How the boys of K-pop influenced my trans identity

the voice and vision of a new generation
Image credit: Holland, YouTube

How the boys of K-pop influenced my trans identity

June 20, 2018

In the summer before my first year of high school, I decided to delve into the world of K-pop. K-pop is a genre of music that originated in South Korea and encompasses a diverse range of musical genres. It is characterized by elaborately produced music videos that contain highly choreographed dancing. Personal curiosity first drew me to K-pop— but, little did I know that it’d help me to fully find and accept myself.

When I discovered K-pop, I remember thinking that the male dancers shown in the music videos were so beautiful. They were masculine beings, but at the same time they were pretty. I would have usually used this word to describe women or feminine people, but in this case, it seemed to perfectly capture these male K-idols. For example, in Ikon’s “#WYD” music video, a soft, hazy filter is overlaid on the video, portraying the members in an angelic light. Their makeup and several of the members’ dyed and styled hair adds to their appeal, especially in the close-ups where each member of the group is clad in white. A few outfits were made of flowy fabric and oversized tops—silhouettes which tend to be considered feminine, but being worn by men.

Before watching K-pop music videos, I had never seen other men expressing themselves in this way. Through seeing these male singers and dancers, my concept of masculinity had been completely redefined.

When I was first questioning my gender, I did not fit my perception of masculinity at the time, an understanding that was highly influenced by Western society. Since I liked to wear makeup, I was interested in style, and I enjoyed dressing well, I figured that I wasn’t masculine enough to be a man and therefore I was not a man. Despite my own feelings, I felt pressure to express my gender in the same way other men around me were expressing theirs.

Through clothes and makeup, my idols in K-pop music videos were able to express a level of androgyny. They were challenging the notion of the gender binary and associated stereotypes. These men were just like me, and for the first time in my life, I was able to relate to someone’s gender expression. Through their performance, I realized that being a pretty boy was okay, which led me to finally see myself as a trans man over the following years. Now I’m 20, and without my exposure to the South Korean music industry, I’m sure it would have taken me much longer to accept my truth.

Fast forward to late January of this year: I was browsing YouTube when I saw a music video for the song “Neverland” by Holland, the first openly gay K-pop idol. In the song, Holland sings about not giving up and continuing to live his life despite the homophobia around him. He dreams of a place where he can love and show his love without restriction and discrimination. Along with many aesthetically pleasing scenes on a beach, the video shows a free world where Holland and his lover face the good and bad moments of their relationship.

In a 2018 interview with SBS PopAsia, Holland said, “This song is for kids who are having a bad time because of their identity. I wanted to comfort them with this song while they're struggling." By releasing this music video and being an out queer figure in K-pop, Holland has become a role model for K-pop fans within the LGBTQ+ community. Many listeners, like myself, have been yearning for queer representation and success in the industry. With his music video—which notably has a 19+ age rating in South Korea due to a same-sex kiss— Holland has made a fearless and bold statement for equality.

I stan for Holland, his music, and his dedication to promote acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. By exposing myself to the world of K-pop and Holland's unapologetic expression, I was further able to accept myself on a level unavailable to me in the past and become more comfortable and proud of my identity.

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Gabriel Brown is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a rising junior at Marshall University studying biological sciences and chemistry. Gabe is the Lead Facilitator for the LGBTQ+ Office's student-led Transgender Support Group and is a member of Alpha Phi Omega, National Service Fraternity.

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