Korean BLs have become defined by their production quality, storytelling, and emotional depth, but they took an even more significant step up and out with the currently airing Light On Me.
The title in itself is defining. This drama places a spotlight on coming out and individual choice in a way that the previous Korean BLs have not. Viewers are questioning characters, debating love, and furiously splitting themselves up between two romantic rival choices; Team Daon or Team Shinwoo. The growing unrest and emotional response to each episode speak for itself. It’s getting people talking, and that’s something every show should strive to do.
To be honest, I did not go into Light on Me with high expectations, even with the longer run time. Weeks later, and with a stack of soggy tissues as proof, this has changed for four massive reasons:
One student council.
One big story that is incredibly validating for anyone who has walked in their shoes.
Light On Me takes four characters and says, “Let’s show you representation.”
I’ve almost forgotten that Light On Me is a love story, not because it’s not romantic but because I’ve spent every episode becoming so invested in these character’s personal feelings that I’ve started studying my own. This drama takes me back to my high school years in a small conservative Southern town when I was too afraid of my father and the possible consequences I faced at school if I came out.
So, I didn’t come out. Not then. It would be over ten years later, after my father passed away and I stopped fearing both others and myself before I finally said, “I am bisexual.”
This uncertain time in my life is why Daon’s character in Light On Me speaks to my soul. It has nothing to do with this show’s endgame and everything to do with me.
So, let’s talk about the Saebit High School Student Council and why each member is equally important. If you follow me on Twitter, then you may have already read some of this because this drama is certainly what Twitter threads are made for.
As the new student council recruit, Taekyung is brutally honest, a little awkward, charmingly naive, and wonderfully comfortable with himself. Taekyung exudes honesty to the point it can even be a little uncomfortable for those around him. He isn’t influenced by society. He moves at his own pace. If he doesn’t want or need friends, he doesn’t have them. When he wants friends, he makes them. When he falls in love, he goes for it. No inhibitions. No reservations. No questioning himself. This kind of honesty is rare, and it makes sense why people faced with his truth would be attracted to it. At no point in Light On Me have I questioned why both Shinwoo and Daon love Taekyung. Taekyung’s honesty is like a wake-up call for both of them. It draws Shinwoo out of the quiet shell he’s sealed himself into, and it screams at the part of Daon that wishes he could be just as honest. Shinwoo and Daon are like caterpillars twisted into two separate cocoons they cannot break free of. Taekyung’s honesty is the light that breaks these cocoons open, letting both Daon and Shinwoo explore feelings they’ve avoided. For Shinwoo, it’s romantic emotions he’s locked away. For Daon, It’s brand new feelings he suddenly has to grapple with.
However, the same honesty that attracts Daon and Shinwoo to Taekyung is the same trait that pains viewers the most. Seeing Taekyung in distress hurts. Honest people don’t hold back their feelings. They blurt them out, and this is precisely what Taekyung does. He speaks, and he speaks loud. He says painful things that I even want to shake him for saying sometimes, but no matter how hard it is to hear something, no matter how unfair it seems at the time, it’s his truth. He’s speaking his emotions, and those emotions are valid. It’s better to know exactly where you stand with someone than to wonder how they feel, and with Taekyung, you always know where you stand. You never wonder how he feels.
SAY HELLO TO SHINWOO
As the student council vice president, Shinwoo is quiet, a little aloof, and a lot hard to get close to. Once he makes you a friend, however, he’s loyal to a fault. There are a million and one reasons to love Shinwoo, but the one characteristic that stands out the most is his selflessness. Shinwoo is as selfless as Taekyung is honest. He’s been in love and been burned by it, but it hasn’t turned him into a hateful person. Instead, It’s transformed him into an understanding one. Although he comes across as crass when first introduced, it quickly becomes apparent he’s both warm and affectionate.
