English | Dzongkha Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Black and White and the Colours of the Rainbow

Namgay Zam, Thimphu
Aug 29, 2013

Coming into their Own

The affirmation of the existence of a Bhutanese gay population only happened with the creation of the Facebook page and Twitter handle “LGBT Bhutan” (Lesbian/ Gay/ Bisexual/Transgender) about six months ago.

“I liked boys since I was little, I did not find that strange” says one of the LGBT administrators who wanted to be called J. “There was no conflict within me”.

Another administrator, K, has a different story.  K was homophobic for 20 years of his life denying his innate sexual orientation. “It’s a frightening feeling (coming out), but once I accepted who I am; that I cannot hide from my sexuality, I came out to one of my best friends. I did not choose to come out by deciding who would or would not understand me. I came out to people who are close to me and whom I know I will associate with for the rest of my life. Anyone else would have made it my prime identity.”

Both administrators admit to having been inspired by Dechen- one of the only two transgenders who have chosen to live in the public eye as women.

Dechen made news when she wanted to wear a Kira to school when she was 16. Never before had such a case presented itself in Bhutanese society. “I think of myself as a normal girl, I never stop myself from going out and having fun,” Dechen says. She shares that other transgenders like her do not want to disclose their identities, as the “self-stigma” is too great. But, she says discrimination is not very widespread in Bhutanese society.

 Homosexuality is Unnatural

Although, Bhutanese society has been quite accepting of transgenders, many are quick to dub homosexuality “unnatural”. While it has been scientifically proven that one’s sexual orientation is not a personal choice and is biological, many Bhutanese are suspicious and downright judgmental about homosexuality.

Factual awareness in Bhutan is a mere shadow of the dominant gay stereotypes propagated by popular culture through films, books and social media.

“It isn’t as if I haven’t tried to be “normal”, I’ve tried that my whole life, but being normal is abnormal for me. If there is holy water that you can sprinkle on me to make me straight then please do so!” cries K in earnest.

“But Bhutanese do not use their personal morality to impose religious or moral views on others”, Ben Gagnon, a former Wheaton exchange student at the Royal Thimphu College points out.  He discovered this after carrying out an on-campus survey on homosexuality.

There were 150 participants in the survey that was probably the first of its kind to have been done in the country. About 60 percent of the respondents believe homosexuality is immoral but more than 50 percent also say homosexuality should be accepted and homosexuals protected from discrimination and harm.

 Homosexuality is Criminal

Ben who is, incidentally, gay expected Bhutan to be very homophobic; he admits his view had been coloured by a Wikipedia search that threw up Bhutan’s Penal clauses criminalising homosexuality and not because of anyone else’s experiences.

Clauses 213 and 214 in the Penal Code of Bhutan criminalise homosexual relationship. It states that a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of unnatural sex, if the defendant engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature. “The offence of unnatural sex shall be a petty misdemeanor,” states clause 214.

In spite of the clauses, no arrests of this nature have been made since the Penal Code’s birth in 2004.

“The issue is when the law is there and if people do not enforce it, is it okay? With time, as society progresses and thoughts broaden, homosexuality may need to be revisited. In a democratic society, it becomes even more important because democracy promotes liberty”, shares Gasa’s Member of Parliament in the National Council, Sangay Khandu.

The clause may have come into existence with reason but it has antagonised many young Bhutanese who belong to the LGBT community and their “allies” (friends and supporters) in modern day Bhutan who see it as an anomaly in a normally lenient society.

This law although dormant, has had an effect on many gay and transgender Bhutanese who want to remain hidden and also carry on “relations and activities” online and off mainstream society’s radar to avoid being criminalised and losing their dignities.

Stigma could lead to Health Issues

“Gay people are having sex, you know”, says K. “But gay Bhutanese have a very carefree attitude towards sex- safe sex is not important”, adds Ben.

The gay group is therefore in a high health risk category because they may not be too forthcoming about sexual as well as mental health issues.

The Health Ministry may have sensed this as well, as they are currently mapping the MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender population in the country.  “This is not to find a number but to understand the health barriers that exist for such a population and provide strategic health interventions”, explains an official who does not want to be named.

The mapping has been carried out in seven dzongkhags but is limited to an urban population due to the prevalence of HIV cases among such inhabitants.

The findings are expected to be shared later, this year. The officials (who do not want to be named) shared that the Ministry considers it important to ensure that health services are inclusive irrespective of one’s status/gender/ sexual orientation.

Tackling the mental health of such a population may not be as straightforward.

“I was deeply conflicted, an introvert and almost always angry”, K describes himself before coming out and embracing his homosexuality. “Look at me now, I am happy and an extrovert, no one would have imagined me to be like this, not even my closest friends”. K found the strength to accept his homosexuality through America’s Talk-Show Celebrity, Ellen DeGeneres, and the online “It Gets Better Project”.

