Now I'm very curious, what kind of queer signals does Key give?
Trigger warning for brief non-explicit mentions of suicide and suicidal ideation.
I guess I’ll just preface this by saying that there is no way to know someone’s orientation, in the sense of knowing, say, that 1+1=2, or that the force of gravity on earth is 9.807 m/s². Similarly, there is no way to prove someone’s orientation, because people are not logical syllogisms or science experiments or legal cases to be solved.
The only way to have any real certainty is for the person to make a clear statement about their own sexuality. And even then, you know, people don’t always tell the truth, for many reasons, including a need or desire to remain closeted, or simple unawareness of their own sexuality due to factors such as repression. So I just want to make it very clear that this post is not an absolute statement about Key’s orientation, or any sort of attempt to “prove” anything. Key is a person, not a point to be debated in an argument, and he is the best expert on his own sexuality.
So instead, I’m going to come at this from a very personal angle and talk about what Key means to me as a queer person and how the highly subjective and personal realm of queer signaling factors into my belief that he is queer. This is gonna get pretty long, so I’ll put some of it after a jump.
I first got into SHINee at a time when I was very depressed and suicidal. I was in the middle of coming out, and I was losing a lot of people close to me, people who thought I was wrong, people who thought I was mentally ill (I am, but that’s not why I’m queer), or people who just thought I should shut up about it. And during this time I spent many nights unable to sleep, just sort of numbly browsing the internet and …not dying.
And then somehow I stumbled across Key’s Hair/Judas performance. I could honestly write a really long essay about this incredibly queer coded performance and what it means to me, and how healing and comforting and cathartic it was for me at the time, but in the interest of space, I must condense.
I believe Key’s choice to perform Hair and then Judas creates a single continuous character arc for the first-person “I” in both songs. The protagonist, if you will. Hair is about a teen’s desire to be themselves and also be loved by their parents. “I just wanna be myself and I want you to love me for who I am,” Key sings, exactly mirroring the emotional state of many queer kids, who often risk losing their family’s love and support if they come out, or even if they are too nonconforming. A haircut or hairstyle is often a main focal point in anyone’s presentation, and for a queer kid, it may be one of their first attempts to express themselves in an external and nonverbal way.
The performance then transitions to Judas, and during the transition, Key changes his outfit and marches down to the lower stage, while holding a bedazzled gun in his hand, a prop that he waved around carelessly during Hair. Now though, there’s no hint of anything cavalier, and Key puts the gun firmly against his own head. It’s a blatant visual reference to suicide, and, given that he just performed Hair, I believe it’s a reference to teen suicides. Queer teen suicides, to be specific.