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The Rainbow Struggle: Transgenders in Korea
(socialfunch.org)

The second Gwangju Queer Culture Festival was held in the South Jeolla Province of South Korea on October 26th, and this stirred a country-wide debate about sexual minorities. It is still far too early, however, to say that the world has become a kinder place to these individuals. Amongst the members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the transgender community in particular has experienced one of the biggest clashes with the public, and the Sungkyun Times (SKT) will discuss the hardships experienced by transgenders living in South Korea, as well as some possible courses of action that will be able to provide a form of alleviation.

About Transgenderism

Defining Transgenderism

Transgenderism is an umbrella term that is likened to gender dysphoria, a state of identifying oneself as a gender that is different from the gender that one was assigned at birth.

The Transgender Flag (citynews1130.com)

This condition is typically alleviated through a change in gender expression, which refers to one’s physical appearance and behavior that usually aligns with their gender identity. Transgender individuals are widely categorized into three types of people: Male To Female (MTF) or transwomen; Female to Male (FTM) or transmen; and non-binary (transgenders that refrain from identifying themselves within the binary male-female gender spectrum).

The Transition

Transitioning is the process of changing one’s gender expression or sex characteristics to align with one’s gender identity. Some transgenders desire to change aspects of themselves – such as their facial features, clothing choice, mannerisms – and others may decide to undergo a medical transition process that consists of services such as hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery. The process and the extent to which one chooses to undergo these processes are all dependent on personal choice.

Obstacles to the Transitioning Process

A Legal Invasion of Privacy

In 2006, South Korea passed legislation that permitted citizens to change their legal sex, and to this day, the criteria for eligibility has not been revised. This legislation, while requiring numerous things from applicants, were not written with much clarity, and because of this, the process of changing one’s legal sex is dependent on the court and the judge one is assigned. The biggest problem encountered during a legal sex change, however, is the unreasonable extent to which these documents may invade one’s right to privacy. The official number of certificates the law requires is a total of eight, and this includes formal letters from as proof of sex reassignment surgery, an official diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and a permission slip from the applicant’s parents, regardless of whether the applicant is legal or not. Some courts ask for additional documents, and in some cases, judges ask for nude photographs as additional proof of sex reassignment

LGBTQIA+ Activist in Support of Transgender Rights (advocate.com)

surgery, and this strengthens the opinions of those that insist that the legislative system breaches the rigts of transgender citizens.

Frequent Social Discrimination

Transgenders, especially proceeding a physical transition, are typically exposed to social discrimination. There is a mismatch between the gender they are perceived as and the gender written on their legal documents, and this phenomenon becomes the cause of various social problems. First, many transgenders experience difficulty maintaining personal relationships. In an interview with Korean newspaper Hankook Ilbo, a trans-woman by the name of Choi mentions that after finding out about her identity, her father started physically abusing her. Choi states that this negatively affected her self-esteem and instilled in her a strong feeling of guilt. Transgenders are also a lot less likely to be given a good position of employment. In the same interview, Choi highlights how difficult it is to obtain a profession as a transgender, and that she makes a living through working several minimum wage part-time jobs. In reality, many transgenders end up in establishments such as transgender bars to make a living.

Courses of Action to Take
Improving the Existing Legislation

Improvements can be made to the legislation regarding sex change, and the legal system must take into account the needs and rights of transgenders. One adjustment that could be made would be alleviating the requirement of sex reassignment surgery. These procedures can cost up to thousands of dollars, and relieving transgenders of this mandate would provide significant economic benefit. Many nations – including Germany, Japan, Argentina, and the United States – have gotten rid of this compulsory criterion and have set a good example that may be closely followed.

Increasing Social Awareness

One effective way to increase social awareness within our society would be to have transgenders create a community amongst themselves. Mapo, a district in Seoul, has a queer community called Mapo’s Rainbow Community and many of its members say they finally feel as though they have friends and family that they can be themselves around. Members of sexual minorities need a group of people they know they can relate to, and the rest of society can help transgenders by providing them support and the freedom to make their own choices.

Transgenders in Korea are being ostracized solely because they are a sexual minority, and they have no choice but to live with harsh judgment and discrimination. The SKT wishes that Kingos keep an open mind towards these individuals and work together to help alleviate the social problems surrounding transgenders and other sexual minorities.

이슬  leesleisabel@gmail.com

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