Kindness isn’t always obvious. Courage isn’t always about being outgoing. Coming out isn’t always a grand gesture. For some, it’s simply coming to terms with the fact that you like someone, being okay with it, and standing up for it and them. And this is what Shinwoo is all about. He isn’t outgoing, he isn’t obvious, and he isn’t making any grand announcements about his sexuality in Light On Me. However, he also isn’t hiding it. He likes Taekyung, and this is obvious to the viewers from the beginning. I love that we have a reliable, mature character who is openly gay but doesn’t need to blatantly express himself to prove a point. All these “unspoken” moments with Shinwoo in Light On Me speak louder than any words ever could. He’s a potent character. He is what introverted and awkward love looks like, when you never know the right words to say, never know the right things to do, and you push instead of pull because pushing is better than getting hurt. But, at the same time, Shinwoo holds the people he cares about close to him, silently protecting them. For Shinwoo, “I don’t hate you” is the equivalent of a thousand confessions hidden inside four words and stolen glances. He proves that it’s the ones who say nothing at all who often have the most to say.
Shinwoo also hurts me.
There is something painful and comforting about his brand of quiet love. It’s a silent pain that doesn’t ask for anything in return. While Taekyung and Daon are battling obvious loud and confused feelings in Light On Me, Shinwoo quietly takes care of the person he loves. He’s sure of his feelings. He loves Taekyung, and his unrequited affection sets this show on fire in a beautifully fantastic but painful way. Shinwoo completely understands Taekyung’s feelings toward Daon because he shares similar feelings for Taekyung. Still, he’s stuck in a hard place between two people struggling with their feelings for each other. He has all these emotions he wants to do something with and all these words he wants to say but feels he can’t until Taekyung and Daon explore theirs. The frustration is real. One of the many reasons Shinwoo stands out to me, and why I hope he remains this way, is that he’s a reasonable and loving voice amidst emotional chaos. Despite his love for Taekyung, he’s still able to understand Daon, too. It’s not easy being in love with someone heartbroken over someone else. The way Shinwoo chooses to take care of Taekyung despite the damage it could do to his heart while still supporting whatever relationship choice makes Taekyung happy speaks volumes for his character. I am rooting for him.
WAVE HI TO DAON
As our trusty student council president, Daon is dependable, trustworthy, and he will never tell you no. Literally. Deep down, however, he’s a broken young man desperately afraid of conflict who seeks attention and love from a family that has forgotten he exists. Daon is “shiny.” He’s one of those “shiny” people who stand out because they’re kind to everyone. They make everyone feel special. The problem with that is, and even if they’re kind to protect themselves, it’s hard to know if you’re really that special to them. Daon needs to be needed. He is trying so hard to hold onto something—anything— that he’s filling his emptiness with a long string of confused people. He wants something to belong to him, while they all want to know where they belong in his heart: friend or more than a friend? Daon is trapped between his burgeoning feelings and a need to make everyone happy. He’s questioning the sudden deep attraction he has for Taekyung while spreading himself too thin. He hurts me because I’ve been him, and I know what he stands to lose. One of the biggest problems with dividing yourself between too many is that sometimes you lose people.
The stark fear on Daon’s face when the photo of him and Taekyung begins to circulate says it all. Daon’s found comfort in public opinion because in public, unlike at home, he’s needed. To have that stolen away from you before you’re ready to let go of it is just wrong. It’s like having a security blanket ripped away. My heart weeps for Daon in this series. He makes my soul hurt. In the end, when he truly needs someone, he’s left with an empty house, regrets, and fear. I know it seems like Daon could go to Taekyung, but Taekyung is the thing he’s most confused about, the thing he needs to distance himself from to figure out his heart, a heart that is being forced to figure out something before it’s even ready.
Staying closeted because of fear, because of the possible repercussions, is NOT cowardly. It does not make Daon weak. I grew up in an abusive home under an ultra-conservative father I feared would kill me if I came out. I didn’t admit to anyone that I was bisexual until my late 20s, after my father passed away. Hell, I spent most of that time trying to convince myself I wasn’t. I lost a lot of possible relationships. I lost a lot of chances at love, but I do not hate myself for it. The best love comes when you are comfortable enough with yourself to accept love in return. Not everyone has the luxury to be courageous. And coming out should never be a blame game. The little girl that sat huddled on her bed as a teen sobbing cries for Daon. She cries hard. Right now, I simply hope he finds that place within himself where he’s comfortable. Because being afraid of yourself and hating what that fear has turned you into is the loneliest, most hopeless feeling in the world. I know.
