Profiles (LGBT community in Burma)
Text by Carlos Sardiña Galache. Photos by Vincenzo Floramo.
“TJ” is a 19 year old boy who left his home village in Magwe Division two years ago to study English in the city of Mandalay. He discovered his sexuality three years ago. Before that, he had a relationship with a girl from his village, but “it didn’t work, relationships with women are too complicated,” he said. His friends know his sexual orientation and support him, but he has not yet told his family . “I know my parents will understand me when they find out, because they love me so much,” he says with his soft voice, “but I will wait until they ask me to tell them.” After a first relationship with a man which came to an end five months ago, he met a boy on the internet from Rangoon and fell in love with each other. Currently,they are both saving money to meet each other. When “TJ” feels the need to vent, he goes to Mandalay Hill, a complex of Buddhist temples in a hill overseeing the city. He shouts to the wind “Chit Tal! Chit Tal!” (“I love you” in Burmese) to his “virtual” boyfriend.
Zin Min Htun, a 32 year old make-up artist from Mandalay, prefers to be called Ma Pwint, using the feminine prefix Ma. He does not see himself neither as a woman nor as transgender, but likes to dress as a woman in his work and his house. He discovered his sexual orientation at the age of 12, but denied it to himself for many years. At the age of 21 while he was studying at the university, he decided to come out of the closet during a festival devoted to the nats, spirits worship where men often impersonate female nats. Dressed as a female Nat, he went to the festival but his father found him and took him home. He beat him and kept him locked in his room for one week. After that, he went to live in another city “as a normal man.” After three years pretending he was something he wasn't, he decided it was enough and went back to Mandalay and decided to come out. He lives now with his conservative parents, an old and conservative couple who can't accept his homosexuality. He is one of the known faces in the local gay scene and dances often in Nat festivals across the country.
Since she was a child, “Harry” has always “felt ridiculous” dressing as a girl and feels “free dressing as a boy” . Now she is 17 years old and studies Mathematics at the University of Mandalay. She does some volunteering in a local NGO called CAN which promotes LGBT rights and other things. This thoughtful and mature “tomboy” feels at home in the CAN headquarters: “it’s like a second family,” where she finds respect which can't be found anywhere else. People who know her insult her because of her boyish appearance, “but the people who don’t know me think I am a boy,” she adds, smiling mischievously. Her father, a cab driver, does not accept her homosexuality, however her mother and grandmother accept it, though reluctantly. She believes that lesbians are slightly less discriminated against in Burma because many people believe that “tomboys” will be men, regarded as superior to women in their next reincarnation. After the bitterness because of recent ending of her first relationship with another girl, she maintains her dream of founding a family with another woman. She loves to play football, a sport reserved to men in Burma.
Hein Htwe Maung, “Alex”, is a 17 year old from a middle class family in Mandalay who is now studying Business Management in the Chindwin College, a prestigious university in the city. The youngest of three siblings, at the age of 12, he discovered his homosexuality, which caused him to struggle. He did not accept himself completely until he met his current boyfriend in a boarding high school two years ago and decided to make his homosexuality public last year. After attending a workshop organized by the NGO, Equality Myanmar, he started feeling “empowered and proud” of his identity. His parents have tried their best to “cure” him by giving him medicine but it didn't work out. His parents found out that their strategies were useless and that he was doing well in his studies, so they eventually understood and now they fully support him. “Alex” thinks that it will take time to change the mentality of Burmese society towards LGBT people and they will continue discriminating them “until the next generation”. However, he would like to lead this change as a champion of LGBT rights and leader of the gay community.
Pauk Paukhe is one of the most famous fashion designers in Burma who was born with the body of a man. Her designs are demanded by actors, pop stars, and ladies of the Burmese high society. However, her path to success has not been easy. It started from the city of Mogok, famous for its ruby mines, where her mother ran a hairdressing business. In Mogok she learnt the ropes of the profession, to virtual stardom in Rangoon and went through Mandalay and Italy. She studied design in Milan. She still remembers her great experience in Milan. It was tough at the beginning adapt to a new culture but immensely rewarding at the end. In her life, she has suffered from insults for being different. She has constant threat of sexual harassment, incomprehension, and love illusions. Currently she is in a relationship withan actor from Rangoon who accepts her as she is: “I’ve always felt like a woman, a Myanmar woman who has never sought easy sex, but rather a relationship of love.”