“There is no hope for sexual minorities in North Korea.” Interview with Jang Yeong-jin (part 2)

1. What knowledge did you have of LGBT issues/homosexuality, if any, growing up in North Korea? Whilst you were in North Korea, what was your impression of homosexuals in the Western world?

North Korea is a communist system. There are no true cultural exchanges with other countries. It’s a closed society. You don’t know how the world goes around. I considered my homosexuality as a pathological condition. When I finally learned who I am, it wasn’t even easy to regret how my life turned out. I had to accept who I am. It is a tragedy to live without knowing that you are gay.

2. What was your understanding of the fate of homosexual people in North Korea? Did you have any experiences of encountering any other LGBT men/women in North Korea? Was it easy to speak with them about being LGBT, or did you have to keep it a secret? When was the first time you recall seeing homosexuality depicted or discussed in North Korean media? Was the portrayal positive or negative?

As there is no such concept as homosexuality, there is no awareness of the issue. In open societies, people have at least a consciousness of different sexualities. There is no hope for sexual minorities in North Korea. There should be a number of North Korean sexual minorities but economic or political problems are emphasized the most [in North Korea], so it is difficult to solve one’s personal problems first.

In North Korea, separation of men and women is great. Especially when men spend a long time in the military, physical contact is frequent between the same sex and they experience special emotional bonds. One company is composed of 90 men, and works as a single family. This is not to say that all these men are gay. Rather, they are tied by a special comradeship (revolutionary comrades).

3. Why, in a country that otherwise denies the existence of homosexuality, do you think that a “blind eye” was being turned to same-sex relations in the army? Did the fact that officers and senior soldiers would often give you gifts and bribes in exchange for company make your life in the army easier or more difficult?

We hug each other, sleep together and even kiss one another on the cheek. My feminine appearances were beloved in the company and I was treated exceptionally well. Because you live with the same people for a long period, there can be no hazing or beatings. We get along as a single community. Because the ration system has collapsed, we get a sense of stability inside the company. That comradeship is important for the survival of each and every person of the group. So it is impossible for a higher officer in that group to physically abuse a junior. It will create great disruption.


Image: Fabian Kretschmer, 2015

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