Korea is a very socially conservative country. Gay marriage is still banned, and pride parades and festivals will often be protested. This does mean that the gay scene, and anything related to the gay scene, will often be much more ‘hidden’ than in other countries. On this page, we want to answer the question – is drag popular in Korea?
Drag has always existed in Korea, but it is only recently that it has started to become more visible. Drag doesn’t quite have the popularity in Korea that it enjoys in western nations, but it is something that is becoming increasingly popular. Attitudes are changing, and if you head to Korea, you’re likely to see more drag shows than ever before.
On this page, we want to take a deep dive into the popularity of drag in Korea. This includes coverage of the rise in popularity of drag shows, where drag shows are commonly held, and more. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in!
Drag and Korea
Up until 2003, being gay was seen as ‘harmful and obscene’ in Korean law. By way of this, anything tied to the gay community was seen in broadly the same way. This includes drag. Of course, this didn’t stop people doing drag, but it certainly wasn’t popular. You wouldn’t find people wandering around the streets wearing drag like you would in western countries, for instance.
You must remember that Korea is a very conservative country. The government has almost always been conservative, and most of the residents in the country are Christian. This means that gay rights have never really been a priority in Korea. There has been a bit of a change in recent years, but gay people are still frowned upon by society and, by way of this, those that perform drag shows (which predominantly take place in gay bars and clubs) are often frowned upon by the population.
The Rise in Popularity of Drag in Korea
Drag is nowhere near as prominent in Korea as it is in other industrialized countries. It is gaining popularity, and you’ll often find scores of people queuing up for the bigger drag shows (especially when a famous American drag queen rolls into the country), but don’t expect a massive drag scene as you would get in the likes of the US, and many parts of Europe.
As we said – part of the reason why drag doesn’t quite have the popularity in Korea as it does in other countries is due to the rather conservative views in the country. However, things do seem to be changing. Slowly, but surely. This is all thanks to the younger generation’s exposure to more western TV and social media, plus a growing number of people deciding to ditch religion. In fact, there is a massive trend toward atheism in Korea. It will still be a while before atheism has a proper grasp on the country (and we are talking well over a century here, religion is so deeply ingrained into Korean culture), but it does appear to be happening.
If you walk around some parts of Korea, you’ll often see drag shows, and people wandering around in drag. There has also been a sharp rise in the number of influencers that either dress in drag or are gender non-conforming. Since people are now willing to do this in the public eye, it has really contributed toward drag being much more acceptable in Korean society. As something becomes more acceptable, it becomes much more popular.
Perhaps the biggest contributor toward the rise in the popularity of drag in Korea was Netflix. As you may well know – RuPaul’s Drag Race was an insanely popular show, and it streams in many countries around the world on Netflix. This includes Korea. RuPaul’s Drag Race is all about drag competition and seeing drag as performance. All around the world, this made people look at drag in a new light, and this happened quite massively in Korea. This was especially true among the younger generation. Nowadays, whenever one of the stars from RuPaul’s Drag Race puts on a performance in Korea, you’ll often find queues building up for the event quickly (and tickets selling out fast). Obviously, these stars are not quite selling out massive venues (they tend to stick to the smaller clubs), but it does show that the popularity of drag in Korea is on the rise.
The Future of Drag in Korea
We see the popularity of drag in Korea continuing to rise. We doubt it will ever have the popularity that it has in western nations, but we do see drag in Korea becoming more and more prominent. This will all be thanks to the youth who are much less likely to have conservative ideals, plus the ditching of religion (which we mentioned earlier).
Already, we are starting to see a massive increase in the number of people who are supportive of drag. Each year, you’ll find countless drag festivals and shows happening throughout the country. While the attendance is considerably lower than many other nations, they always seem to have more people attending than even the organizers predicted. For example – in 2018, the Seoul Drag Parade was expected to play host to around 100 people. In the end, 1,000 people turned up. This was well before we even saw the huge rise in popularity of drag in Korea. Run the same event today, and you could probably end up with thousands and thousands more people.
One thing is for sure, though. The country is going to become much more accepting of both gay culture and drag culture. As we have said several times already, the country is already showing signs of this happening. It just isn’t quite happening at the rate that many people want it to happen. However, you must remember that many of the countries in Asia are like this. It is going to take a long time to change the culture, but for the first time in decades, there genuinely does seem to be a hint that there will be a future to drag in Korea. We wouldn’t have said that early in the 2000s when it was essentially illegal (or at least frowned upon in law).
Where Is the Best Place to See Drag in Korea?
You aren’t going to see a drag show in the middle of a town or city in Korea. Well, not often. While it is rising in popularity, it hasn’t quite been embraced. If you want to catch a drag show, then you’re going to need to head to one of the few gay districts throughout Korea. Perhaps the most notable is Itaewon in Seoul. It is a small area, but there are drag shows happening almost every single day here, and it is one of the few places in Seoul where sexual minorities can really feel like themselves.
If you are not traveling to Seoul, then we suggest that you do a bit of research into the town/city that you are traveling to beforehand. Sure, it is rare that you will find drag shows happening throughout Korea, but you never know. There are times that we have seen smaller bars & clubs (and not in the traditional gay districts) run drag events, and they have become much more popular in recent years.
Is it Unsafe to Dress in Drag in Korea?
This is a pretty ‘big’ question. This is because Korea isn’t really a country known for its crime. In fact, in comparison to other industrialized nations, Korea is one of the safest countries on the planet. So, in theory, you should be rather safe walking around in drag, although we still wouldn’t recommend it.
As we have said several times already – Korea is not really a place that is all that accepting of people that wander around dressed in drag. If you wander around in drag, then you will likely face insults from people that walk past you. This isn’t always because you are in drag, though. Oh no. It is just that Koreans tend to be much more conservative in the way that they dress, so if you are walking around and standing out quite a bit, then people are going to judge you. Surprisingly, more ‘tasteful’ drag i.e., no bright colors, would probably work for you a lot better in Korea.
Some drag queens, on the way to shows, have reported that Koreans just ignore them. Not in a good way. They literally turn away from them. It is very much a ‘don’t ask’ thing for Koreans. They are so afraid of getting wrapped up in the culture that they just won’t talk about it. Although, we suppose being ignored, while bad, is still much better than being the victim of violence.
The only time that you are really going to be fine wearing drag is if you are walking around one of the very few gay districts scattered around Korea. If you wander around these areas, then you’ll probably see countless drag shows advertised (as we mentioned previously), and you may even see a couple of people wandering around in drag themselves. Feel free to join them. If you stick to the ‘gay district’, then most people really aren’t going to care at all about what you are wearing. In fact, they are much more likely to praise you. Although do bear in mind that the gay districts in Korea are pretty small, so it can be easy to wander out of them if you aren’t careful!
For a long while, drag was kept quite hidden in Korea. As a very conservative and religious country many people, and the law, frowned upon it heavily. Attitudes are now changing, though. Sure, drag isn’t going to have the same amount of popularity as it would in places like the US, we are now starting to see more and more drag shows being run in Korea. You’re even likely to spot people wearing drag in some of the major gay districts in Korea. This is something that would have been completely unfathomable years ago. We hope that attitudes continue to change.