Groove

We met on the street, sitting on a curb, drinking cans of beer that were sweating as much as we were.  It was Seoul Pride 2013, and we were both waiting for friends to group up post-parade (back when the parade went on as scheduled without a bunch of dickwad protestors either lying down in the streets in front of the floats or trying to block it on permit regulations); she was cracking jokes about the lesbian organization in my city, and I was giving her shit about where she lived.  Soon after we started talking, my friends hollered at me that they were headed to dinner; I said goodbye, smiling at her, never expecting to see her again.    

I was surprised and delighted later that night when, rum and coke in hand, she strode up to me on the dance floor in a Hongdae gay bar, her tall, lean figure bathed in strobe lights.  She had swagger.  She looked down at me, smiled a broad smile, and said, “It’s good to see you here.”  Likewise, I told her.  As we danced, the floor began teeming with undulating bodies, strangers holding each other by the waist, grinding against each other.  I put my drink aside so I could place my hand on the small of her back, eventually sliding it down onto her ass; she had the same idea, but her hand found its way into my back pockets, then into my pants.  She crouched a bit and I stood on my tiptoes to kiss her – a strong kiss, fueled by alcohol-induced confidence.  I snaked my fingers into her dreads and held onto her head, kissing her deeply, wanting more.  She moved her hands up the front of my shirt, cupping my breasts; we moved our bodies in sync to DJ-spun electronic music while exploring each other. 

Forgetting that we were in the middle of a crowd, she slid her right hand down the front of my jeans now, into my silky boy-cut panties, over the soft mound of hair that I’ve come to love and into the folds of my labia, gently moving her fingers forward and backward, dragging my fluids up and over my clit before finally pushing two fingers into me, pressing upward and inward.  I moved my whole body against her hand, begging her not to stop, continuing to move with the music.  She fucked me harder with her fingers, making me gasp and moan into her ear; no one else could hear me.  Perhaps no one else noticed what was going on; even if they had, I wouldn’t have cared.  After I’d come onto her fingers and my body was quivering, she slid out of me, dragging her fingers up my cunt, out of my panties, and around my waist, then kissed me again. 

We went outside for a smoke; I finally asked what her name was (“Excuse me – now that you’ve had your hand inside of me, perhaps you could tell me your name?”), and we had the Standard Korea Expat Introduction Conversation.  She came with me and my friends as we went onto the next bar, and we continued to dance for hours.  She walked home with us when we finally stumbled out of the Pink Hole (yes, that’s the actual name of the bar) at dawn and asked to come in, but as I was staying in a dorm, I said no; we left it there and said goodbye, kissing outside of my hostel.

I don’t remember her name, and I doubt she remembers mine… but I remember her hands.

Happy Pride Month, everyone!  Go out and have sex on a dance floor. 

 

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Reflections

As it’s bisexual awareness week, I wanted to share something I wrote six or seven years ago about figuring out that I was bisexual as a high school student and then attempting to find somewhere to fit in.

    When I sat next to K on the swim lineup — I was number twenty-nine, she was number thirty — and her goose-pimpled leg would graze mine, I shivered in my scratchy poly-cotton maroon boy-cut swim suit.  Coach was always coming at us for talking too much, but in a playful way.  He knew we were best friends — at least in that moment.

    K had a cabbage patch kind of face — sweetly innocent, slightly plump and with a toothy grin, complete with dimples.  Freckles splayed her face and her blue eyes would peep out at me from underneath her deep brown bangs and long lashes, twinkling with non-malicious mischief.  We would sit there, twittering about boys and what we’d wear to school the next day.  One day we wore matching vinyl knee-length boots and short skirts, and people called us sluts, but we didn’t care.  We felt grown. 

    I had really close female friends in middle school.  We were a powerful clique, roaming the halls in search of new boyfriends and attempting to maintain control of the school’s social scene.  I had sleepovers with them; I’d seen them change clothes, listened to them talk about sex.  Yet I never felt sexual when I was with them.  K was different; she was exciting, and being in the same room with her made my heart pound.  Her mom lived in a fancy hotel downtown and was never home, so we did a lot of stupid things and never got caught.  We smoked pot and took pills in the living room; we strolled through downtown, laughing our asses off, ripped to the tits.  We swam in our panties late at night in the swimming pool in her drug dealer’s apartment building; I even made out with her older military brother in the freight elevator.  I thought she was the most exhilarating person I’d ever met.

