Seoul, one of the most technologically advanced places in the world, is filled with gadgets, gizmos, and particulary conservative viewpoints. Korea is well-known for its culture of normativity and idol worship. Men and women frequently alter their bodies to fit in. It’s a land of structure. It’s a land of heirarchy.
Meet Heezy Yang. He is a strong voice within the Korean gay community and has a strong passion for equality. I recently caught up with Heezy and asked him a few questions about the LGBT community in Seoul.
Hey, Heezy. How are you today?
Pretty good. I was busy with some illustrations and a street performance last week so I barely slept last week and last night I slept for like 12 hours. I feel much better after having that long sleep.
How did you start really getting involved in gay rights in South Korea?
It all happened quite naturally. Frankly I don’t really know how all this happened. First, I was a part of the community as a gay man. Second, I like art and being creative. They got combined gradually and naturally, I think. I have made some pieces about LGBT and did a few street performances to bring awareness and people started to consider me as an activist or a queer artist. I do not mind those titles but I wouldn’t define myself as a queer artist or an activist. I do a lot of things and I do some LGBT related stuff too.
Since South Korea is technically a Christian nation. How do you think people receive the idea of maybe not following the bible. For example, most Christians believe homosexuality is a sin, yet it still states to “Love our neighbors.” Are they still accepting of the gay community, or do they fight it?
In Korea, there hasn’t been the concept of being gay until recently, even though there were always gay people. As LGBT people started to raise their voice and fight for their rights more and more, people in general started to notice LGBT people and so did the Christians. Yes, the fight isn’t easy. I heard Christians even brought their toddlers and infants to gay pride and laid down in front of the floats with their babies to stop the gay parade. I was there too but I was performing on the float so I couldn’t see it with my eyes. The sight was blocked.
With countries like the US having LGBT victories by allowing same-sex marriage state by state, do you think South Korea will eventually follow?
Yeah, I’m pretty sure it will happen eventually. Korea has developed a lot in such a short time finacially since the war and stuff, but people are not mentally following all the changes and not accepting the new, western concepts easily. But then again, everything changes SO quickly in Korea, so I’m positive about this issue. I’m not saying it will be easy. It’s got a long way to go and it’ll be very tough but we are getting there eventually. There are so many people working so hard and fighting so hard. And unlike the current politicians and the government, young people are surprisingly open-minded.
So, you have hosted a number of events supporting the LGBT community in Seoul. What do people normally think when they see your events? Is it a comfortable place to hang out and mingle with people who are like-minded, or is it like an awkward middle school dance?
I don’t throw those events anywhere. I make sure they happen in the circumstances where LGBT people can be safe and homophobias are not welcomed. The location and the owner of the venue matter a lot. To my LGBT friendly events, only LGBT people and allies (those who support LGBT people) come, so everybody has a good time and make friends and stuff.
South Korea has the 6th highest suicide rate in the world, what percent of that do you think is teens or young adults? As a country that is all about fitting in and conforming to their pop idols, do you think a lot of those teen suicides are due to not being able to keep up with the latest trends? As a teenager that grew up in South Korea, what were your struggles?
I have no idea about the percentage and stuff since I’m not really an activist or a researcher. Though I should probably study more in order to help LGBT people better. I will try to work on it. Well, as you said, fitting in and keeping up with all the expectations seems to be pretty much everything in this country. It was not my case though. Probably because of my parents. My Mom as a teacher did force me to fit in the society and not to let people down but she was a strong person and my Dad was an artist with a free spirit. That makes me a strong, free-spirited artist I guess? As a kid it was hard to fight against all the pressures and expectations. People tell me what to do and force me to be what they want me to be. I kept fighting. It included fighting against my own mother, too. It got seriously damn bad at one point. Now that I’m an adult and I do a lot of things independently and I have achieved certain things, people are like, “Sure, keep on doing what you do,” and that’s pretty cool. It takes time and effort but you can still be who you are and survive in this country too, I think.
When you told your parents you were gay for the first time, how did they react? Did they still see you as the same son they’ve had or did they look down on you?
Sorry but this is honestly a boring question that was asked so many times, so I’ll answer it very briefly. My Mom and sister are open minded, as they spend a lot of time watching American TV series and films, so they are completely okay and accepting. I didn’t get to tell my Dad since he doesn’t live in Seoul any more and I don’t get to see him often. However, I think he would be okay with it too since he was always the least conservative one in family.
What advice would you give to teens and young adults who are struggling to hide their preferences in order to fit in? Teens who are really having a hard time expressing themselves the way they want to, so they wont be seen as a bad person to their peers?
It’s their choice, so I can’t tell them what to do, but I can tell them that it will take away a lot of pressure from their shoulders and it’s not the end of the world. A lot of LGBT people in Korea live in the fear that they will lose everything when they come out, but that’s not true. You may lose some things, but you will also gain some things– the real things.
I know you’re an artist, story-teller, and are involved in photography. What inspires your work?
It’s all about expressing what’s in my mind. Sometimes it’s about my past relationships. Sometimes it’s about my depression and anxiety problems. Sometimes it’s about my sexuality. Sometimes it’s about more complicated issues. I get inspired by films a lot as my Dad used to be a really famous film critic in Korea. He showed me a lot of films from all over the world since I was very young. So films will always be a part of my life. I get inspired by my fellow artist friends too. There are so many things that inspire me so I can’t say it all but I’ll just say one name today. Seoul based, French artist, FraiseVinyl, encouraged and inspired me a lot when I was starting to develop my career with my own projects a few years ago. She’s very talented and also very nice and sweet. You must check out her work.
You are one of the most honest people I know. Would you say being honest to yourself is a good attribute?
First of all, thanks for saying that! I try to be as honest as I can be to myself but that doesn’t mean that I’m as honest to others. Caring about myself sometimes makes me selfish and that sometimes pisses other people off and sometimes it can be taken as being dishonest or disrespectful by other people. Maybe this is something I should work on more, so I can take care of myself better and be honest to myself and also be good to others. But, yeah, to me, being true to yourself is important. Sometimes I work on some pieces and I find them fake or not completely honest. That’s when I throw them away and start over.
What projects do you have coming up in 2015 and beyond?
I just finished some illustrations for a Seattle-based online magazine, Seattle Gay Scene, and they are supposed to be released pretty soon. If the readers like my work, I might do more illustrations for that magazine and that would be really cool. I am in the early stage of making a new graphic novel as well. That’s already a lot I think. Who knows what’s gonna be next? Let’s see!
If you would like to reach out to Heezy and check out his work you can find him at www.Heezyyang.com
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