벅찬년 and Slut-Bitches: Feminization as a Slur in the Korean Gay Community

s(Source: Zeeto)

Like a lot of people, I don’t feel particularly comfortable being labelled. Once a label is stuck on you, separating it from your identity is like trying to scrape a price sticker from the bottom of a shoe — it takes ages and you can never seem to get rid of the damn thing entirely.

‘Feminist’ is one label I happen to like, partly because I chose to bear it…

(Gemma Varnom, The F Word)

Oh, but I do so love the label-makers. I love their audacity in insinuating that vaginas should be called ‘Y-lines’. I revel in their mysterious ability to see a women’s profile in that of a phone’s. I’m astounded at how they keep coming up with labels centered around critiquing women’s spending habits, but never around men’s. I relish discovering who has the chutzpah to homogenize the hobbies, spending habits, work ethics, and hopes and dreams of millions of women through their labeling of them, despite no more basis than the women’s shared academic and career success, ages, and/or income levels. I’m intrigued by how they come to possess the status and social capital to be taken seriously by marketers and the media.

I love the The Kimchi Queen too, for its excellent reporting on Korean LGBT issues, which is why I don’t cover them as much as I’d like to here sorry (I have to prioritize!). When The Kimchi Queen recently discussed the ‘벅찬년/bokchannyeon‘ label used in the gay community though, and linked to “an article that looks at the appropriateness of gays to use this word among themselves from the perspective of a female”, I took advantage of the opportunity to combine both interests.

But first, its definition. In itself, ‘벅차다/bokchada’ just means ‘too much’, as in ‘beyond one’s capacity’ and/or ‘overflowing’. As part of the slang-word discussed here though, The Kimichi Queen explains that:

According to the Korean gay dictionary, 벅차다 is used to describe gays who have many personal connections in the gay community. The first time I heard it, it was combined with 년 (bitch) to form 벅찬년…

[벅차다]…isn’t used really as a compliment. Rather, as the boundary between friendship and love can be ambiguous there are often worries about someone cheating on their lover. A 벅찬년 would often break up with a boyfriend soon after they started dating.

And now my translation of the article, from 너 나 우리 ‘랑’ — 동성애자인권연대 Web_Zine:

‘벅찬 년’, ‘보갈 년’에 대한 어느 레즈비언의 소고 / A Lesbian’s Thoughts on Using ‘bokchanyeon‘ and ‘Slut-bitch’

조나단(동성애자인권연대 웹진기획팀) / Jonathan [Yes, I’m a little confused by the male name too — James] (Gay Human Rights Association Webzine Team)

1 April 2014

모든 게이가 그런 것은 아니지만, 내가 만난 많은 게이들은 스스로를 여성화시켜 지칭한다. 트랜스가 아닌 시스젠더 게이임에도 섹스 포지션에 관계없이 자신뿐 아니라 친밀한 상대방을 ‘벅찬 년’, ‘웃기는 년’, ‘보갈 년’이라고 부른다. 그럴 때마다 시스젠더 레즈비언으로서 많은 생각이 들었다. 그 말을 들었을 때, 어떤 태도를 취해야 하는지, 그 말들은 언어 사용에 있어서 정치적으로 올바르지 않은 경우에 해당하는지 구분이 되지 않았다. 어떻게 바라봐야 할 지 정리가 되지 않은 상태에서 불쾌하거나 당혹스러운 경우도 있었고 함께 깔깔거리며 웃을 때도 있었다. 그러면서도 답답했던 것 같다. 그래서 여성의 날을 맞아 준비한 특집호에서 게이들의 대화에서 흔히 들을 수 있는 여성화자적 언어 사용에 대해 생각을 정리해 보고자 한다. 내가 들어본 적 있는 언어 사용에 한해서 말이다.

Not all gays are like this, but many I have met describe themselves as feminized. Despite being cisgender and not transgender, and despite being bottoms or tops, they call their partners ‘bokchannyeon‘, funny-bitch’, and ‘slut-bitch’. As a cisgender lesbian, I got to thinking a lot whenever I heard these terms. I wondered if it was really okay to use them or not, and what my attitude towards them should be. Until I’d decided, I either felt uncomfortable and upset, or I just laughed them off. But still, I felt a little frustrated and uneasy. So, in celebration of Women’s Day, for this special feature I’m going to talk about this common, [derogatory] use of feminized terms in conversations between gays.

대부분의 경우, 게이들의 여성화자적 언어사용은 자기 희화화의 성격을 띤다. 자기 희화화란 자신의 외모나 성격, 또는 자신이 겪은 사건이 의도적으로 우스꽝스럽게 묘사되거나 풍자되도록 만드는 것이다. 풍자는 다른 것에 빗대어 비웃으면서 폭로하고 공격하는 것인데, 왜 게이들은 자신들을 여성에 빗대어 표현하게 된 것일까?

