South Korea’s transgender community pushes for recognition and acceptance

South Korea’s transgender neighborhood pushes for recognition and acceptance


Creator: Stella Jang, College of Sydney

South Korea’s transgender neighborhood are repressed, underrepresented and infrequently missed. Authorities identification paperwork and surveys don’t seize intercourse and gender range, that means there aren’t any official statistics. It’s estimated there are round 6000 transgender folks in South Korea, although that is based mostly on the small pattern of people who’ve gained authorized recognition following a gender reassignment surgical procedure.

About fifty thousand LGBT people marching during an 2016 Seoul Queer Culture Festival Parade near central Seoul, South Korea. Thousands of supporters participated in the 17th Korea Queer Culture Festival which was held from June 11 to June 19, Seoul, South Korea, 11 June 2016 (Photo: Reuters/Seung Il-Ryu)

Discrimination towards transgender folks in South Korea is commonplace and complicates discovering employment, pursuing schooling and utilizing public services. A number of the most troublesome experiences relate to conscription, the place all males are required to endure a medical examination to find out their physique’s suitability for navy service, and navigating different areas of society based mostly on binary genders, reminiscent of female-only academic establishments.

One resolution to advertise larger tolerance and acceptance of transgender folks is to implement legal guidelines that shield people from discrimination. However repeated makes an attempt since 2007 to go an anti-discrimination legislation by way of the Nationwide Meeting have failed. Anti-LGBTQI teams are vocal opponents of enshrining equality in legislation, which might have a broader influence past stopping discrimination based mostly on sexual orientation but additionally based mostly on gender, incapacity and race.

South Korea’s authorized and institutional techniques are based mostly on heteronormative binary genders that reinforce conventional gender roles. Whereas it’s doable to legally change genders in South Korea following the landmark case of superstar Harisu in 2002, there are a set of restrictive standards that should be happy.

These embrace that the person will need to have undergone a gender reassignment surgical procedure, which robotically excludes the estimated 90 per cent of South Korea’s transgender neighborhood who’ve not altered their organic intercourse. Even for individuals who do endure the method to change their authorized identification, they will face vital issues as it isn’t doable to vary their nationwide identification quantity assigned at delivery that signifies their delivery gender.

Extra just lately, the problem of transgender discrimination was as soon as once more introduced into the highlight earlier in 2021 following the suicide of Byun Hee-soo, a soldier who was forcibly discharged from the navy after having a male–feminine gender reassignment surgical procedure. Byun’s case highlighted the stigma and issues transgender individuals face in South Korea, with the navy ruling that her lack of male genitalia amounted to a bodily and psychological incapacity. Her expertise confirmed that navy tradition has not modified and the irony of excluding a person who desperately wished to serve when so many attempt to evade navy service.

Whereas Byun’s forcible discharge was just lately dominated as illegal and cancelled by the Daejeon District Courtroom following her dying, it’s unlikely to present any consolation to these contemplating gender reassignment surgical procedure that they won’t be discriminated towards by their employer.

Members of South Korea’s transgender neighborhood are utilizing social media to interrupt down social boundaries and promote acceptance. A number of transgender vloggers have gained massive followings. For instance, Pungja TV permits strange South Koreans to study concerning the day by day lifetime of a male to feminine transgender particular person. One set of in style movies options Pungja assembly a grandmother who asks inquiries to fulfill her curiosity about transgender folks.

Transgender folks have additionally began to enter the broader consciousness of society with the 2020 hit drama Itaewon Class that includes a personality on the trail to gender reassignment surgical procedure. There was a muted public response to a transgender individual being featured in a distinguished TV collection. This reveals some progress in comparison with 2012 when KBS, one in every of South Korea’s largest broadcasters, abruptly cancelled XY She after just one episode. XY She featured transgender girls discussing their lives, however there was a right away backlash towards KBS after the primary episode, which was used to justify cancelling the collection.

One attention-grabbing reflection from the restricted portrayals of transgender folks in South Korean tv is that there are few depictions of transgender males. Whereas Harisu and Byun Hee-soo grew to become nationwide figures and raised consciousness of transgender girls, there haven’t been any distinguished transgender males in public life.

South Korean society could have a more durable time accepting transgender males because of patriarchy and ladies being thought-about subordinate to males. Difficulties with conceptions of transgender males could clarify why the creators of Itaewon Class opted to depict a transgender lady when it will have been simpler for the actor forged to have performed a transgender man. Lee Joo-young, the actress who performed the transgender lady on Itaewon Class, would have been naturally suited to play a transgender man having been forged in quite a few tomboyish roles. However an outline of a trans man would have been a riskier alternative.

There’s a lengthy technique to go earlier than South Korea turns into an inclusive society, however members of the transgender neighborhood’s efforts to lift consciousness and share their tales are serving to to facilitate some cultural change. Whereas efforts at selling change from beneath are necessary, assist from above by way of authorities insurance policies and institutional change is required as effectively.

Stella Jang is a Postdoctoral Analysis Fellow on the College of Sydney.



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