    Maybe that was part of my attraction to her — or maybe it was just good, old-fashioned hormones.  Whatever it was, I had it bad.  Whenever we passed notes in the hallway, the feeling of her fingers against mine was enough to set me on edge for the rest of the day.  She would often grab my cheeks and press them together, asking me to say “pudgy bunny,” and my heart would pause momentarily.

    I went through my freshman year of high school never speaking this secret to anyone, lest they think I was even weirder than they already thought I was — I had transferred to the school six weeks into the school year, and as the new kid with pink hair, I stuck out.  I spent the year obsessing over a boy who I was madly in love with, and K was right by my side — my co-conspirator, my wingman.  I would call her to tell her every little interaction I had with him so we could spend hours analyzing it.  I never got to tell anyone about my interactions with her — the knowing smiles, the lasting hugs, the feeling of dread if I thought I’d hurt her feelings.

    In my yearbook at the end of our freshman year, she wrote to me: “You are my idol, my music box, my mentor, (my fiancéé?), my best friend.”  She was always telling me how beautiful and special I was, and how the boy that I was in love with was such a fool for not loving me back.  She made me feel like the old cliché about being the world to one person.  She stuck by me when my world was falling apart.  Looking back, I know that I could attribute my attraction to her to these bonding feelings.  But it wasn’t just that.  I knew it wasn’t just that.
 
       I grew up with a lot of gay “uncles“ who helped raise me, and so I was raised to inherently understand that it’s perfectly normal for two people of the same sex to love each other, live in the same house, be a couple.  I was very lucky in that respect.  Profoundly so.  And so I never thought that my feelings for K were wrong, or that they were weird.  I had just never felt them before.

    When I heard about our city’s gay pride festival, I jumped at the chance to volunteer.  I was fifteen years old and had at that point been volunteering at an STD / HIV testing clinic, teaching HIV awareness and prevention after school in the lobby, and handing out condoms across the streets from high schools for the past year.  I mean, it just seemed to fit into my young but sexually progressive world.  I remember that my very first volunteer shift, I worked at a burger joint called the Pride Grill with a lot of men in kilts and moustaches.  And we had a fantastic time.  They would make sexual innuendos, and I would laugh with them, and they would look at me uncomfortably like, “Why do you get that?”

    I spent the next three days waving a rainbow flag, buying bracelets and necklaces, working my little heart out for a feeling of belonging… and mostly failing, because as much as my feelings and my attraction for K were genuine, I wasn’t gay.  At that festival I admitted to myself that I liked girls just like I liked boys.  Girls made me tingle, made me shudder, made my stomach flutter.  But so did boys.  And so I found myself in limbo.  Too deviant for the straight kids and too vanilla for the gay kids.  I went to queer events throughout high school (including every Monday night at an LGBT youth night at a gay bar my senior year), but I never felt like I belonged there.  I dated boys.  I had long hair.  I wore skirts.

    I thought that once I was grown-up and out of high school, things would change.  I thought that once I entered the world of adulthood, where people are supposed to be mature and non-judgmental (ha!), everything would be different.  Boy, was I wrong.  When I got to college — even though I attended a super progressive university — I still felt no peace, no acceptance.  When I told girls that I dated boys, they would frown and move on.  I looked at the seedy ads on gay.com, and even they loudly proclaimed, “No bisexuals!”  I felt lost.

    Straight boys accepted that I was bisexual because they thought it meant that I wanted to have a threesome with them and another girl.  They still do.  But even though I bristled at every guy who said, “So, like, have you ever done it with a guy and a girl?” I still felt welcome in the straight community (is that a thing?).  I gave up hope on ever having a girlfriend and settled into a mostly straight life, until I moved to Chicago in my mid-twenties and discovered lesbian bars. 