No one’s coming out story is the same. The true villain is the person who forced Daon into this terrifying position where he’s stuck between being told he’s terrible and cowardly and wanting something he’s also afraid he’ll lose. It hurts just as much seeing Daon not be able to cry and not be able to admit he’s not okay as it does to see Taekyung’s tears. I am impressed with Choe Chan Yi’s acting because it’s sometimes harder to look like you’re holding back tears than just to let them fall. My heart hurts for Daon, for a guy who’s convinced himself he doesn’t even have the right or freedom to cry.
In the most recent episode, Daon does two tremendous things. He says “no,” and he writes down his feelings (I’m reasonably sure this is what he does inside the tutoring notebook). Both are HUGE moments for him. He’s taking steps forward, and my heart wanted to reach through the screen and hug him. It’s okay to take baby steps. Coming out doesn’t always mean making giant leaps forward. Baby steps are okay. I’m waiting for Daon to break. I love that he’s starting to be honest with himself. Telling Shinwoo to watch Taekyung isn’t him saying, “I give up.” It’s him saying, “I’m working on me, and while I do that, I don’t want him hurt.” When or if Daon ever cries, it’s going to break me.
GIVE MY HERO, NAMGOONG, A ROUND OF WELCOME APPLAUSE
Namgoong is loud, proud, and boisterous. He’s an entire damn mood. Although Namgoong spends most of his time playing games and giving away advice he didn’t even come up with himself (side-eying their excellent teacher Seo Haet Bit here), he is wonderfully wise and tuned in to every single person he cares about. He’s that friend that always knows what’s going on but pretends he doesn’t because getting involved can often make things worse.
However, Namgoong has a limit.
If you go too far and hurt someone he cares about, it’s game on. I love that Namgoong lashes out while still holding back. The fiercest battles are fought with empathy and a deep understanding of human emotions. Namgoong is the unbiased ally every drama needs. He isn’t in a single person’s corner or rooting for one specific person. He’s a team player, allowing him to be honest without being colored by the same emotions as those around him. He can hurt for Taekyung, but not be angry at Daon. He can offer support to Shinwoo without causing issues for Taekyung or Daon. He can respect and love Daon when no one else can see past their hurt to offer Daon the comfort he needs. Namgoong gives people courage because he simply allows them to be themselves and loves them for it, which is why Namgoong’s moment with Daon in Episode 12 stands out the most for me. There’s only so much beating down a person can take. Whether it’s being told they’re wrong for liking someone or wrong in how they deal with it. The genuine affection Namgoong shows Daon is what was needed. Being told that there are people who will respect and love you regardless of who you are is one of the most significant ways to say, “I am your ally.” This moment gave Daon courage.
All four of the Saebit High School Student Council members represent an entire community of people. Taekyung, Shinwoo, and Daon represent the varying stages of coming out, while Namgoong is the ally that allies of the gay community should strive to be like.
I feel like both Daon and Shinwoo prove something 𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒍𝒍𝒚 important in Light On Me, something no other Korean BL drama has yet touched on, and I’m grateful to this show for that. Loving someone isn’t always about grasping onto them greedily. It’s simply making sure they are okay. That’s my only endgame at this point. This show has taken a love triangle and given it special meaning. There’s no first or second lead. There is simply Taekyung and his choice between two equally good guys. I think the most important thing about this show is that both of them are valid choices. Because it’s Taekyung’s choice. No two people are a hundred percent alike. No one has the same personality, family issues, or outlook. Even when faced with similar situations, no one will deal with them the same way, especially in the face of homophobia and fear of coming out. Everyone’s story is different & personal. With Taekyung, Shinwoo, and Daon, we have three people, three stories, and three different ways of dealing with feelings. Light On Me said, “Let’s talk about truth, and let’s get people talking.” No matter the side you’re on, no matter what couple you ship, this show is getting people to talk and feel. That’s important. Coming out is as much about self-reflection, self-respect, & self-love as it is about admitting you like someone. No matter how frustrating it seems, that’s a process everyone goes through. Courage comes from disclosing it to yourself first before you can speak it out loud.
Thank you, Light On Me, for literally shining a light on me and everyone who watches.
(Pictures Credit- @pvnn93 Instagram