K-Pop’s Role in Shaping Knowledge of Sexuality Among LGBTQ+ ‘Inter-Fans’


On April 23rd, at 3:40pm American Eastern Standard Time (UTC-4), I will be presenting a virtual lecture about some of the results of my research project examining fandom for K-pop among LGBTQ+ fans.

Entitled “K-Pop Fandom’s Role in Shaping Knowledge of Gender and Sexuality Among LGBTQ+ ‘Inter-Fans’ in the Anglophone Asia-Pacific,” the lecture forms part of a panel on Queer Korea/Asia at the Afro-Latinx-Queer-Korea-Asia in the Arts Symposium organised by Brooklyn College, City University of New York.

Here is the (extended!) abstract:

It is not an exaggeration to state that, since the mid-2000s, the popular media of South Korea has emerged as a significant force within global culture. The global impact of the Korean Wave has motivated a wealth of previous scholarly literature to critically investigate how fans around the world draw upon K-pop to make sense of their gendered identities and sexual desires. Despite this flourishing previous literature, the experiences of LGBTQ+ consumers of K-pop remain under-explored and under-theorized. Drawing on the Academy of Korean Studies funded project “K-pop Fandom as a Space for LGBTQ+ Support in the Asia-Pacific During Pandemic Times” (AKS-2022-R033), this presentation explores how Anglophone LGBTQ+ fans of K-pop conceptualize their fandom experiences. In so doing, I develop a queer theory of the Korean Wave that reveals how transnational K-pop fandom can challenge heteronormativity and provide support to disadvantaged LGBTQ+ individuals. I therefore bring the study of the transnational fandom for Korean popular culture into dialogue with recent trends in queer theory to not only emphasize what queer theory brings to understandings of K-pop fandom but to also investigate what K-pop fandom studies can bring to theorizations of queerness more broadly.

I specifically draw upon interviews with 17 K-pop fans from Australia and the Philippines who identity as LGBTQ+ to explore and theorize the role of K-pop fandom in the production of knowledge concerning gender and sexuality within Anglophone contexts. I adopt a primarily reparative approach which positions fandom as a positive, transformative, and creative space replete with agency where LGBTQ+ fans produce discourse that helps them negotiate their marginalized positions in heteronormative society. Through an analytical approach sensitive to the affective discourses produced by fans, I establish that Anglophone K-pop fandom operates as a queer space that normalizes queer sexuality and gendered performance through the production of feelings of security, attraction, and relief. Further, my analysis of the 17 LGBTQ+ fans’ discourses uncovers the seminal role that both the primarily visual nature of K-pop and the performances of the idols who sit at the genre’s heart play in producing queer knowledge. In particular, I reveal that the playful gendered performances of K-pop idols facilitate fans’ queering of heteropatriarchal and heteronormative ideologies and therefore represent a key resource that such fans deploy to articulate their own queer identities and experiences.

I conclude the presentation by reflecting on how Anglophone LGBTQ+ fans negotiate their recognition of the fact that the K-pop industry represents one of the central mechanisms whereby the culture industries support the promotion of heteropatriarchy and heteronormativity in the South Korean context. I particularly insist that any queer theory of the Korean Wave must therefore always already be grounded in international fans’ reflexive engagement with this fundamental paradox. In developing a queer theory of the Korean Wave, I posit that the global spread of K-pop into a diverse number of receptive cultures around the world helps unlock the genre’s queer potentials.

The symposium itself includes a number of fascinating panels and papers, and I would encourage people to attend. It’s free, and you’ll find the Zoom invitation via this link.

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