There is such fear and secrecy and propaganda about many aspects of North Korea that it’s difficult to find anything reliable about everyday life there–and doubly so about homosexuality. The concept of same-sex attraction or ‘Gay Life in North Korea’ hardly exists in the minds of people. Even with people who feel this attraction, there is ignorance about what it means or how it can be expressed in behavior.
Compiled by Richard Ammon
Updated March 2012
Something About the Gay Situation in North Korea?
There is such fear and secrecy about many aspects of North Korea that it is difficult to find anything reliable about everyday life there–and doubly so about homosexuality. The concept of same-sex attraction hardly exists in the minds of people. Even with people who feel this attraction, there is ignorance about what it means or how it can be expressed in behavior.
It is not discussed in public and it’s a likely assumption that almost all gay or lesbian people are conditioned or coerced into marriage and they live that way without ever understanding their conflicted feelings. Even for someone with a bit of knowledge about human behavior the official view is that homosexuality is an aberration that exists only in a capitalist society.
I am sure there is homosexual activity in some places but these would be impossible for an outsider to find. Since sexual desire and longing are felt in people of all cultures I would also guess there are some very secret places where anonymous homo sex happens, but probably very hidden and very quickly. There would be no lingering ‘love-making’ but rather getting off and then running away.
I searched the Internet and found little. In addition to Wikipedia, there was one story excerpt from a newspaper in Pakistan about NK workers in Cuba. A second reference is a blog summary about an escaped NK man who had no idea how to understand his homosexual feelings until he got to South Korea and was exposed to information and the freedom to act on his feelings. (He was profiled in the New York Times June 6, 2015.)
Here is what I found on the Net:
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in North Korea have never been the subject of any known political movement or legislation. North Korean society is conservative with regard to sexual matters in general, and media portrayals of homosexuality typically associate it with capitalist decadence. While there does not appear to be any specific law against homosexual relationships or acts, these are viewed as filthy and beneath the dignity of the Korean people. It is unclear what the age of consent is, if any, for homosexual activity is. Article 153 of the criminal law states that a man who has sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 15 shall be “punished gravely.” The age of consent for boys or for same-sex sexual activity is probably not considered in any formal statute or opinion.
Due to tradition in Korean culture, it is not customary for individuals of any sexual orientation to engage in public displays of affection. As a country that has embraced science and rationalism, the DPRK recognizes that many individuals are born with homosexuality as a genetic trait and treats them with due respect. Homosexuals in the DPRK have never been subject to repression, as in many capitalist regimes around the world. However, North Koreans also place a lot of emphasis on social harmony and morals. Therefore, the DPRK rejects many characteristics of the popular gay culture in the West, which many perceive to embrace consumerism, classism and promiscuity. (photo right: soldiers training)
From Daily Times, Pakistan
(Excerpt from a longer story about Cuba and North Korea, not about homosexuality):
“… I’ve heard two anecdotes (from different sources) about worker exchanges. The Korean sugar cane brigades, before they set out, were firmly told where fraternization stopped. Fellow communists they might be; but Cuban women had deplorably lax morals and were strictly off limits. Anyone tempted was instructed to–how should I put this–practice ‘self-reliance’. Perhaps the order was misunderstood. A friend working in Cuba at the time told me that at least one batch of North Koreans were sent home for homosexuality, of which Castro is notoriously intolerant..”
From: Marmot Blog (http://blog.marmot.cc/archives/2004/10/29/no-gays-in-north-korea/)
29 October 2004
Original publication in Far Eastern Review October 28, 2004
New story about Jang Yeong-jin New York Times, June 6, 2015
No gays in North Korea?
Forty-four-year-old Jang Yeong-jin worked in the fisheries industry up in North Hamgyeong Province, married to a pretty school teacher whom his mother fixed him up with. Problem is, he felt no sexual attraction to the woman, so he was continually stressed and uncomfortable in the sack. After 7 years of marriage, the couple still had no children, and despite several visits to the hospital, they couldn’t discover the reason. They eventually had a son, but after 9 years of marriage, Jang finally applied for divorce. The North Korean authorities rarely allow divorces so permission was denied.
In the end, believing his wife would be happier without him, he escaped to China in a bid to defect, but was apparently denied entry by the South Korean embassy. Returning to North Korea, he decided to skip the middle men of the S. Korean Foreign Ministry and defect the hard way through the DMZ in Gangwon Province. During the course of being investigated by the nice men of S. Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Jang said he defected because, well, he disliked having to share a bed with his wife.
Two years into his residence in South Korea’s relatively open society, Jang happened upon a photograph in some newspaper of two men kissing. Apparently, this put some lead in his pencil, or to put it the Dong-A Ilbo way, “At that moment, he felt a thrill through his entire body.” It was then he realized he was gay. Afterwards, he began reading gay magazines, visiting gay bars and “sharing love” with other men. Jang finally felt “boundless happiness.”
However, last year, a man with whom Jang had fallen in love after meeting him in a gay bar absconded with the W50 million the defector had managed to save up. Penniless and ill, Jang lost his house and has been living in a rent house in Ansan. He vented, “Adjusting to life in the South has been tougher than crossing the DMZ.”
In 2014-15 Jang wrote a biographical novel titled ‘A Mark of Red Honor’ in which he described the mental agony of a loveless marriage and his longing for his adolescent cherished one. Jang was profiled in the New York Times on June 6, 2015. Read the story.
Some Juicy Gossip about Korean Leaders, Past and Present:
The Maybe-Gay Son of Kim Jong-Il Definitely Won’t Be North Korea’s Next Leader
As the world watches North Korea to see what will unfold next following the death of its “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il, one thing is for certain: The country’s next ruler won’t be Jong-il’s second son, Kim Jong-chul, (photo right) who the Dear Leader reportedly bemoaned was too effeminate to lead.
Like most things North Korean, Jong-chul is shrouded in mystery, but it is known that he’s the 30-year-old son of Jong-il and the late despot’s former consort Ko Young-hee.
He was educated in Switzerland and really really likes Eric Clapton: Earlier this year, Jong-chul was spotted at an Clapton concert in Singapore. In 2006 he attended several Clapton dates in Germany, then asked the rocker to perform in Pyongyang. (Clapton’s not exactly Elton or Mariah, so we’re not sure how that factors in determining his sexuality.)
For a few years early last decade, after it became clear that Dear Leader’s oldest son was way too much of a boob to ever take a leadership role, Jong-chul seemed the heir apparent—especially after the North Korean military started referring to Jong-chul’s mother as “The Respected Mother who is the Most Faithful and Loyal ‘Subject’ to the Dear Leader Comrade Supreme Commander.”
But Jong-chul’s role as successor started to unravel in 2003, when a former family sushi chef, using the pen-name Kenji Fujimoto, published a tell-all book in which he called Jong-chul useless because he was “like a girl.” In 2009, it was widely announced that son #3, Kim Jong-un, 28, would now be North Korea’s Next Top Dictator.
Were Jong-chul to magically rise to power, it wouldn’t be the first time Korea was perhaps gay-led. 14th century ruler Gongmin of Goryeo—interestingly, also a second son—was so notoriously boy-crazy that a 2008 South Korean film, A Frozen Flower, depicted a fictionalized account of the king’s romance with military commander Hong Lim.