UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Seoul’s gay districts : space, place, and identity Alexander, Elias


For men navigating sexual identity that lies on the periphery of culturally understood and politically acceptable discourse, places where they can express such identities are critical for creating a sense of belonging to a wider community. Gay districts have existed as bastions of open self-expression, providing a sense of belonging in restrictive societal contexts. This is particularly true in South Korea. Through direct ethnographic engagement, this thesis analyzes how gay men use Seoul’s gay districts to reinforce identity and create a sense of belonging. In this thesis I argue that while accessing Seoul’s gay districts, individuals are able to interact with like others to reinforce a sense of self as gay. In this study I also show how it is simultaneously important for gay men to conform to normative patterns of social interaction via culturally based expectations of behavior for men in the South Korean context. Chongno, one of Seoul’s gay districts, is uniquely configured to accomplish both processes. Through accessing this space, gay men formulate relationships that affirm gay men’s understanding of self and allow for the transformation of these spaces into places fixed in physical reality. Furthermore, these normative patterns of social interactions with other gay men help individuals reaffirm the self as being both gay and Korean while creating a network of relationships. Such social relationships then allow for the embodiment of this identity outside of such places when participating in and with these networks of people.

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