Cont. from THE Myth, Part I -- Before Korea: Sleeping with Asian men is hilarious.
And THE Myth, Part II: The women, before.
Around the eighth or ninth month in the country, my constant companion and Siamese twin Mags decided he just couldn't hack it anymore. He had been my security blanket, my task to stay occupied with, my fallback on a bad day, my source of infinite cheering up through laughter -- even if out of desperation. He had shielded me from what was a growing contingency of asshole-ic, misogynistic and alcoholic Western men who traipsed around our local areas in tribes of dysfunction, dousing me over with eyefuls of completely unprovoked venom.
I'm not exaggerating there, by the way. I would say about 20% of the foreign men we met out in our local area accepted me as I would expect to be accepted to a new social situation back in the outside world. About 30% simply ignored me. 20% came at me in a "friendly" (in their minds) manner which I found instead to be rather aggressive, disrespectful and generally unacceptable. And about another 30% looked at me as though by simply being present, I was somehow personally offending them.
It's important to clarify that this was one particular moment in one particular environment in Korea. The atmosphere, even in this one small area, has repeatedly and drastically shifted over the course of my two years here. It was a bad luck moment, with a lot of nasty people who happened to be Western men having found each other and banded together in one place to goad each other on in their bad behavior. Sort of like how Dave's is certainly not a representation of the entire Korean male expat community, neither was this group of people. Other places in Korea (particularly Seoul) were not nearly as bad as this area was. Things are much better now. And I have no feelings of resentment toward male expats in general (although, at the time, I was wary of any I met in this area, I will admit). But at the moment when I first arrived, this was the way that things were. It's an honest account of my experience, as a woman whose closest friends were also male expats. I didn't notice it as much when I had Mags by my side. I'm sure if Mags has been a female, we would've noticed it twice over. But as it was, I was accompanied by one of their 'own' and mostly left alone as a result.
But then the night came where we had to meet in his neighborhood one last time for galbi at the first restaurant we ever figured out how to order in, and say goodbye in the drizzling rain at the subway station. I was now alone.
And something weird began to happen -- Korean men started approaching me.
They had approached me and Mags before, but always in a friendly context. Mags and I were very easily mistaken in the area as a couple, given that we were never seen one without the other. Suddenly I started showing up places on my own, or with various other male friends. And suddenly, I could hardly sit on a barstool alone long enough for my friend to duck into the bathroom without being approached.
Because I'm stunning and gorgeous and every man in the world is dying to fuck me. A shining example of femininity and grace and beauty and, most importantly, svelteness in a sea of otherwise dowdy, bitter, downtrodden, FAT, ugly, frumpy FEMINISTS.
No. Not that at all, actually.
Here is the place where a nastier contingency of the readership, both male and female will go one of two ways: 1. They will assume that I am "more attractive" than the "majority" of foreign women in Korea, and therefore an exception out of whom an argument cannot be made. The other, probably bigger faction will opt for: 2. Believing that I am actually a hideous example of all of the stereotypes about American women in Korea, and shrug all of this off onto the line that Korean men sexualize Western women and will sleep with them no matter what they look like.
I'm going to ask something of you people that may be novel, strange and difficult to manage. I'm going to ask you to not reduce your thinking to the level of, is this female author attractive or not, and therefore how much weight should we give her accounting of her own experience? I'm going to ask you to just try to set that aside, and deal with the point that I am actually making, which is that, for whatever reason, and in direct contradiction to the myth we are dealing with, Korean men were approaching me, a Western woman. That is the point. That is the only point.
I will never, as long as I live, forget my first date with a Korean guy. Because of the date? No. Because of the guy? No. Because of the absolute classicness of what ensued when I had the balls to walk into the local foreigner bar with a Korean guy for the first time. And how many realizations I had on that night alone about the nature of what had been confusing the fuck out of me for literally months.
The guy was not run-of-the-mill by anyone's standards. But he was, physically, absolutely stunning by my own. About six feet tall, with a thin build -- covered in tattoos and sporting a bit of facial hair. Dressed in all black with worn jeans and a leather jacket. Big black combat boots. Sharp eyes. I describe him not to impress you (I don't expect anyone to ever be as impressed as I was with myself that night), but to point out that there was nothing even remotely stereotypically "Korean men are gay" about the way that he looked. He was definitely not a flower boy. There would never be a teddy bear on his sweater. He was a tough looking guy, by anyone's standards, including a Westerner's.
We sat in a quiet back corner talking and sipping our drinks. We had been there for about fifteen minutes when, suddenly, out of fucking nowhere, some Western man I had never even seen before came reeling in my direction. He literally wedged himself directly between me and my date, with his back to my date.
"Oh look at this.... like.... cool rocker chick. Sitting back here alone and sipping on a beer and being cool and shit!"
"Excuse me?" I couldn't believe this was happening. "I'm not alone--"
"So, are you like really into music? I bet you're really into music. You're like really cool and aloof back here in the corner wearing your leather jacket and shit." He was still speaking to me -- I also had a bomber jacket on, although it was not leather. This also, by the way, would fall into that category I mentioned before of "friendly" approaches which I found felt more like attacks.
This continued all. night. long. One after another of the foreign men who had never bothered to even look me in the eye before that night suddenly felt the need to make their way over and say something fucking asinine while completely ignoring the fact that there was another human being sitting next to me, with whom I was trying to have a conversation.