In most cases, gays’ use of feminized words is to make fun of themselves. It involves making fun of one’s body, one’s personality, and/or an incident one went through, and exaggerating it to make it seem more ridiculous and funny. This is satire: mocking or attacking something by comparing it with something else. But why do gays choose to compare themselves with [heterosexual] women?

흔히 듣는 가설은 사회적으로 남성보다 낮은 지위에 있는 여성과 게이 자신의 지위를 동질화 시켜 생각하기 때문이라는 것이다. 그렇다면 애교처럼 들리는 여러 종류의 ‘~년’은 물론이거니와 성매매 여성을 낮게 보고 이르는 말인 ‘갈보’에서 변화된 ‘보갈년’의 사용은 그렇게 ‘퀴어(Queer)’가 동성애자 자신을 지칭하게 된 것 같은 역사를 품고 있을 수도 있다. 퀴어(Queer)는 ‘이상한, 괴상한’을 의미하는 단어로, 이성애자들이 동성애자를 얕잡아보며 부르는 말이었다. 그러나 ‘정상적 기준’에 의문을 제기하며 우리 자신을 이상한 사람, 퀴어라고 적극적으로 수용한 것이다. 게이들의 이야기를 듣다 보면, 자신이 ‘여자’같다며 놀림을 받았다는 말을 자주 들을 수 있다. 그런 배경을 놓고 보면, 어쩌면 비슷한 맥락의 역사적 배경을 가지고 있다고 볼 수도 있겠다.

An often-heard explanation is that, in a patriarchal, heteronormative society, gays think of themselves as having the same inferior rank or status as heterosexual women. In this sense, not just several kinds of ‘bitch’ terms, albeit which can be cute sometimes (like when referring to the use of aegyo), but also the use of ‘slut-bitch’ (which came from ‘galbo‘, which means female prostitute) are used derogatively to describe something that deviates from the male, heterosexual ideal, just like ‘queer’, which means ‘strange’ and ‘weird’, has been historically used to refer to gays and lesbians. [Yet it is also true that] gays and lesbians have questioned that ideal by embracing the word. Also, many gays can recount being teased by being called women. Considering that background, such [positive, challenging] attitudes might also play a role in their use of bokchannyeon.

Rainbow japan galbo (Rainbow endorses Meiji Seika’s Galbo’ chocolate in Japan. Source: Hstereo)

그럼에도 불구하고 왜, 순간적으로 불쾌감이 들었을까? 두 가지 이유를 생각해보았다. 첫째는 남성이 발화했기 때문이다. 게이라도 남성으로서 교육받고 자연스럽게 남성으로서의 지위를 누려온 사람들이 여성비하적인 언어를 발화한 것이다. 둘째로 우스꽝스럽게 여겨지는 지위에 나 자신이 놓이고 싶지 않았기 때문이다. 희화화되어 유머를 위해 빗대어지는 대상이 내 정체성에 해당되는 것이 불쾌했기 때문이다. 비장애인 이성애자 사이에서 서로를 농담처럼 ‘호모’나 ‘애자’라고 부른다고 할 때, 동성애자들과 장애인이 불쾌감을 느끼듯이 말이다. 하지만, 불쾌감으로만 끝나지 않고 답답했던 것은 실제로 그들이 여성만큼이나 차별받고 있음을 알기 때문이다. 그리고 커뮤니티 문화에 정치적 잣대를 들이대는 것이 소위 먹물이 들어, 옳고 그름의 문제로만 현상을 바라보려고 하기 때문인가 싶어 망설여졌기 때문이다.

Despite that, why do I immediately feel bad whenever I hear the word? For two reasons I guess. First, because it originated with men. Although they are gay, they still grew up as men and enjoyed male privilege, and it’s in this context that they use such a misogynistic term. Second, because it puts me in an uncomfortable position, as the humor derives from disparaging a part of my identity [i.e., disparaging women]. Between non-disabled heterosexuals, when they call each other ‘homo’ or ‘aeja’ [a degrogatory term for disabled people], homosexuals and disabled people feel uncomfortable; I feel the same way about bokchannyeon and so on.

I don’t feel frustrated just because of these words; I also get frustrated because I know that gays get discriminated against just as much as women. But from what I know about the gay community in Korea, if I raise this with gay men I worry that they would misinterpret me, thinking that I see using the words as just a black and white issue.

글이 마무리로 향하고 있는데도, 역시 어떻게 결론을 내어야 할 지 조심스럽다. 되도록 사용을 자제하는 것을 부탁하는 것으로 마무리 지어야 할 지, 그럴 자격이 있는 것인지도 잘 모르겠다. 웅에게 같은 기획으로 글을 의뢰했는데, 웅의 결론이 궁금할 뿐이다. 화두는 던져놓고 무책임하게 마무리하는 것 같지만, 평소 같은 생각을 한 적이 있는 분이라면 댓글로 의견을 들어보고 싶다.

