"Do you have any stereotypes about gay men?"
"Well, now it’s time to throw them away!"
These days, the word ‘gay’ is most often used to denote a homosexual man. Homosexual refers to a person who is sexually attracted to people of the same gender. In other words, gay means a man who is attracted to men. This article examines how male homosexuality has been expressed in history, corrects prejudices commonly seen in the media, and introduces a few key gay celebrities.
Homosexual Men throughout History
Gay people were not born out of nowhere in the 20th century. Sexual love between men has also not been treated as taboo and sinful throughout human history. Societal perceptions of male homosexuality varies enormously from time to time and from culture to culture.
❤️ Ancient Times, Varied Views Ancient literature also featured stories of sexual relations between men. In China, male emperors sometimes had male concubines, and male homosexuality of the time have been referred to as 斷袖之癖 (duànxiù zhī pǐ), ‘the passion of the cut sleeve’). In Greece, sexual relations between men and adolescent boys who were free citizens was considered a natural custom. Plato's Feast features Pausanias' speech praising his love for a young boy. Plato used the speech to express his view of homosexuality as a measure of democracy. Meanwhile, in Assyria, sexual intercourse between men was practiced as a religious ritual, but relations between some statuses, such as soldiers, was prohibited. Looking back on this aspect, it can be seen that ancient humans had various views on male sexuality depending on culture, and the custom of unconditionally condemning homosexuality began not very long ago.
▲ From ancient Greece, there are surviving artifacts and literature that shows that adult men provided education and sponsorship to adolescent men while also having a sexual relationship with them. From this, we can see that the original 'mentor-menti' relationship in ancient Greece was premised on male sexual relations.
🧡 The Middle Ages, Religion and Taboo’s
Ancient Rome also had a custom of sexual relations between men, but it was legally prohibited by Emperor Theodosius I, famous for recognizing Nicaean Christianity as the state religion. In Europe, homosexuality between men was treated as a sin since the Middle Ages, using religious stories such as 'Sodom and Gomorrah'. There were still same-sex marriage practices in some provinces, but legal and religious punishments for homosexuality also existed. In the Middle East, the Qur’an’s phrasing was also interpreted as condemning homosexuality, and there are still countries that legally prohibit it, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
💛 Modernity, Westernization and Sin
In medieval and pre-modern China, sexual love between men was sometimes viewed negatively, but overall responses were not generally hostile. Men's homosexuality naturally appeared in novels such as ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ and ‘The Golden Lotus’. But from the late Qing dynasty to the Chinese Republic, as Westernization took place, conceptions of homosexuality changed to view it as sinful. In modern China, same-sex sexual intercourse was practically illegal until 1997.
Similar changes were seen in Ancient Korea, Joseon. Originally there were male-to-male sexual customs, called ‘Namsaek’, ‘Midong’, or ‘Biyeok’, depending on the region, but during the era of the Korean and Japanese Empires it was regarded as a crime or barbaric act. During the Japanese colonial period, media reports equated sexual love between men to murder or crimes against children, labelling it a crime of ‘sexual perverts’.
💚 Contemporary, Out of the Shadows, into the Sun
Amid the stigma of sinfulness and pathogenesis, sexual minorities were either hidden in the dark or forcibly dragged there. Gay men were no exception. However, as they fought against prejudice, they were gradually spotlighted, and the gay subculture created in the dark began to naturally blend into the mainstream.
Typical examples are waacking and voguing. Waacking originated from the non-white gay club culture of Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s, and voguing originated from the ball culture enjoyed by black and Hispanic LGBTQ in Harlem, New York, and is now a major genre of street dance, performed by various people regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
▲ Famous dancer Yoonji's battle video, known for their powerful waacking. Wacking developed in gay underground culture, but is now one of the main genres of street dance regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
“A Girls Best Friend, A Man’s Worst Enemy”?
The existence of gay men is now widely known, but the way they are treated in various media is full of prejudice. As such, it is easy to internalize misunderstandings and stereotypes. Let's take a look at some common misconceptions about gay men.
💙 Attracted to any man / will try to sleep with any man
Just as straight people have personal tastes, homosexuals do too. Nor does it make sense to think that all gays would try to touch any man, unless all straight men try to touch any woman too. However, this prejudice is all too natural in many societies. This is not limited to jokes such as "dropping the soap" or "gay chicken", but also leads to institutional discrimination such as the South Korean Military Criminal Act, which criminalizes consensual sexual intercourse amongst male soldiers.
💜 Gay Best Friend (GBF)
If you enjoy watching American dramas or Hollywood movies, you may have seen a lively and charming "Gay Best Friend" character at least once. GBF’s are male, but they do not cause sexual tension with the female protagonist, are quick to follow fashion and makeup trends, listen to the protagonist's love concerns, and curse the protagonist's rival with a high and sharp voice. Sometimes when the main character is in trouble, they can give bonus advice in a low and thick voice. However, if you decided to go out and find yourself a gay best friend after seeing the GBF fantasy in the media, you are in for a rude awakening. It’s not really realistic. He is a male and his sexual target is also male, so the likelihood that he is interested in the fashion of heterosexual women is not that high. The same goes for love stories. If you want to share your love concerns with a friend, of course, you should also be ready to listen to all their horror stories too. There’s no exception when the friend is gay.
🖤 ‘BL’ or ‘Yaoi’ Protagonists
BL is the abbreviation of "Boys Love", which is a genre of stories featuring romance between men, but is characterized by most of the creators and enjoyers being women. It is such a popular field that LGBTQ+ specific streaming services such as Taiwan’s ‘GagaOOLala’ have seen unprecedented growth worldwide. However, there is a huge divide between the main characters in the BL world and actual gay men. It’s like comparing the third-generation mega-rich male protagonist of a Korean drama and real straight men. Especially different from reality is the distinction between “seme” and “uke”, Japanese words denoting a dominant, penetrating partner and a passive, receiving partner. Often depicted in Japanese ‘Yaoi’ manga, they can also give unrealistic depictions and expectations of anal sex.
These People Too!
When it comes to gay celebrities in Korea, Hong Seok-cheon, an actor and a legendary figure in the restaurant industry, is indispensable. Singer Kwon Do-woon and Holland have also come out as gay.
Alan Turing, who laid the foundation for computer science and artificial intelligence, was punished by British law, which banned homosexuality at the time, for having sex with men. He was officially pardoned in 2013, 59 years after his death.
In addition, Beyard Rustin, who was a pioneer in the black American civil rights movement along with Martin Luther King; Keith Haring, who broke the boundary between graffiti and commercial art; Zachary Quinto, who played the main character in Star Trek, and Jason Collins, a former basketball player, are also famous, influential gay celebrities.