And it wasn't just one time. A date would go to the bathroom, and a Western man I was completely unacquainted with would sidle over from the other side of the room and inform me that my date's outfit was "gay" (t shirt and jeans?), his hair was "stupid" (combed and washed?), and that I would obviously have a better time that night if I were to go home with him instead.
I'm not joking. I'm not exaggerating. You're going to think that I am, unless you're a foreign woman who's also been out with Korean guys, but I'm not. Was it ALL of this EVERY time I was out with a Korean guy? No. Was it EVERY Western guy? Certainly not. Was it at least some of this most of the times I was out with a Korean guy? Yes. Making it home for the evening without encountering at least one patronizing comment was the rare exception. A lot of men will brush this off and dismiss it as impossible. But it's the truth.
As soon as I recovered from my initial shock about this kind of behavior, I realized what was behind it. A community of men who had previously viewed me as a kind of annoying buzzing sound in the room (which nobody could really do anything about, so everybody just had to live with) were now striding up to me in bars to offer me a 'chance' to be with them. Or were finding smaller, more cowardly ways to make passive aggressive comments and generally interrupt my business, which they had previously had literally no interest in whatsoever.
And it wasn't just about me being with a guy -- I had been all over the place with Mags and Smalltown and various other Western men. Nobody ever interrupted or criticized that. It was that I was with a Korean guy. As soon as I felt I had given just consideration to the behavior, I began routinely and outright condemning it.
Again, I will repeat, lest things here go the direction of "Chatting With Dummies", that this was not every Western guy. It was a handful of poor examples of humanity who happened to fall into that category and had a way of making themselves known. My guy friends were always nothing but pleasant, and there were plenty enough of others around who had no allegiance toward me whatsoever who were content to act like normal human beings and, given that they didn't even know me, not even glance twice at the situation. But there were enough of these scumbags around that something managed to happen or be said nearly every single time.
I may not be the image of beauty and grace. I may not be talented or crushingly intelligent or particularly driven. But if there is one quality of mine that I have full faith in, in this world, it's my ability to put a motherfucker in his place.
I had had enough. I had had enough of people telling me (however indirectly and by category) that nobody wanted me, that nobody would give me the time of day, that there was no place for me, that they pitied me, really. I had had enough of watching women joke and laugh and jeer right along their Western male counterparts, condemning themselves to a 'miserable' experience, all to be sure they weren't outcast from what little community they had.
I had had enough of listening to men tell me what my experience in Korea was and would be, and why. And then, when I turned around and proved them wrong -- not even for the sake of proving them wrong, but just as incidence in the conducting of my own personal pursuit of happiness -- having them jump all over that shit as well. Even the nice guys I knew from around would occasionally manage to be patronizing, with comments like, "Good for you!" and, "Oh, really? You like Korean guys? Well... that's cool." As though them sitting around and endlessly discussing how much they wanted to date Korean girls happened on a completely different planet from me dating Korean guys.
Another interesting thing started to happen. Popular opinion among this pack of scumbags, in the face of direct contradiction, had suddenly shifted from "Western women have to be celibate in Korea because no one will touch them har har!" to "Oh, that? Over there? Yeah. Korean men just like to use Western women for sex." Funny, that. I had gone from being completely un-sexable to only useful for my sexuality. That, obviously, has never happened to women before, and was a completely befuddling, case-specific example of stunningly cerebral analysis on the part of these men.
I started getting back in these guys' faces, calling them on their shit each and every time they pulled a stunt like this. Lucky for me, they weren't half as tough as they thought they were, and once I had recovered from the shock of having this kind of thing occur at all and started standing up for myself and demanding respectful treatment in a public area, these guys would quickly crumble into a stuttering, red-faced retreat.
Their attempts to badger me into backing down and being ashamed of myself weren't working -- in fact, they were backfiring. It was easy enough for me to point out, loudly and to their own audience, that the Korean man I was with that night may in fact be "gay", but, if you don't mind, I think I'll just stick with him, rather than jumping ship to you. You're not really my type. And, if you don't mind me pointing it out, I've also noticed that you continue to be here week after week with your same all male group of friends -- I've yet to see you on a single date with any girl, Korean or otherwise. Which I'm sure has nothing whatsoever to do with your attitude and manner of conducting yourself toward women. So I realize that you're concerned about my well-being, and the mistake I'm making by being out with a Korean guy, but if you don't mind, the situation seems to indicate to me that I might just know more about what I'm doing than you do.
I just wasn't going to cooperate, the way other women had been, by assuming a martyred role and going along with their myth. And so I started to get a bit of a reputation. This was not the first time I had ever had to learn to survive as a woman in a testosterone-driven environment. And the only way I've ever found of doing it, or at least the quickest and easiest, is to make a name for yourself, own it proudly and then get in the face of anyone who dares to fuck with you about it. So suddenly, I had become That Girl Who Dates Korean Guys.
It wasn't what I set out to be. I never put a cap on my interest in Western men. I never had "yellow fever". But it couldn't just be what it was, which was that I was dating men who happened to be Korean. It had to be categorized. I had to be categorized. It had to be 'my thing' in order for it to be acceptable. No, no -- Western women still don't like Korean men, and Korean men still don't like Western women. INP is just into them, and they're just into her.
And, at the time, that was better than the alternative. People backed the fuck off and left me to mind my own business, for the most part. I had no way of knowing that around that same time, some other Western women had started doing the same thing. But in a much more public manner.