave.
Jang fled to China in 1996, where he was sent back to North Korea. He escaped his country again, this time toward South Korea where he finally realized what tormented him for so many years.
Despite not understanding the meaning of his condition, which he couldn’t even define, Jang saw other people who felt like he did: “When I was in the military there was a senior officer who had the same problem as me after he got married. There was also a man in my hometown who never got married and lived alone all his life. North Korean society treats these people as abnormal” he says.
In South Korea, there were other difficulties: “Being a defector, means being a stranger in this society […] For all defectors it is hard to settle down, but for me the hardships doubled”. Jang also recounted of a man starting a relationship with him and then disappearing with all his money. However, despite all the difficulties, he has not lost the hope of being able to live like everyone else: loving and travelling; hoping to start over at 60.
Unfortunately, there is also a powerful Christian lobby in South Korea who is preventing anti-discrimination laws. Moon Jae-in, former human rights activist and current 12th President of South Korea, to is rumored to be opposed to homosexuality and to agree with from prosecutor Hong Joon-pyo, from the conservative party, that: “Gay soldiers are a weakness in the Korean military”.
Moon’s supporters claim that he used such statements to gather conservative votes. However, the LGBTQIA community has no intention of letting it go: “His words can influence what people think” said activist Jung Yol. Moon was prompt to rectify his petition and to apologize to the LGBT community. [Today]
translated by Barbara Burgio
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