Gay in Cambodia


Article in the PPPost: Discrimination a Fact of LGBTI Life. I had to think about the alphabet soup – Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transexual, and I still don’t know what the I means. But the message is clear: Cambodian society is traditionally homophobic.

The Post’s article is the usual depressing catalogue of life: tell your parents you’re coming out and you’ll get beat up and disowned. And maybe you’ll get told it’s a phase and you should marry and get over it. Yeah, sure, why not make two people unhappy for the price of one prejudice. More than two, since there’ll probably be children.

I did an interview with a gay Cambodian boy because I was interested in whether he saw his gay-ness as a reincarnation issue. Sort answer: he didn’t. For that matter, “gay” is a Western category – a pretty modern one, since in living memory Yeats could write about his old crones whose glittering eyes were gay and not raise titters. What’s the Khmer? I still don’t know. Back to the coalface.

Before moving on to the interview, the reason I’m coming to this is that I have a young relative, all of 13 years old, who is obviously gay – his body language, his interests, his personality. The kid is only 13 for Christ’s sake! Can’t he be allowed to grow up and be himself? His sexuality is not his defining feature. For that matter, who has sexuality as their defining feature? Is David Cameron defined as a well-known heterosexual? Is Vladimir Putin the heterosexual leader of Russia? Leave this kid alone!

Back to the interview: the boy was in his early 20s, grew up in a village, came to Phnom Penh, enrolled at Royal University of Phnom Penh. At this point he didn’t know he was gay (he was speaking Khmer so I don’t what word he used). Met another boy who was very flamboyant, they became best friends, and he realised he also was gay. At 20+? Now works with his sister in her fashion boutique. A very unhappy young man. I asked him if anyone in his family said he must have been a woman in a previous life. Answer: no. No particular explanation, in karmic terms. But: “I wish I could be one or the other in my next life, not half and half.”

Our treatment of difference is one of the worst of our inhumanities.