Visualizing Korean Queerness: The Rise of the Newspaper Weekly in Transnational Perspectives, 1965-1980

Colloquium | February 20 | 4-6 p.m. | Doe Library, Room 180

 Todd A. Henry, UC San Diego

 Center for Korean Studies (CKS)


As LGBTI activists in South Korea today fight for human rights, they face deeply entrenched views of non-normative sexuality and gender variance as abnormal, unfilial, and unpatriotic. An anxious response to the dramatic breakdown of the heteropatriarchal family, such views may seem provincial, but they are embedded in transnational linkages to transpacific psychiatry, the Cold War, and global Christianity. So, too, are these responses historical, with South Koreans having experienced multiple waves of social change in which queerness captured the public’s imagination. My presentation revisits one of these politicized moments during the late 1960s and 1970s. Although often narrated in nation-centered frameworks of development and/or repression, I argue that this era must be seen in the global context of the sexual revolution, whose alarmist language permeated the mass media. Analyzing the aesthetics, narratives, and contents of newspaper weeklies, I reveal the cross-border links that connected this new consumer product to its counterparts in Japan as well as to gay power, feminist, and other social movements in the West. While these outside inspirations allowed profit-making journalists to visualize Korean forms of queerness, they did so within the national parameters of heteropatriarchal capitalism and working-class urbanization. Comprised of a careful mix of conservative moralizing and erotic entertainment, their popular accounts introduced readers to a wide range of nonconforming subcultures, albeit often at the expense of these objectified agents of transformation. Homo- and trans-phobic representations, I contend, thus uncomfortably coexisted with homo- and trans-philic realities, providing readers with divergent ways to confirm and/or to reimagine their relationship to such important cultural referents as self, family, community, nation, and world.


Todd Henry (Ph.D., UCLA, 2006; Associate Professor, UCSD) is a specialist of modern Korea with a focus on the period of Japanese rule and its postcolonial afterlives. A social and cultural historian interested in global forces that (re)produce lived spaces, he also examines cross-border processes linking South Korea, North Korea, Japan, and the US in the creation of “Hot War” militarisms, the transpacific practice of medical sciences, and the embodied experiences of hetero-patriarchal capitalism. Dr. Henry’s first book, Assimilating Seoul (University of California Press, 2014), addressed the violent but contested role of public spaces in colonial Korea. He has written several related articles on questions of place, race, and nation in colonizing and decolonizing movements on the peninsula. Currently, Dr. Henry is completing his second book, entitled The Profit of Queerness. This study of authoritarian development in Cold War South Korea examines the ideological functions and subcultural dynamics of queerness as they relate to middlebrow journalism and sexual science, anti-communist modes of kinship and citizenship, and globalized discourses and practices of the “sexual revolution.” A sample of this new work appears in his new edited volume, Queer Korea (Duke University Press, 2020). Dr. Henry has received two Fulbright grants (Kyoto University, 2004-2005; Hanyang and Ewha Womans Universities, 2013), two fellowships from the Korea Foundation (Seoul National University, 2003-2004; Harvard University, 2008-2009), and one fellowship from the Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies (Seoul National University, 2019). At UCSD, he is an affiliate faculty member of Critical Gender Studies and Science Studies. From 2013 until 2018, Dr. Henry served as the inaugural director of Transnational Korean Studies, the recipient of a $600,000 grant from the Academy of Korean Studies as a Core University Program for Korean Studies.

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