“What I learned from a crush on Instagram”

Every week, the chronic phenomenon of New York Times on love is offered to you exclusively, translated into French, by International mail. This Sunday, the story of a black and gay man expatriated in South Korea who falls in love with a bodybuilder in his gym, very different from the one he expected.

It took two hours and three buses to reach his gym. I was working split shifts at an English school in Seoul, which left me five hours to either take a nap or go to his gym where, given the length of the commute, I would barely have time to sweat. Yet that’s what I did.

I had discovered Tae Ho on Instagram during my first year as a teacher in South Korea. I must have liked too many photos of Korean bodybuilders, and the world of social media was sending me a sign. However, I had never liked any photo of Tae Ho for fear of getting blocked for excessive concupiscence. I was content to scroll through the images to try to learn more about his life, to know his favorite restaurants, to see the face of his one night stories.

It didn’t take me long to realize that he didn’t have one-night stands, that he wasn’t single, and that he wasn’t gay: he was married, and with a woman. The discovery sparked a hint of disappointment in me, but I didn’t have much hope – neither with him, nor with anyone for that matter here. Being a black, gay, tattooed American in South Korea is not a very good love equation.

Being a gay and black expat in Korea

Close examination of a photo of Tae Ho revealed to me, on an innocent client’s T-shirt, the name of the gym he attended, in a city in the suburbs of Seoul. I was teaching at the time in a seaside town several hours away, in a routine and anonymity that suited me well. I did not suffer from loneliness, but this daily life where I was both very sighted and very isolated was beginning to weigh on me.

I had to do something, otherwise I would quickly become one of those bitter expats who stayed too long, spending their time complaining about the nothingness of their sex life. My contract coming to an end, I applied at the first ad I found to get closer to Tae Ho – a relative connection, two hours from his gym.

You experience funny things when you’re black in Korea. At the gym, the coaches spoke to me using slang expressions heard in rap songs, to which I responded with a smile and impeccable grammar befitting a language teacher. These pernicious stereotypes, fueled by a regime too rich in American media, haunted me constantly.

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