    Twelve years have passed since I first felt my skin prickle when K’s leg brushed mine.  I would always ask to be her partner during rescue lessons so that I could wrap my arms around her.  We would sit after class with our legs dangling in the water, looking at our reflections in the pool.  I would look at my face and wonder if this would pass.  Eventually, we both got serious boyfriends; after some time, I told her that I had had a crush on her, and she told me that she already knew.  She never said that it bothered her, and maybe it truly didn’t — but we drifted apart.  She’s married now and has kids, and I hope I’m never married with kids. 

    In those twelve years, I’ve gone through all kinds of phases.  I’ve done the abstinence thing, the slut thing, the boy only thing, the girl only thing, the frustrated out of my mind and never, ever want to date anyone ever again thing, the I love being in love thing, the post-breakup doormat thing.  I have gone through all these changes and growth, but sometimes it feels like so little has changed.  I am a bisexual woman.  I do feel more accepted in queer communities now, but most of that I attribute to being more confident and more critical of those who tell me I don’t belong there.  And I still get crushes on straight girls.       

Why I’m Glad the Protest Came to Pride

I just got home from Seoul Pride, and it was… memorable.  This was my sixteenth or seventeenth (?) pride; about thirty minutes in, I realized I’d forgotten my camera back at the hostel.  Oh well, I thought – I’d just take the same photos I always take.  Someone waving a rainbow flag; people selling buttons at booths; drag queens being their most fabulous drag queen selves.

It started out as a pretty normal pride; a few church folks with crosses and signs out front, people drinking, dancing, buying memorabilia, playing trivia games, singing Disney ballads on stage.  People holding hands out in the daylight, proud to be with the ones they love.  The number of people there was impressive, but other than that, it seemed like a standard day all around.

And then shit got real, y’all.

The parade was supposed to begin at 4:00pm; 4:15 came and went.  4:30.  The floats finally started moving, and then immediately stopped.  4:45.  We started getting restless, so some of my crew ran up front to see what was happening; apparently, a small group of Christian protesters had lain down in the street in front of and underneath the floats.  From what I’ve heard, at the beginning of this protest, there were only fifteen to twenty protesters; instead of moving them out of the way and allowing them to continue protesting from the sidelines (as they should be allowed to do; free speech is important), the police allowed them to sit in the street, giving them time to call more people from the church to come sit with them.  By the time my friends and I went up to look so we could report back to others, there were at least a hundred of them sitting in the street, arms locked, protected on all sides by a rectangle of police officers (all men, by the way… there were female police officers standing off to the side, presumably ready to act, but kept out of the action).  People were yelling at them to go home, but the shouts were random and unorganized.  We asked one of the event organizers why we couldn’t just go around them and leave the floats behind; he informed us that it was because the city of Seoul had recently rescinded their marching permit, and without the floats, it would be considered an illegal demonstration instead of a parade.  He also said that because public sentiment in Korea is generally intolerant of queeritude and things were juuuust beginning to change, they didn’t want to harm the progress of the movement by creating a bad public image.

Yet as two girls stood in the middle of the protesters before the police could surround them, kissing each other, the protesters hit them with sticks, poured water on them, and yelled that they were going to hell.  Oh, and told them to get the fuck out of Korea and go home because foreigners are bringing the gay to Korea.  Talk about a bad image.

The parade participants were confused and hurt; as time passed and we realized the police weren’t going to do a damn thing about all the people blocking the parade (except separate them from us), we did what any good queers would do; we pumped up the volume, danced in the streets, cheered as loudly as we could, and kept our spirits up to show the protesters that we weren’t going anywhere, either.  I was blown away by the boundless energy of the people on the floats, dressed in leopard print and glitter, who really kept the crowd on their feet

It’s hard to dance forever, though.  As more and more time went by — it was 6:00pm now, the time the parade was supposed to end — my small group went up front to see what the deal was.  We were standing away from the crowd, looking at the now at least two hundred protesters sitting together, listening to a man on a megaphone (who I heard was later arrested, though I doubt any charges were brought against him) yell about how we were all a bunch of no-goodniks, I thought, “This is bullshit.”  I went up to the police to ask them why they weren’t arresting the protesters (who didn’t have a permit and were therefore there illegally).  The police wouldn’t answer me, but a few young people in the crowd told me it was because they were following orders.  One girl suggested that it was because the political party currently in power (Saenuri-dang) is conservative.  We went through series of chants: “Arrest them!  Go home!”  But nothing was organized.  They had a megaphone and a leader; we didn’t.  We had microphones, but no one would use them to interact with (or against) the protesters.

