I knew Seongmin was gay. I've known it since he was a first grader. He's now a third grader. Today when he was in cleaning the office, I explained the expression "100 watt smile" to him, and told him that he had one. And that seeing it every day made me happy.
Seongmin was in the office talking to Head Teacher for a long time today. He has two best friends at our school -- the three boys have been extremely, extremely close from early on. Today, it became clear why. They are all three gay.
Head Teacher doesn't know this, or if she does, she's not expressing it. She understands that the other two have "Sexual Identity Disorder", but she seems to have no suspicions about Seongmin.
What happened is this: the three boys are all members of a gay online cafe. One of the others, Byeongchan, has a lot of issues at home. Or at least that's the way it was explained to me. Head Teacher seems to have some biases about "low income" families, and the only evidence she gave me of his problems at home is that he has a step father and two step siblings. As we all know, this alone does not create a "bad home life". But he very well may have one. I don't know. At any rate, Byeongchan is not happy at home. Part of that may be because Byeongchan is gay, and that's obviously not going over so well with his parents.
Some of the other members of this online cafe are older gay men who frequent or work at or live at or run or something a gay cafe in Jongno. Jongno, for those who don't know, is the more "Korean" gay area of Seoul, the other main area being Homo Hill in Itaewon, which is more of a hub for foreign gay activity for obvious reasons (although also still very Korean, as it is, after all, in Korea). These older men got talking to Byeongchan, and convinced him that he should leave home to come and live with them at/near the cafe. Byeongchan did, for a couple of weeks at a time here and there.
At this point in the story, I was neutral. Growing up gay anywhere is not exactly a walk in the park. In Korea, I would imagine it's probably less so than certain parts of the U.S., although not so much in others. As with any place, I'm sure a huge determiner of how difficult it is, is how your family views and does or does not accept homosexuality. Or you for being homosexual. It would have been entirely possible that Byeongchan would be having a hell of a time, and that these older gay men would have experienced similar things, and would have been offering Byeongchan an alternative, out of kindness and concern. Although at that age, taking a child out of a home for any reason is, in my opinion, questionable.
These men turned out not to be just benevolent gay hyeongs, however. They're pedophiles. Which is completely different, altogether, from being gay. I feel the need to make that clear lest the comments devolve into a territory in which I would not be able to control my mouth. The fact that there are gay pedophiles is no more an indication of gay = pedophilia than the fact that there are straight pedophiles indicating that straight = pedophilia. Clear?
Byeongchan.... I don't even know. The details are all a bit blurry. But he has experienced "adult things" as a result of his visits to and stays at this cafe. Including alcohol. Including sex. With grown adults who should not even be thinking about, let alone touching a child of his age.
After Byeongchan started frequenting the cafe, he told the third student involved in the group (who was also not happy at home) that it was a very warm, open place where he would be welcomed, and convinced him to come along. The third student went.
This week, two men from the cafe showed up at our school gate. They were waiting for Seongmin. Who has been completely unwilling to go to the cafe or engage with these older men at all. They told him that if he dared to tell any of the adults involved in the situation about the cafe, or what the other two boys involved in the situation had been going through, he would pay for it dearly. Seongmin, being Seongmin, immediately informed Byeongchan's mother of where he was, and all of the adults involved of everything that was going on. He's worried about his friends. And rightly so.
So now Seongmin cannot walk anywhere alone. He lives in the neighborhood, near the school, and these men obviously know that. These two boys were Seongmin's best friends, and have all kinds of information about him and his whereabouts.
My thoughts about this situation are this:
1. Society (and I don't just mean Korean society) needs to deal with the fact that denying homosexuality and marginalizing it puts children like this in extreme danger. When these children have no where to turn, they are made vulnerable. And it becomes so simple for a predator to step in and act the part of the hero. I understand you. I am just like you. I accept you. Those words mean so much when you're at that age, and feeling very much like a complete freak. Hearing it from your parents and your teachers and the right-minded adults in your life would mean so much more. Especially if some of those right-minded adults were allowed to be openly gay themselves.
2. What is Seongmin going to take away from this? There is not a question in my mind that at least some of the adults involved in the situation are confusing pedophila for homosexuality. Seongmin has no proper gay role models to look up to. As far as he can see, this is what gay looks like. How is he feeling about his sexual identity now?
If I could have thirty minutes alone with Seongmin in total confidentiality, this is what I would say to him: There is nothing wrong with you, and these men are not what "gay" means. It's incidental. To be gay does not mean you have to be like them, or be abused by them. There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with your friends. And they didn't deserve to have this happen to them. Those men are criminals. There are straight men just like them. And they hurt little girls just like your friends. And your friends didn't deserve it anymore than those little girls do.
I don't know. I was having a bad day at work, but this kind of shocked things back into perspective. Seongmin's got a long, hard road ahead of him. And I sincerely hope that the extremely wise head he's got on his shoulders at such a young age will help protect him from having anything happen to that beautiful smile. He's already taken a very hard right step in letting the adults in his life know what's happening to his friends. I only hope that those adults can be level-headed and open-minded enough not to do more damage than these men already have. Because these boys are children, and they are good children, and they don't deserve to be confused about who they are. They deserve to have nervous flutterings and little sexual exploits with boy their own age. They deserve to have romantic first dates, first kisses and first boyfriends, who are their equals and who genuinely care for them, and who are going through all the same 'firsts' that they are. They deserve to have those normal experiences. Because they are normal. And they deserve to stay that way.