When I arrived in Korea I didn’t really have any expectations in regard to making friends. Obviously, I wanted to make friends but I also know that is easier said than done. I am someone who values quality over quantity in friendships and would rather invest time in one person instead of in shallow friendships with many people. However, it is hard to make deeper connections when communicating in a different language. Knowing that I had my fellow Kiwi friends with me was a comfort but also stopped me from being so assertive about making new friends. Another major factor for me is, as a Queer person, I prefer to surround myself with other Queer people, which I didn’t think would be possible in the short time I was in Korea. Little did I know one fated encounter would quickly open up a whole new world of queer life and culture in Korea for me.
For years before arriving in Korea I already followed many Queer artists, dancers, Drag Queens, and people from the Vogue/Ballroom community. During the first week of being in Korea, I saw advertising for a Drag show in Itaewon (the famously international and queer center of Seoul) which I took some of my PMSA friends to. This show in particular was at a bar where the audience and performing Drag Queens are mainly foreigners, so we had the chance to chat and exchange Instagrams with the performers. The next week I attended another show of the same Queens except for this time I went alone. This is something EXTREMELY out of character for me so I was quite scared at first. When I arrived I greeted the Queens and one asked me to sit with them which led me to talk to the woman sitting next to me. It was this woman who would become my closest friend and entrance to the broader Queer community in Seoul.
QUEENS OF SEOUL
From that night I continued to go to many performances by the same international Drag Queens. Talking to them personally and seeing them often made me feel like I was really becoming part of a community. Outside of them though my new friend started to introduce me to the local Korean Drag Queens around Itaewon as well. I came to find out that my new friend is actually well acquainted with most of the Queens including the most famous Drag Queen in Korea, Nana Youngrong Kim. I have been following Nana for years now so it was amazing to meet her in person and see her perform. I also got to see internationally recognized queens such as Hoso Terra Toma.
The Ballroom/Vogue community is a very important community for many Queer people around the world. It is about chosen family, safety, and freedom to express yourself. It is the birthplace of many pop culture slang terms and trends without most people knowing it. If you don’t know much about it I highly recommend looking it up because it is hard to summarise it here and do it justice. Lucky for me, my new friend introduced me to more friends involved in the vogue scene which led me to attend a Vogue party where I saw many dancers I have been following for a long time. This party was a highlight of my time in Korea. Being there in person with my new friends and everyone else made me feel so excepted and happy.
One goal I had for myself when going to Korea was to take a dance class. Lucky for me a dancer who I highly respect announced classes during the time I was in Korea. This teacher is heavily involved in the Vogue scene but also does Waacking, which is what I wanted to do. Waacking is a street dance style originating in gay clubs in LA in the 1970s. I have already taken waacking classes in NZ but going to classes in Korea made me very nervous. I was nervous about the class being fully in Korean but in the end, I could actually follow everything the teacher said, so I was quite proud of myself.
All these experiences made my time in Korea 1000x my exciting and joyful. I am so happy I could make some meaningful connections with people and also start to feel included in the queer community in Seoul. I can’t wait to go back and see everyone again.