A few minutes in to standing next to the police and in the midst of the anti-protest protest, I realized what the Christian protesters were saying: “Daehanminguk!” which is the name of South Korea in Korean.  They followed that by singing the Korean national anthem, Aegukga.  And this got me super pissed.  How dare they, I thought.  How dare they use the country’s name and anthem as a platform for hate.  What they’re saying by doing this is that homophobia is a matter of national pride for them.  I yelled to the people around me: “How can they claim Korea in the name of hate?  It’s our [sic] country, too!”  I got people on our side to cheer “Daehanminguk!” as well, but it was short-lived.

The young girls around me started saying, “I’m so sorry – we’re really embarrassed about this.  We are ashamed that foreigners have to see this.”  And that got me more upset.  I love this country.  It’s home to me now, and I have come to feel like part of the big Korean family, even if I’m not accepted as such because I’ll always be a foreigner.  I started crying as I told them this.  We stood there shoulder to shoulder for hours, Koreans and foreigners together, chanting and talking in disbelief.  A couple of times the police went into the group of protesters with full riot gear on to try to break them up, but the protesters just pushed the police back, and the police moved back.  I was incredulous that they didn’t use the force they had; had this happened in the States, I definitely imagine tear gas canisters and clubs coming out.

I felt pretty bad for the police officers there, actually; most of them were in their early-mid twenties.  They seemed inexperienced kids who probably just wanted to go home but instead were stuck in between two very loud groups.  At one point, I saw a young man wad up pieces of tissue and hand them to an officer to stuff in his ears

At around 9:30, my friend and I who had been standing there for hours decided we had to get something to eat.  We walked down the street, and my mind was blown again.  I had assumed while standing up by the protesters that everyone else had gone home; to the contrary.  No one had.  The crowd was blocks and blocks long, everyone sitting down in the street, drinking, eating, and chatting, all of us awaiting the eventual resolution of this standoff.  While my friend and I were waiting for our food, a strange and wonderful thing happened; they started turning the floats around.  After the floats were turned, we saw hundreds of police officers jogging down the street, away from the protest and back toward the street where the festival had been held.  All of a sudden, people were getting up on the floats and the music started blaring.  They had turned the parade around.  All at once, everyone in the streets jumped to their feet and took off down the street, led by police escort and leaving the protesters behind.

What followed was literally awesome.  Thousands of us marched in the streets, backward along the original parade route, at 10:00pm following a six-hour delay.  The float in front of my friends and I blared “Born This Way,” and several men covered in black spandex and glitter danced their asses off as the float moved through the streets of Sinchon.  We all sang along as loud as we could after having yelled for hours.  We cheered and cheered and cheered, rejoicing in the validity of our love and our voices.

So here’s where I come back around to the title of this post.  My first Korean Queer Pride Festival was in 2010, and the parade was tiny – maybe only six blocks.  There were only two floats, and everyone was wearing masks and special stickers so that no one would take their photo.  There weren’t really protesters because it wasn’t even on the radar.   This year, there were no stickers and I only saw a few people in masks.  Attendance was estimated at 20,000.  Google had a booth.  The US embassy had a booth (which was giving away George Takei T-shirts!  Oh, my!).

I feel good that there was a protest because it is a sign of fear.  It’s a sign that political and religious conservatives see that society is changing whether they want it or not, and they’re taking action because they are afraid of those changes.  They’re afraid of our voices and our power.  And that’s amazing.  It’s a true sign of progress.

The slogan of this year’s festival was “Love Conquers Hate”; last night, it did.

 

 

[As an aside, I’d like to mention that among alllllll the groups participating in the parade (which included a church, by the way!), there was a sex workers’ rights group, which I was pleased as punch to see.  If you happen to read Korean, their website is here.]