A gay defector from North Korea has revealed he had no idea what homosexuality was until he left the country.
The reclusive Asian country is renowned for its secrecy, warmongering, and the oppressive rule of the Kim dynasty, currently headed by 33-year-old Kim Jong-un, who claims to have cured AIDS and hangovers.
Given the country’s appalling human rights abuses, LGBT rights are seldom on the radar – but the country’s officials are no stranger to homophobia, hitting out at the gay man heading a UN human rights panel as a “disgusting old lecher” in 2014.
North Korean citizen Jang Yeong-jin had never even heard of homosexuality, and was confused to find he “felt no sexual attraction” to his wife.
It was only after escaping the country and fleeing to South Korea that he realised he was gay – and came to terms with who he is.
Jang, who has recently written a memoir, A Mark of Red Honour, opened up about his experiences in an interview with the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK) for the Guardian.
He said: “North Korea is a communist system. It’s a closed society. You don’t know how the world goes around.
“I considered my homosexuality as a pathological condition. But [it] is a tragedy to live without knowing that you are gay.
“There is no concept of homosexuality [in North Korea], there is no awareness of the issue.
“In open societies, people have at least a consciousness of different sexualities, in North Korea there is no hope.
However, he added: “In the DPRK men spend a long time in the military, physical contact is frequent between the same sex and they experience special emotional bonds.
“This isn’t to say that all these men are gay, but rather, they are tied by a special comradeship.”
Though he wants to use his voice to speak out, Jang has eschewed working with the LGBT movement in South Korea, describing it as “highly politicized”.
He added that his new home is also far from perfect on LGBT equality.
He said: “North Korea limits and oppresses the liberty of humans. [But] in South Korea too, although it’s a democratic society, LGBT people are discriminated against and oppressed. [In this regard] unification may benefit North and South Korea.”
Incredibly, he hopes that one day even North Korea will learn to accept LGBT rights.
He said: “North Korea does not see LGBT rights in the right light yet – but things may change.
“For example, North Korea used to criticise America that the women there participate in wrestling games.
“Now, women in North Korea also do wrestling. In that sense, history flows slow in North Korean society.”