The online K-pop community has a problem with homophobia

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Sofia has been a K-pop fan since she was 14 – when she was introduced to the Korean musical genre by her middle school friends – but she has always felt different from other fans.

K-pop groups – all-girl or boy-only song and dance troupes whose members are known as “idols” – have become a global phenomenon in recent years. Their popularity is reflected in huge online communities – including ARMY, supporters of chart-topping boy group BTS, and Blink, fans of girl group Blackpink, which has dominated YouTube in recent years.

But unlike many other young women who love K-pop, Sofia was not drawn to male idols, unlike many of her friends. She was obsessed with girl groups.

“I felt like I wasn’t like other girls because I didn’t care about boy groups,” says Sofia, now a 21-year-old history student from Ontario, Canada. (Like everyone interviewed in this article, Sofia asked To input to use a pseudonym for privacy reasons.) “You could put the most attractive guy in front of me, and I just didn’t care. Looking back, I now understand why I was like that.

Blackpink in 2018THE FACT/ImaZinS/Getty Images

At the time, Sofia was struggling with her sexuality. She was obsessed with the idea of ​​getting married and having children, and as she saw it at the time, being a lesbian did not fit that image. She only became comfortable with her sexual orientation in the last few years, around the same time she got serious about K-pop again.

Sofia has joined the Stray Kids fandom, a boy band with an LGBT-friendly following. But she didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to be openly gay in the world of K-pop until she started interacting with people from other fan groups.

“Because I have my sexuality in my profile, sometimes you just get people calling you a dyke in broken English — slurs like that,” she says. “I’ve always had a hard time feeling very gross about having romantic feelings towards women – and I feel like those feelings are sometimes heightened when I’m in these spaces.”

Sofia is one of many LGBT fans concerned about homophobia in the online K-pop community. Queer fans are tired of feeling sexualized, intimidated, and rejected by the wider K-pop world. They say anti-gay sentiments impact their self-esteem, as well as their ability to appreciate the fandoms they are so passionate about, and hope that by speaking out they can spark change.

Debates over homophobia in the K-pop world have raged since May, after a physical assault on idol Holland, one of the genre’s few openly gay artists. Via social media, Holland revealed that a stranger attacked him in Seoul and called him “dirty gay”.

Some fans have pointed out that the K-pop industry profits from “queerbaiting” – luring in LGBT fans by teasing that idols are gay – while continuing to discriminate against LGBT idols. Additionally, LGBT fans online are expressing their frustration with the way same-sex relationships are framed in K-pop discourse.

“I’ve seen a lot of casual homophobia in K-pop spaces. They tell people not to assume anyone’s sexuality, which is like ‘don’t assume they’re gay,'” explains Cherry, a 17-year-old K-pop fan from South Asia who identifies as LGBTQ but says she has “not come out IRL yet.

K-pop fans often scold their LGBT peers for “reading into” certain acts, such as when Hoshi of boy band Seventeen was recently photographed wearing a “THEY/THEM” shirt.

Many insist that K-pop is not a gay gender. “In the same breath, they’ll also say things like, ‘I just know this male idol has a cute girlfriend,'” Cherry says, “or ‘I hope this male idol gets a girlfriend to get rid of the delusional.’” (K-pop slang for “delusional people.”) “Like that doesn’t take ownership of their sexuality?”

Some fans simply oppose same-sex relationships. (A faction of the BTS Army fandom uses the hashtag #freeJonkook on Twitter for months protesting an official webcomic in which a character based on the group’s youngest member appears to be gay.)

But others have more contradictory opinions. Fans who “ship” – promote the idea of ​​relationships – between same-sex idols by writing LGBT fanfiction are often the same ones who insist that K-pop stars aren’t gay. “I also write – a term for alternate universe fanfic – “but these are [fiction], this is real life, ”tweeted an author, arrested for an allegedly homophobic comment. Others tweeted phrases like “STOP THE GAY AGENDA” while supporting LGBT fanfic in the same breath.

The hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed by LGBT K-pop fans, who feel discouraged and upset by such widespread attitudes. “They claim the members are dating, or they even write fanfiction about it, but then they present it as if real gay or lesbian people are pretty rude,” Sofia explains. “So it’s fine that it’s a cute little thing or entertainment, but it shouldn’t be taken seriously, because it really is an immoral relationship.”

Galaxy, an East Asian lesbian fan in her early 20s, also feels left out of K-pop spaces because of these attitudes. “When straight fans start labeling everything as gay or lesbian, it seems more fetishistic than the actual appreciation or acceptance of LGBTQ people,” she explains. “It kind of keeps us from feeling like spaces accept us for more than just shipping needs.”

‘All is well’

The wider K-Pop fandom’s propensity for bold and often vicious online behavior — fueled by the relative anonymity the internet offers — has earned it the crown of the internet’s most toxic community. Many use anti-gay slurs, which Galaxy says “stems from a lack of understanding and exposure to the LGBTQ community.”

Such ignorance is a long-standing problem in the K-pop world, which reflects a larger trend. (CNN reported that homophobia is “widespread” in Korea, which lacks comprehensive laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination.) to homosexuality.

Sofia, on the other hand, believes homophobic slurs stem from the heightened emotions of fans, who can sometimes be obsessed with the idols they support. “A lot of people have this mentality of ‘You’re insulting my idol!’ Everything is allowed in this situation, because they have such a deep attachment to this person, ”she explains.

BTS in 2021The Chosunilbo JNS/ImaZinS/Getty Images

These tactics were employed by GGs, fans of Korean girl group Girls’ Generation, who tweeted things like, “she’s a lesbian that’s why she’s boring and stupid” Where “I’m normal! I’m not a lesbian.

And that’s not the only way anti-gay sentiments are weaponized in online arguments. “Some fans definitely use LGBT terms and slurs as slurs just because they don’t like certain fandoms or idols,” Cherry says. This approach is sometimes used by members of the Blink fandom, who attempt to antagonize BTS fans by repeatedly referring to the band members as “phaggots” and joking about band members being raped.

Blackpink fans have also directed homophobic abuse at strangers to K-pop. The members of Blink have made international headlines by hurling insults at an openly gay celebrity, Canadian presenter Alex Illest, for calling them ‘toxic’. BTS fans adopted similar behavior. When Lady Gaga beat BTS for a Best Pop Duo/Group Grammy last year for “Rain on Me,” a duet with Ariana Grande, fans of the group tweeted insults like “that’s why I’m homophobic” or “next time I see a white gay man in public, I’m going to hate him as a crime” in response.

For queer K-pop stans, these kinds of outbursts are embarrassing, but unsurprising. “Anything can be used as an insult in fan wars,” says Sofia. “If someone is a sexual or gender-based minority, they can expect to get insults about it.”

Cherry sees this as proof that LGBT fans aren’t exactly welcome in the world of K-pop. “To be honest, if you really cared about the LGBT community, you wouldn’t use those terms as slurs,” she says, “because you don’t see them as slurs.”

Sofia says the anti-gay incidents inflame her own internalized issues with her sexuality. “I want to give these people some slack, but it’s crippling,” she says. “There’s always been this feeling for me that if I ever really want to be happy, I’ll never be accepted by my church – and that’s a sad thing to realize and deal with.”

“Were transaction with a homophobic planet every day. The best thing what you can do is just accept other voices.”

Still, Sofia points out that while anti-gay hatred is a problem, it’s not a defining issue for the K-pop world — and she’s not trying to condemn the entire community. “I don’t want it to look like I’m painting the whole fanbase as homophobic in one way or another – I don’t think that’s right at all,” she says. (Many LGBT-friendly fans tag their Twitter accounts with the phrase “homophobic dni” — meaning “don’t interact” — to ward off other K-pop stans with anti-gay views.)

“I just think if there are things that make LGBT people uncomfortable – even if you don’t agree with it – at least allow them to discuss their feelings with the community at wider.” She hopes speaking out will make people think twice before stooping to use anti-gay slurs in the name of defending an idol.

“We deal with a homophobic planet every day,” adds Sofia. “The best thing you can do is just accept other voices.”

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