Presenting Team Spike! The Korean team of four is composed of two drag queens, Anchovy Oil and Tina, and two gogo boys, Ethan and Sex Naldo. They are the first group in Korea to combine the two styles of performance and are quickly gaining popularity on both the gay circuit within Korea, as well as further afield around Asia. Here, they discuss the mission of their quartet, the tribulations of being gay within Korean society, and their hopes for change in the future.
How did Team Spike begin?
Sex Naldo: It was about 18 months ago. I was working at a place called Video Jacky, where I used to sometimes dress up in drag. I met Ethan there, who was already gogo dancing and I though it seemed like it would be a fun combo act.
Tina: I met Sex Naldo at a salsa club and we became friends. Then he suggested we and a couple of friends become a team and so Team Spike was born! It was really his idea so we consider him as our leader.
Was your combo of gogo dancers and drag queens an instant hit?
Tina: No! We had our first show at Video Jacky since Sex Naldo was working there. It was incredibly awkward.
Anchovy Oil: There was a fairly big audience but our show was quite high energy and their response was very quiet. I think they just weren’t used to seeing that kind of combination of acts so weren’t sure how to react to it.
Tina: It wasn’t until we performed in a Halloween show at Le Queen that we started to gain popularity. There was a great reaction from the audience and after the show, we were flooded with support via Facebook. After that, we found ourselves receiving more and more bookings and suddenly, our diary was packed!
When did each of you first get into drag or gogo dancing?
Anchovy Oil: I always enjoyed doing covers of K-pop girl group songs and impersonating the dance moves. During a school trip when I was in middle school, we had a competition in which a lot of us dressed up and danced and did karaoke. That was the first time I ever did drag. It was fun and I won 1st prize!
Tina: Mine is a similar story! The first time I dressed up and performed in drag was when I was in middle school, while on a school trip.
Ethan: Sex Naldo and I never received any form of training. So it was something we started doing as adults. I don’t think that gogo dancing is really about being a good dancer. It’s about promoting a positive body image. It’s about being sexy and healthy.
Sex Naldo: Gogo dancing still requires a lot of feeling and is something that we connected with when we started going out to clubs as adults. For us, it is about sharing emotion with the audience.
Do your childhood friends or family know about Team Spike or that you are gay?
Ethan: No, they don’t. My day job is as a high school math teacher, so my colleagues don’t know either.
Tina: Yes, my family knows I am gay but only my sister knows that I dress up in drag. I know that is unusual in Korean society and that I am very lucky. My brother and sister are very supportive of me.
Anchovy Oil: I guess my family sort of know that I am gay! I own an Italian restaurant with my mother and a lot of my friends come in regularly to eat. She thinks they are all very “eccentric”! But we haven’t had an in-depth conversation about it.
In a society where homosexuality is considered to be taboo, has performing and being part of Team Spike been a help or a hindrance?
Anchovy Oil: For me, it has been a huge help. Society dictates that if you are gay, you ought to remain quiet about it. However, being able to perform with the team encouraged me to be proud of being gay.
Sex Naldo: I totally agree, gogo dancing and being part of Team Spike is very liberating, which encourages us and hopefully inspires younger gay men who see the shows and perhaps still feel conflicted or ashamed about being gay. It is motivating, knowing that we might be helping someone just by them seeing us and our audience having a good time and being confident about who we are.
How do you think the perception towards homosexuality has changed?
Ethan: I think the change in attitude and perception has been a very recent one. It’s a big leap between the generations and the development in the understanding of homosexuality. Ten years ago, there were plenty of people who didn’t even think the concept of being gay existed. Then there were those who acknowledged homosexuality but only equated it with HIV.
Tina: We are all in our 30s so grew up in a society where nobody was publicly “out.” People like Hong Seok Cheon, being the first openly gay celebrity, and Ha Ri-su, the first transgender celebrity, were huge influences for us when they came out in the early 2000s. Of course, the LGBT community still hasn’t been fully accepted by society, but I think that young Korean guys today don’t carry the same weight that we did when we were younger. I don’t think they worry in the same way because there are more sanctuaries for them to be open about who they are.
Sex Naldo: Celebrities have definitely been a big influence. It was great when the Mayor of Seoul seemed to support the LGBT community, but he then changed his mind to support the Christian community instead, many of whom are against gay rights.
Has that had an impact on your own beliefs?
Sex Naldo: Myself, Ethan and Tina are Christian.
Anchovy Oil: I was brought up in a devoutly Christian family and maintained that faith until after I completed my army service. It was around that time that I reevaluated my connection with the Christian community because of their attitude towards gay people. There was so much hatred. I saw it again at the parade for Gay Pride last year in Sinchon and I just felt so disappointed. Now, if I go to church, I feel guilt. I do still believe deep down but their attitude has pushed me away. I know a lot of my friends share similar feelings with me on this.
Has that not bred any sort of resentment?
Tina: There have been a lot of disappointments. Like Anchovy Oil said, Gay Pride last year was fantastic and was well attended and people didn’t feel the need to wear masks to hide themselves like they used to. But then the Christians tried to sabotage it. And the Mayor of Seoul initially showing support for the LGBT community but later changing his mind was also very disappointing. It is a slow, gradual process but it is important to stay positive and remember that every development is a step in the right direction.
So what is Team Spike’s mission?
Ethan: While our group is a little unconventional in Korea, it still definitely has elements of being traditional. Our culture and traditions are something we are very proud of, despite the disappointments that we mentioned. The whole K-entertainment industry is developing international recognition so it is a very exciting time to be part of it!
Tina: So far, outside of Korea, we have performed in Beijing, Tokyo and Shanghai. We would like to keep performing abroad and help spread K-culture across the world.
Anchovy Oil: We really do this for the love of it. It’s not about money or fame, it’s about spreading the love and the pure enjoyment of being a part of gay life entertainment!
What changes would you still like to see?
Sex Naldo: We still have a long way to go in terms of gay rights. Gay people still have to hide for fear of what the repercussions may be. Openly gay people are not considered to be equal.
Tina: For example, the potential of being disowned by your family or at least feeling like you have somehow let them down and having your relationship with them totally change. Or not being allowed to do military service, which will then go on record for the rest of your life and make it difficult for you to get a job. The Mayor continues to ignore us as a community. I think for any significant change to take place, we need his support. Right now, the Christians dictate the rules and they are such a huge community, it is hard to go against their ideals.
Anchovy Oil: The cycle needs to be broken and for more people to speak out. People of influence. We hope that we can be a small cog in a big machine and play our part in spreading love and entertainment to everyone who sees us, while positively representing the LGBT community.