1 step forward, 3 steps back: Asian LGBTQ+ rights still at a crossroad

Jessica*

23, Cambodian student, he/she/they

*Name changed to maintain confidentiality

“I don’t know how many times I’ve seen hearts break because of acceptance-but-not-really reaction from parents in Cambodia”

Q: Could you further explain your pronouns? 

I don’t really mind any of the above, and I haven’t really figured out if I am bisexual or pansexual, because I read somewhere that there was some sort of discourse about the word “bisexual” which apparently reinforces the bi-gender narrative.

I guess one could refer to me as bisexual/pansexual or just bisexual, cause apparently someone has said that bisexual is the umbrella term that covers pansexual too.

Q: When did you first come to terms with your sexuality now? 

I can’t remember exactly when. I could have been aromantic during my teenage years because I had no interest in dating or sex (which I kind of regret), but I would say 15-16 years old or so? 

I grew up thinking my friends and classmates were like siblings or cousins like beings, so I just carried torches for celebrities and fictional characters (*laughs*). 

Q: Could you describe your coming out experience and the reactions of your close family members and friends? 

I have never really verbally come out to anyone other than my friends, but I remember that I mentioned it in passing while discussing something in class with a Malaysian lecturer, it was just alluding to the fact that I am not heterosexual, and any other might have missed it but I could see that they were taken aback. 

We never managed to become close to any of the lecturers so I can’t tell you if that ever really affected my relationship with them or not, but there was definitely a moment of discomfort there. I don’t believe anything else happened after that. 

My siblings know because we’re rather close in age and we talk and discuss things. I don’t really feel the need to come out to anyone in my family other than my dad, but even then, I don’t believe that he would react badly because his side of the family are on the French side so even if they are conservative, they have more exposure and are more likely to be cool with it. On my mother’s side however… 

Nevertheless, while me and my parents never really had that conversation, even in passing, I am sure that they do hold that “as long as it’s not our kid” attitude. I kind of think that we just grow out of our problematic phases and if I do date a girl and tell them about it, that would be their first thought. 

I don’t really feel the need to be accepted by my family to be honest, I love and care for my family, but it doesn’t matter whether they accept who I am or not, we’re family. I don’t like how my grandma thinks and acts, but she’s still my grandma and I still pick up her calls. 

Q: How do you navigate through common stereotypes of your sexuality? 

I believe I fit into the bisexual or pansexual mold, and a lot of what people think is that we are promiscuous.

I spent a lot of time on Tumblr and stumbled upon this thing called ‘polyamory’ and through reading some (really well written) fan-fiction and other’s experiences, I found myself actually really liking the idea of being with different people. (People give a lot of bad rep for fan-fiction, but I think it’s a really good and safe way to explore different emotions, figuring out who you are, and navigate growing pains.) 

But finding that out about myself, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just playing into the stereotype of a ‘promiscuous bisexual’ just to ‘fit’ or be the ‘pick me’ girl, but honestly my pride is just too big and I will never allow myself to act that way.

Yes, bisexuals can be hoes but we also can be choosy/picky hoes.

Just like everyone else we have standards.

But also not every bisexual is promiscuous, most of us just wanna cuddle as the sunset light washes into twilight while the record player is playing The Neighbourhood or Cigarettes After Sex. 

Q: Have you ever face any experiences of discrimination back in Cambodia? 

I pass as straight so I don’t think I ever really had a problem back in Cambodia.

I believe that I am a rather sheltered person, My friends and family have all protected me in a sense from all the ‘bad’ stuff, and even then I don’t believe that any of my gay friends back in Cambodia has ever really been the victim of violence or have been in a situation where their safety was compromised and I really love Cambodia, or at least that part of Phnom Penh we grew up in. 

However, I feel like ‘passing as straight’ only underscores the discrimination Cambodians LGBTQ+s face.

For instance, my best friend does not look, talk or act like a “pédé” (a Cambodian word borrowed from French for gay in a demeaning manner), so he is often left out of the conversation about the LGBTQ+ in Cambodia by the more “general” public, but if you meet him and think he’s straight, you need to get yourself new glasses, LASIK and an actual gaydar (*laughs*). 

He’s doing pretty well for himself though and I have no doubts that he will keep becoming a prominent figure in the community back home. 

Q: Cambodia has come significantly far in improving the rights of LGBTQ+ people, but how do you think such policies have fared in protecting the lives of Cambodians LGBTQ+? 

The best thing about Cambodia is the attitude people have towards LGBTQ+ people.

People are rather open and let people live the way they want to live, most of the time.

Compared to other Southeast Asian countries, I feel like we are doing rather well, yet I cannot help but feel like we will be reaching a plateau soon when it comes to things like education, laws and more ‘official’ things. 

There are still horror stories about how families can’t accept their kids being LGBTQ+ and a lot of the ones I know personally are still emotionally affected by their experiences. There is a need for more actions, like making sure that resources and help can reach the kids in the city and the countryside equally, helping them make a life for themselves, etc. 

The “as long as its not our kid” attitude is a double edge sword, on one hand, people are more accepting, on the other, the kids who are actually gay often have to wear two different masks and deal with this “grey acceptance” from their parents.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen hearts break because of acceptance-but-not-really reaction from parents in Cambodia. 

I think it is however just a generational issue, and the more we educate the new generation, old ideas will die out.

Maybe it just means that our generation has to suffer and fight for a better future, and isn’t that really how every generation has lived?

We’re really just hamsters in a wheel in the end, once we die, another hamster will replace us and keep the wheel going.

Article by Qistina Binte Bumidin

“love always wins. love has no gender. love is love. i am born this way. i am who i am”
Happy Pride Month

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