Transgender Customer at Jjimjilbang Stirs Ruckus


What do you do when you come across a transgender customer at a Korean dry sauna (jjimjilbang)? Customers at one of Koreatown’s saunas reacted angrily when a transgender woman entered a “women only” area.

One of the customers, a 40-year old female only identified by her last name Kim, admits to being shocked at the sauna after running into a transgender woman.

“It was evident that this person was a man even though he may have turned himself into a woman,” Kim said. “His face and stature made it obvious. Everyone at the women’s spa was shocked and evacuated. Some customers even complained to the business.”

The customers who complained eventually found themselves helpless. The business explained to them that as long as the customer’s ID stated her gender as “female,” it has no legal right to refuse her entry.

“I never imagined that I’d be sharing a women’s spa with a transgender person,” Kim said. “It made me bitter that the business told customers not to use the spa if they felt uncomfortable by the transgender person’s presence.”

The business could not be reached when the Korea Daily attempted to reach out for a comment. However, other similar businesses told the Korea Daily that the gender stated on the customers’ IDs should be respected when admitting them and the sexual preference of an individual is irrelevant.

Those in the legal industry say that controversy over identifying sexual minorities is something of an expected issue. The cultural clash between those who support granting rights of sexual minorities and those who do not often blurs out the line.

In California, however, ensuring human rights to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender is a widely spread practice. Discrimination of any kind is long been banned.

“Discriminating a person of sexual minority in public properties is banned by law,” said a lawyer. “Jjimjilbang is obviously categorized as a public property, so business owners have no right to refuse someone’s entry based on their sexual orientation.

But it’s also true that some women may feel uncomfortable to be in the same spa as a transgender woman. Extreme cases like these are occurring in real life now. I think the court may have to redefine the standards for the law in the near future.”

Meanwhile, California will require all public properties and government agencies to change all restrooms to be usable for both genders from March 1.

By Hyoung Jae Kim