I came out as a lesbian in 2013, when I was 17 and it took quite a while for me to get there. Looking back, I thought the first time I felt something for a girl was when I was 13. I immediately buried those feelings and forgot about them. Recently though, I remember spending a lot of time with a girl in primary school for a few weeks. We didn’t really have anything in common but liked each other a lot. We fell out over something I can’t quite remember, made up but then never really spoke again. Years later, through Instagram, I saw that she’s gay too.
I attended my first pride in 2015 in South Korea. Since I’m from the Netherlands it might seem like a strange location for my first pride, especially considering pride is very big in Amsterdam and the Netherlands is very accepting. My friends from secondary school attended pride together before I had come out and the event is seen as a place to celebrate. Queer people and allies come together to have a big party day and I wasn’t someone who enjoyed masses of people, alcohol and all-out parties. When I had come out I longed to go to pride to find a connection with other LGBTQ+ people. I read about boots with LGBTQ+ literature and all week they’d screen a different queer-themed film. I lived rather far away from Amsterdam however, so I couldn’t just pop by and leave again and so I never went.
Worries After Coming Out
Another reason why I didn’t attend after I had come out was because I wasn’t quite ready to. After I’d come out I felt incredible because I felt like I was capable of loving, whereas before I thought I wasn’t. I also thought I was asexual for a while, but turns out I was looking at the wrong gender. It didn’t feel right to use the word lesbian for a while, I was afraid to hold hands with another girl in public and I worried that my football teammates might think I was looking at them when we showered, though I wasn’t.
The latter worry led me to officially come out by telling them in the changing room in the middle of a game. I had discussed it with our trainer before and he announced that I wanted to tell them something as I didn’t think I’d be able to do it otherwise. I was staring into nothing as I was struggling to find the words. When I finally got it out everyone was so supportive and I felt a little embarrassed that I had made such a big thing out of it.
A year later it turned out it was quite good I’d done that coming out. A teammate had stopped showering with us and eventually, then-‘she’ told me that he really felt like a boy and wasn’t sure how to tell his parents. He confided in me and slowly, he got to a point where his parents accepted him and he could get started on puberty blockers. It was still a really long process and there was a long waiting list to even be seen. Three years later he finished secondary school and started a degree where he introduced himself as he; it was a fresh start.
I moved away in 2015 but visited South Korea before heading off to university because my best friend was currently studying there and if I didn’t I wouldn’t see her for a full year, which seemed too long. I spend a full month there and saw most touristic attractions while also living as if I were a local, as I stayed with my friend. It was quite coincidental, but the month I was there was pride month and as we did things around and about we often passed Seoul Plaza where, we found out, pride would take place in two weeks.
This came to our attention because every time we passed Seoul Plaza we ran into a group of protestors which were holding signs with slogans like “Gay marriage is not a legal right,” “Gay supporters out,” and “OUT, OUT.” People were using megaphones, they made music and the police ensured they were able to protest safely. Walking past these protests made me feel cold inside every time.
By the time pride was supposed to take place my friend and I had gone out to do and see stuff nearly every day and she wanted to have a day off but I really wanted to go to pride. I felt like if I was ever going to go it would be now because I had her with her. I felt safe with her, accepted and thankfully she agreed. It was incredibly strange to arrive at pride in South Korea. From our stop at the underground all the way until the entrance of pride, protestors stood lined up with signs protesting against gay rights. The earlier protests we had walked past that month were nothing and the pride area was surrounded by a large green fence to keep the protesters out. Police were standing all around the green fence too.
As soon as we entered pride however, everything was peaceful. We arrived early so there weren’t many people about yet, which helped me acclimatise and feel less overwhelmed. I wanted to take pictures so I had to get a press pass, bought myself a rainbow lint and then we roamed the different boots.
There were quite a few boots highlighting the history and things that still had to change to reach equality. There were some signs outlining what the LGBTQ+ community hoped to achieve by 2020 but as I can’t read Korean, I didn’t know what those were.