Now that I’m nearly finished, I’m hesitant about making a conclusion. I’m not sure if I have to ask gay men to stop using that term, and/or if I’m even in a position to ask them. So, I’ve asked Woong to also write about this, and I wonder what his conclusion will be. I’m going to finish here then, by just having raised the topic. Please let me know what you think in the comments (end).

How Misogyny Shows Up in the Queer Community(Source: Everyday Feminism)

And she did indeed get a few brief comments; if people would like me to translate those, and/or Woong’s (much longer) article, please let me know. Either way, apologies as always for any mistakes in the translations, and thanks in advance for any corrections. Also, please note that, beyond the article I’ve translated, I have personal no knowledge of the terms described and how often and/or why they’re used in the Korean gay community (or not), so I’d very much appreciate being educated about the subject. Are things like in the “How Misogyny Shows Up in the Queer Community” cartoon that the above panel is from, posted just last week on Everyday Feminism? Or would that be an exaggeration? Thanks!

(Update) A friend on Facebook responded:

“I’ve also noted quite a bit of misogyny among gay male and mtf transgender message boards and anonymous forums made for Korean-speakers. I thought that might be what this blog post would be about, but this is more about language use. (That overt hatred towards straight cis-gender women was kind of fascinating, if depressing to observe >_< ) It’s been a while since I looked at those websites, but as best as I can recall such sentiments consisted of things like:

  • jealousy towards straight women for being able to express romantic interest towards or openly flirt with desirable males
  • annoyance at straight women for demanding attentions and considerations they (straight women) would expect from straight men
  • a great deal of annoyance towards a certain sector of straight women for romanticizing/straight-washing/sexualizing gay relationships for their own purposes
  • annoyance at straight women for conceptualizing gay men as accessories (blame sex and the city :P) and ignoring those who aren’t fabulous or good looking
  • annoyance and even anger at cis-women for having what they (mtf transgenders) do not

Of course, this is all filtered through my interpretations of the motivating forces behind the disparagement of and anger towards women expressed in thise forums.”

She admits though, that:

“I have some doubts as to how relevant my observations are…Like, at best they’re indications that gay men are not immune to the social cues/examples they are presented with in male-spaces of society at large. Cuz that’s what a lot of biased language really is, isn’t it? You are provided with some pre-made, mass-manufactured molds, and you get used to throwing everything that fits into that mold and in turn strenghthening your belief in it. Ish?”

5 thoughts on “벅찬년 and Slut-Bitches: Feminization as a Slur in the Korean Gay Community

  1. This sort of thing happens in the gay community everywhere though, doesn’t it? Certainly in the Western gay communities I am familiar with you often have guys calling each other things like “bitch” among other things.

    And misogyny is certainly present in Western gay circles as well. I guess I’ve never pondered too much where it comes from. It’s always baffled me to a degree. And the community I spend most of my time in tries hard to be inclusive of men, women, gay, straight. Not that we have a lot of trans people around, but we try to make everyone welcome.

  2. As a gay American, if I had to guess, I think I’d look at the beokchanyeon thing as either neutral or positive. Like you said, it’s the realization that, like women, they’re treated as second-class citizens, a kind of way of reminding oneself that you’re not of the mainstream. (The only thing there, and one I have yet to see in a big way in most places, is the identification of one subgroup of oppressed people, i.e. non cis/straight people, ethnic/racial minorities, women, the poor, with all others. That is to say, people of all these groups ought to be working together, but they don’t seem to be yet.)

    On the flip side of that, they may use that kind of terminology because they either don’t identify with or don’t feel they can identify with the Korean male cisgender norm, which from what I know is ~2/3’s as restrictive as the insanely restrictive female cisgender norm. They identify more with women because they feel they must, but also because it’s just a better expression of how they feel about themselves.

    I’m pretty sure it’s been discussed here before, or somewhere tangential to here, but the lack of third gender allowance in both the U.S. and Korea leads to people who, by the definition of others fall even slightly outside of either cismale or cisfemale, feel the need to forge an identity of their own choosing, whichever it might be. That’s why, as relatively liberal as the U.S. is with homosexuality generally, the expression of it tends either to be very masculine or quite feminine.

    I’m starting to see more people who fall somewhere in between, and I’d put myself in that vague space. However, in my experience, anyone who’s not totally sure about how exactly he would like to express himself still reverts to behavior more in line with how others would expect to see him express himself–either the stereotypical so-gay-he-glows-pink or the somewhat newer so-straight-you’d-never-know. Better safe if bothered than unsafe and threatened, I suppose?

  3. Pingback: Japan Gender Reader: March 2015 | The Lobster Dance

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