Exotic love and unauthorized bodies: Transgender and Filipina sex workers in the Camp town, Itaewon, South Korea

Authors: Yeryun Hong*, Syracuse University
Topics: Sexuality, Urban Geography, Asia
Keywords: Transgender, Filipina immigrants, South Korea, US Militaris, Queer geography
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper seeks to the space of coloniality over exotic love and unauthorized bodies with the case of Itaewon. Itaewon, a neighborhood located right in the middle of Seoul, South Korea, has served as a camp town of the US military base and is well-reputed as an exceptional space that embraces queer and foreigners. As a camp town, Itaewon has grown with economic activities heavily depending on the military base: smuggling military supplies and running dance clubs. These circumstances isolated Itaewon from the rest of South Korean society, governed by authoritarian administration, and drew stigmatized and dissident bodies.
This paper regards the US militarism as a sort of (neo)colonialism and the sex industry associated with the US military base as the colonial economy. Dance clubs were basically only for foreigners (mainly US soldiers) and served as a provider of sex labor. Many studies have revealed the relationship between the US militarism and Korean women who worked as “comfort women” in camp towns. This study situates transwomen in 1950-1980s and Filipina entertainers in 1990-2000s within this relationship. In brief, this study will develop its discussion as follows; (1) it examines the social conditions that isolated Itaewon and made it produce colonial rules and norms, (2) it revives the presence of transgenders and Filipina immigrants and how they were controlled; (3) it reflects Itaewon with the colonial relationships around them. Based on these, this paper connects military colonialism with “exotic and unauthorized bodies,” the bodies of transwomen and Filipinas.

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