When he was 15 years old, Aaron Lee (Madrid, 1988) decided that he would die at 30. So he was already in the middle of his life and had to plan the remaining time of a vital contract that expired, according to his calculations, the March 31, 2018. “I was not going to commit suicide, but imagining that I had half a battery left was a useful exercise to live with intensity.”
He was born in Chamberí, the son of a couple of South Korean musicians who settled in Europe to complete their studies. His father, an evangelical Baptist pastor, has big plans for his first-born son, for something he chose for him a name that in Hebrew means strength and light in the mountains. From the age of four Aaron has played the piano and from the age of nine he has studied the violin with the teachers Ala Voronkova and Manuel Puig. His destiny is to be a great violinist. The boy is fulfilling, he is the first of the class, he plays every Sunday in the church and obeys his parents when the kiss scene in Titanic comes out: “Cover your eyes!”.
In the spring of 2005, about to turn 17, he wrote in his diary: “I have thirteen-odd years left.” He likes a boy, at least one, and he tells himself that he is gay. He frees himself and touches Prokofiev with glee. It’s your private way out of the closet. They’ll kick him out next time.
It happens during a dinner at home. His father comments that there are many calls to the same number on his phone bill: “Is it a girl? Something happens?”. He sends his mother and brother out to talk “man to man”. “Whatever happens, son, we will be by your side and we will continue to love you.” Aaron interprets this as the signal to make a triumphant exit from the closet with allegros and pizzicatos.
“I think I like boys.”
The father closes his eyes.
“Who else knows?” -question.
Hell begins here: conversion therapies, forbidden mobile, surveillance, beatings, screaming. “Perhaps we have raised you to be a fag!”
Aaron Lee tells his story in his book I am who I am (Letrame, 2020) and a version of his life will be represented starting in January at the Kamikaze Theater in Madrid. When he gets nervous, he taps his fingers on one leg, calms down, and memorizes the concerts in the process.
“I thought they knew,” he says. “Not that he was a child with a pen, but he was very sensitive and they thought it was fine because in Korea they let you be ambivalent until you become a father; then you have to be the male, the head of the family ”.
That summer his father took him to Seoul to study with Kim Nam Yun, a great violin teacher. Or so he tells you. But his final destination is another, the island of Ulleungdo, between Korea and Japan. There they lock him up in a church cell: one meter eighty by three meters overlooking a concrete wall. “We won’t leave until you change your attitude, now it’s up to you,” says her father.
“He took my passport and mobile phone, tore up my return ticket and forbade me to use the computer,” he recalls.
Aaron only comes out of his confinement to play at a military base and there he executes little revenge. Exaggerate eye drops, wrist twists, dramatize leg crosses. “Pen against his hatred,” he writes in his notebook. The fishing village begins to comment on the shepherd’s son.
He has all kinds of plans to escape. One day he is left alone and looks for the telephone number of the Spanish Embassy in Seoul on an office computer. He points it out quickly: seven hundred ninety-four, thirty-five, eighty-two, in French, in case someone spies on your notebook. Shortly after, he is able to speak to an official, but, being a minor and being with his father, the authorities do not intervene.
That attempt to ask for help costs Aaron Lee another beating that leaves him wrecked. “Punching in the face and stomach, hair pulling, kicking. ‘You’re a dead man,’ he told me. Then to pray and amen ”.
Aaron sees only one way out: pretending to have changed his orientation. After four months he calls his mother and informs her of the miracle: “I’m not gay anymore, Mom.” He gets into character and allows himself to be baptized with a white robe accepting Jesus Christ as his only savior. A couple of days later he packs his suitcase back, free, but back in the closet.
At age 18 he returns to South Korea to do a doctorate. During the move, his father discovers a record of La Terremoto de Alcorcón for him and starts over. They put it between a rock and a hard place. “It’s a matter of will,” they tell him. Aaron leaves home with his savings, a million won (700 euros) that he has hidden in his diary. “Like my parents, who kept money in the Bible or in the freezer, wrapped in aluminum foil, because no thief would go looking there.”
A flight brings him back from Korea to Madrid on December 4, 2007. Aaron Lee writes in his diary: “My dream is to be a fag.”
Enter the world of musical bowling, work as a waiter, fold clothes in a shopping center. Record your expenses in Excel. On the left, what you want to buy; on the right, its price in three supermarkets. He has 30 euros a month to eat, soups of about 13 cents per unit are the basis of his diet. One day he decides to play in the street. For his debut, he chose Calle de Postas, in front of the Posada del Peine. “A place with good acoustics.” He goes with a Gagliano violin that a luthier had lent him and that is worth half a million euros, although nobody knows it. Only a policeman asks if it is “one of those Stradivarius”. After two hours of Tchaikovsky and Bach, he manages to collect 120 euros. It happened bad.
If Aaron is today a patron of street musicians, it is thanks to everything he learned on that corner and with the supermarket cashiers who let him pay for a 4.75 pot of cocoa with one, two and five cent coins while the tail was waving: “Fuck with the Chinese.”
This story could end when Aaron Lee turns 20 and becomes the youngest musician to join the National Orchestra of Spain, but no, he only spent six years in the permanent position for which so many violinists would kill. “At the age of 24 I no longer studied and that gave me panic,” he explains. Now he plays as a soloist. He had made his first real estate investments and decided to gamble once more. Today he defines himself as a “social entrepreneur” —he created the Art that Feeds Foundation to protect LGBTQ teens, battered women, and low-income children — and also as a violinist investigating Spanish music from the 19th and 20th centuries. “Spain is something more than the violinist Pablo Sarasate,” he warns.
In the real estate investment group of which he is a partner, he is the man of strategies, the one who comes from the future. “It is not that I am doing all day brainstorming and giving me cold showers to see everything very clearly. I just need to get bored and, above all, not be afraid ”.
“Do your parents know that you have written a book?”
“No, I’ll have to talk to them.” They could find out over the fence about a Netflix series.
“One bought it, I knew it because I got a bizum.”
“Do you hate your parents?”
“I forgave them long ago.”
“What happened the day you turned 30?
“I got rid of the faith.” I thought I was an agnostic, but actually I’m an atheist.
“And now, what is your age limit?”
“Well, like ITV.” Every 10 years we are watching.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.