Chinese public service notices regarding North Korea are posted next to a military outpost on the Yalu River across from North Korea in Dandong, China. An openly gay North Korean defector who escaped to South Korea in 1997 has published a novel about gay identity in the isolated country. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, June 5 (UPI) -- The only known publicly gay North Korean defector in South Korea has published a novel based on the true story of his difficult but ultimately redeeming life.
Jang Yeong-jin, a 55-year-old defector originally from the North Korea border town of Chongjin, fled the communist North in 1997 using an unlikely route, The New York Times reported Friday.
Unlike most other refugees, Jang crossed to the South by crawling through the landmine-riddled Korean demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, The Korea Herald reported.
When he touched South Korean soil on the dawn of April 27, 1997, authorities brought him in for a five-month interrogation, when he was asked why he risked his life to cross a dangerous border.
Jang told The New York Times that at the time he was "too embarrassed to confess" that he left because he felt no sexual attraction to his wife.
Jang's autobiographical novel "A Mark of Red Honor" sheds rare insight into everyday life in North Korea and social attitudes toward homosexuality in the isolated country.
According to the defector, gay identity is a concept that is absent in North Korean society.
Jang said he had never heard of homosexuality growing up in North Korea, and did not realize that he was infatuated with a boyhood friend until he arrived in the South, when he saw a South Korean magazine article about gay rights in 1998.
North Korea has no laws banning same-sex relationships but Pyongyang has resorted to homophobia in its rhetoric in the past.
In 2014, North Korea denounced Australian U.N. investigator Michael D. Kirby as a "disgusting old lecher with a 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality."
Jang said there are "many homosexuals in North Korea who live a miserable life without even knowing why."
"What a tragedy it is to live a life without knowing who you are," he said.