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The Luxury of Love: The Retreat/Retirement of Single Gay Men and the Rise of “Bats” in Post-IMF South Korea

By John Cho, UC Berkeley

Tuesday, April 02, 2013
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
11377 Bunche Hall


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Two competing models of understanding gay/queer identity have recently dominated the field of queer studies: the globalization model and the newer cultural citizenship model. While the first presumes the dissemination of sexual identities from the “center” to the “margins” and the production of the “global gay,” the latter prioritizes “the significance of ‘cultural belonging’ which functions as a culturally distinct mechanism of emotionality that produces and reproduces identities and differences” (Chao 2002). This paper problematizes both models by examining the retreat/retirement of single gay men in South Korea. If the mid-1990s onwards were a period of great liberalizing reforms and sexual and romantic experimentation, then the contemporary period of deepening neoliberal reforms can be seen as an era of diligence, self-development, and, paradoxically, risk-taking. Viewing a bleak economic future without the support of their own wives and children, many regret the time that they had wasted pursuing love and sex in the 1990s. In order to secure their economic future, many retreat and some even retire from the gay community—now considering love an unaffordable luxury—to devote themselves to making money. Ironically, even as single gay men are pressured to retreat/retire under the force of neoliberal reforms, married gay men, known as “bats” because they blur the emotional, temporal/spatial, and financial boundaries of being “gay” and “straight,” are arising as a powerful new sexual constituency within the gay community. The same force that compels many single gay men to arise—the lack of familial support—is what is seen to enable married gay men to enjoy the “luxury of love.” 



John (Song Pae) Cho is an SSRC Postdoctoral Fellow for Transregional Research at UC Berkeley. After completing his PhD in socio-cultural anthropology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2011, he served as the Korea Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley. In fall, he will serve as the Soon Young Kim Postdoctoral Fellow in the Korea Institute at Harvard University. He is currently completing his book manuscript, Faceless Things: South Korean Gay Men, Internet, and Sexual Citizenship. His research has appeared in several journals, including Anthropological Quarterly (2009), Journal of Sociolinguistics (2012), and GLQ (forthcoming).     


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