Current Issue Interviews Interviews Spring 2018

An Interview with An Boyun

1. I’m curious why you wrote a story about an LGBT+ person’s life. It could’ve been motivated by a personal reason or social activism. Specifically, there isn’t much awareness of intersex people, yet you chose to write about them. Can you tell me a little bit about the background of writing this story?

An Boyun: Ever since I started to write novels, I’ve been interested in social phenomena and human beings (and, of course, most authors who write fiction are probably the same). I had especially set my eyes on the people who are pushed towards the periphery of society and thus excluded. “What is the dividing line that excludes them?” I wondered. Though the line clearly existed and functioned, it didn’t have a clear origin, and it was often contingent on intolerance. The same could be said of gender. As I wrote in my novel, people draw a line between two genders by saying, “If that thing is hanging, you’re a boy. If not, you’re a girl.” And I thought this line was grounded on an immensely ignorant and violent criterion. So I wanted to talk about the problem this line raises. I wanted to talk about intersex people in a novel, not necessarily because they’re one of the LGBT+, but because they are one of the many who have been unjustly excluded from society.

2. I found the gap between existing and being visible intriguing. When we hear something exists, we usually think of something that can be processed through all five senses, especially through the visual sense. Nonetheless, in your story, there are things that are not conclusively visible yet have a profound effect on Yoo Jin like “Yong,” which is “the drilled black path between Yoo and Jin.” That being said, I wonder what “being visible” or “being expressed and recognized as existence” means to you. If I give you an example from the story, the penis that was visible to Yoo Jin does not become visible to her father, yet it does to Seokmun. What does being visible or invisible mean to Yoo Jin?

I considered Yoo Jin’s penis as one of the things that people try not to see. For Yoo Jin, it is natural to see her penis that has just emerged, since it has always existed latently. So she goes through the natural course of things, which is to see her penis and to deliberate on how to accept its existence. What interrupts this natural understanding is society’s gaze. Standards established in society demand Yoo Jin to either surrender or make a decision. For example, the doctor demands her to cave into societal standards, and ‘the girl’ and her father demand her to choose if she’s a man or a woman. That’s why Yoo Jin is brooding—not because of self-denial, but because of societal conditions. In the denouement, Yoo Jin draws the scissors close to her genitals, but not because she’s rejecting her genitals. Rather, she hurts herself in order to fit in with social standards, forced by the external pressure.

From this point of view, the fact that the genitals, which are surely visible to Yoo Jin, aren’t visible to her dad, carries a symbolic meaning. Yoo Jin’s father refuses to see Yoo Jin’s male genitals because he is fixated on social rules (or rather, a prejudiced view that’s called “social rules”). He doesn’t even need to see her genitals. What’s denying Yoo Jin is not herself, but the bias her father has. Seokmun, who doesn’t have any opinions on Yoo Jin (at least concerning her gender), could spot her genitals. Yoo Jin has always had male genitals, but why can some see them while others can’t? I wanted to talk about the meaning behind this difference in my story.

3. It’s interesting that you call Yoo Jin’s two inches “sadness,” not “anger” or “fear.” How did you decide on “sadness,” and how do we (especially if we’re living as a social minority) cope with this sadness?

Yoo Jin always asks questions. She doesn’t think “I want to be a man” or “Why am I not a man?” Instead, she’s just curious: Why did the middle syllable of my name—which indicates my family legacy—have to be gone? Why should I choose to be a man or a woman? These are the questions she asks. If she had the determination or desire to become a man and find the things she had lost, Yoo Jin would’ve been angry about her “two inches.” Like, “Why has it sprouted now, and why am I a man?” In contrast, if she had wanted to live as a woman due to social biases, then her “two inches” would be something to fear. Fear that her “abnormal” body may make it impossible for her to live simply and safely as a woman as her gender had been printed in the documents. In order for her to feel anger or fear, Yoo Jin must make a decision if she’s a woman or a man. And I didn’t like such irrational reasoning. If Yoo Jin chooses to be a woman, she will fear her new penis, and if she chooses to be a man, she will be angry at it. But why is this necessary? Yoo Jin is trying to accept herself as who she is in order to embrace what she has, regardless of gender.

For this reason, I thought the feelings Yoo Jin felt and would feel are those of “sadness.” Yoo Jin’s sadness stems from denial and the rejection from outside. Even before she tries to understand and accept herself, society shamelessly and violently forces “a standard” upon her. In order to conform to the bigoted view that there are only men and women, she must hurt herself. What word other than “sadness” would adequately describe the feeling if you must hurt yourself emotionally or physically in order to be accepted by society?

4. What will your next novel’s venture be like?

Another short story collection will be published in March. I will still be talking about the society we live in, the incidents that happen in it, and the people who are excluded and wandering in the periphery. But compared to my past novels, of which a significant portion described external circumstances before starting the characters’ narratives, I’m focusing more on the characters themselves in this collection. Maybe I can put it this way: from Yoo Jin, who merely asks a question, to a character who actively seeks the answers to a question. As I have done, I want to share different stories of human beings, and to do so, it is important to attain diverse perspectives. If we can escape from social biases and judgmental habits and understand humans as humans, wouldn’t that be wondrous?

 

Read An Boyun’s
“A Relatively Peaceful Day of Yours” here

 

 

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