One of the things that really struck me and which I remember clearly is that the protestors on the outside were playing several drums as well as using microphones to sing and sometimes there were full bands. Some were chanting against gay rights whereas in other cases they simply tried to be as loud as possible in an attempt to disrupt our celebration. It felt so surreal to me, coming from a place where it’s pretty much normal to be queer.
But we were louder!
In response, however, our side started playing music too and slowly throughout the day it seemed to become a battle. Who was going to be louder? Inside the fence though, you couldn’t really hear the protestors anymore and there was something quite amazing about that. It wasn’t nice to see the protestors when walking past them on the outside but on the inside, it felt like love was winning. We weren’t shouting hateful things or chanting against human rights, we were playing music to celebrate.
Everyone smiled at each other on the inside. It was as if we were all friends even though we’d never met before or even spoke the same language in my case. My friend and I went to a drawing booth and had a picture of us drawn. We said we were friends but she must have misunderstood us because she ended up drawing us as lovers, ha!
By the time it was time for the pride march the entire square was full of people and it was impossible to still move until the people in front of us started moving. The march started in the square and finished there, followed by a party, though the entire march was a party. There were a few different van’s that people were dancing on as it drove ahead/amongst us, each themed differently. There was a lesbian one, for example.
Strikingly again, police were lined up along most of the way even though the march took an hour and went around the city. They left a very big gap between the protestors and us. The police seemed to be working with a set amount of meters and it made me feel rather safe. Walking this felt really powerful to me because it felt like we were very actively walking for our rights and making a statement against these protestors.
And the march goes on
Everyone was dancing by the time we returned to Seoul Plaza. The different van’s had gathered and the music seemed to be blasting even louder. I was quite surprised and happy to see that one of the people on these van’s was wearing a rope harness! The party continued back inside the green fence and a big screen and podium had been set up for bands to come and play. We stayed for a little bit but went to get pizza and cake after. It’s rather hot in South Korea and it had been a long exciting day with many new impressions. It had felt really magical to me, like coming home and standing for what I believe in alongside the others. It felt like being embraced and embracing.
On our way out, the protests seemed to have grown even bigger but I don’t think anyone inside the celebrations still cared or was very aware. The police had pushed them all a lot further back. Whereas before they literally stood at a meter away from you, they were now held back on the opposite side of the street.
The years after
I still felt uncomfortable telling people that I was gay because it felt like I was rejecting people as if I owed men something simply for being a woman. Every single man who shows an interest and then hears I’m gay immediately denies that they were into me. In both these instances, it felt like I was being wrong for who I was.
When I got to university I put the drawing of my friend and me on my bullet board alongside the rainbow lint I had bought at pride. In my first week, I had to tell two boys on separate occasions that I’m gay and I really struggled with it. It still felt like I owed men something, somehow, simply for being a woman and every single man who shows an interest in me always denies it as soon as I tell them I’m a lesbian.
I no longer struggle as much with this now. However, my sexuality is still dismissed by men, pretty much a weekly basis. This happens both in real life and online and it seems to come from the idea that women can’t be lesbians in the eyes of men, the fact they think they’re special and will change me or straight up don’t care and want to have sex with me regardless. I will write a post about this one day.
Attending pride in South Korea showed me how other countries aren’t as far ahead as we might be in the west and even while we have come a far way over here, there are many things that aren’t right yet. A lot of members in our community still face discrimination and laws that make their lives a lot more difficult. We are still fighting for equality and while the Supreme Court in the US just backed protections for LGBT workers, the UK is dropping the gender self-identifying plans.
While I face my own struggles as a lesbian, I’m aware that other members of the LGBTQ+ community struggle with things that are specific to their orientation. One of the things that have felt most powerful about being a part of the queer community is the solidarity amongst us. I may not be able to fully understand someone else’s struggle but I will support them just like they supported me and educate myself along the way. The only way we can make a difference is by standing together; every single one of us, whether queer or straight. I hope that we will keep on standing and fighting together until everyone is equal and that includes other minority groups like black people. We need to keep standing up. It’s time change happens.
“When that day comes I’ll roll and leap and shout in Seoul Plaza and if I’m still stifled by overflowing joy I will raise a rainbow flag and lead the parade with it.”