What would happen to another youth, who is at odds with his/her identity, has no access to the online world, and no one to talk to? Personality disorders, depression and suicide are definite and tragic consequences.

 Buddhism does not condemn homosexuality

Bhutan is seen as a highly tolerant society and with a majority of the population being Buddhist, the LGBT administrators are quite hopeful about acceptance.

The Director of the Institute of Language and Culture Studies, Lungtaen Gyatsho, says, “Buddhism believes only in universal principles which are beyond the interpretation of notions. The rest are based on notions which are largely culture-based and time-bound. Sex is an activity and for that matter, homosexuality is also an activity and therefore, an individual choice.”

He said the debate between what is ‘natural sex’ and ‘unnatural sex’ can go on and on because notions are based on culture and no culture is right or wrong. Buddhism has no serious reason to condemn homosexuality as long as it is an activity of consensus between two persons and carried out in private. “However, notions can vary from culture to culture, society to society and country to country but no notion is right or wrong on its own”.

K first came out to his brother. “I sort of told my parents (a few weeks ago), it didn’t go so well, but it was not so bad either”, says K.

If it is not black and white anymore, perhaps it is time to look with an open mind at the rainbow?

15 Comments for “Black and White and the Colours of the Rainbow”

  1. chheku dukpa

    In my opinion, there is nothing wrong to be a gay.people have to just accept who they are becsuse,i strongly beleive that it is one of the possibilities of nature and it really exists,..as simple as that.

    • sonam

      Well said…totally agree with the opinions about acceptance but I found the article ‘gay centric’ rather than LGBT as a whole….we ve seen tomboys too…moreover there is a trans man too…whatever live and let live!

  2. Kams

    Whats is this? I thought this happens only in America.

    • Yamato

      Seriously you said it right, it is suppose to happen only in those HI5 nations… Its intolerable hearing such things when it comes to our country. Buddhist country indeed…

    • tenzin

      being L/G/B/T has nothing to do with culture, religion, developed or developing world or anything. its is just natural phenomenon.

  3. T.Dorji

    Whether someone is gay or straight is not the choice that people make on their own. It’s a biological or karmic consequence. Therefore, we can neither condemn those persons nor make their acts illegal.

  4. environmentalist

    With the global human population almost touching or crossed 7 billion, from an environmental conservation perspective, having many gays, lesbians, or homosexuals is a good thing. This way, we don’t have to resort to family planning to willfully bring down the population growth rate.

    From a humanitarian point of view, homosexuals are also human beings, but with different sexual orientation. They have every right to exercise their freedom of sexual expression as long as they do so without any motives to create troubles in societies.

    From an evolutionary perspective, may be emergence of too many homosexuals is the nature’s inherent design to check soaring human populations on Earth and to bring the number within its carrying capacity.

    These are just my views and everybody is welcome to agree or disagree. At any rate, I have no hard feelings to any one.

  5. pema

    Dat seems to bad 4 a small society like ours. any way its nature

  6. Rinchen wangmo

    There’s nothing wrong to be gay, it’s happens all around the world. I support u guys, don’t hide ur reality be happy with u r n accept ur self…. Free ur self

  7. sangay

    I just hope that the people and government of Bhutan do not waste thier time on debating about whether homosexuality should be accepted or not. Afterall, it is a biological thing and no one can say no to it. So, I think we sholuld just accept people for who they are, and try to create a better environemnt within the communities. But also, Homosexual people should know that they can ask for equality, but not respect. Asking for respect and equality is completely different, and like I discussed with one of my friends, this creates problems. But I am hopeful that Bhutanese people will take it easy and handle it well, but please do not rush. One cannot judge our parent like who are in Villages or remote parts of the country, if they find it abnormal and find it difficult to accept. So, bear this in mind.

  8. Ditch

    It is natural, gay people don’t choose to be gays. They have to live a live, can anyone offer them new lives!!!

  9. tenzin norbu

    Bottom line- Buddhism does not condemn homosexuality.
    It is perhaps for this reason gays existed only in the monasteries in the past. It had in fact thrived so much so that the National Newspaper even ran a series of stories on STDs being rampant in one of the monasteries in the capital a few years back. I hope that it is not a spill over effect of the phenomena arising out of hard to forget habitual tendencies out of the monasteries.
    Unnatural biological behavior or traits surface as issues only in countries with large population.

  10. Ngedup

    This should not be allowed at all in our country and the Royal Government must take some very serious steps to stop this.

    • tenzin

      just know that these people are also a citizen of of Bhutan. and about taking serious steps on what ground are you suggesting our govt to take serious steps i mean did they do something wrong? now let me ask you a question, even L/G/B/T individuals are human, are they not?

  11. Tempa Rabgey

    Ngedup, if you think that homosexuality somehow magically doesn’t exist in Bhutan as it does in every other country, then you are a fool

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