Coming out is not a phrase as easy as it sounds, but why? All answers lie in the thoughts of old and ancient taboos, where men have to marry women and start a family. Today, how does society react when LGBT+ people decide to come out of the closet? As a province rich with culture and beauty, Siem Reap is still developing her understanding toward the vulnerable group of the LGBT+ people as some individuals still cling on to the old mindsets against the group. “They would tease me and called me lady-boy, gay, and gender-less” – said Phanna in deep pain and agony, trying to holds back his tears.
Born and raised in Siem Reap, Phanna, 26, is currently working full-time at a non-governmental organization that helps unfortunate youth. For three years, he has had wrong ideas on the LGBT+ community, since he didn’t know much about it, so he thought that being an LBGT+ individual is as bad as our society picture them. Thus, he ended up hiding his true self from everyone. However, after joined a workshop in Phnom Penh about the rainbow community that he suddenly gained deeper knowledge about LGBT+ community. It was the moment that he was certain that he is totally ready to finally accept who he really is and come out, “Coming out is not hard, so I want to do it as well” – said Phanna.
After, he decided to come out 4 months ago as gay, he thought that everyone including his family and his best friend would support him. However, it was the exact opposite. At first, when he told his parents, they denied his sexual orientation since they didn’t want him to be with men, they wanted him to marry a woman, and start a family, because “ I was an only child ” – said Phanna. Nevertheless, he started to see changes in his father, “When he offers a ride to a transgender woman when she needs a motorcycle taxi to go home” -Phanna added.
As for his best friend of 13 years, and the first person he chooses to come out to, denied the path that he chose, in which they got into disagreements, since she thought “Gay men will not have a normal and successful lives as straight, so they will not have a future” – according to Phanna. From then on, they grew distant from one another, but he still went on and came out at his part-time and full-time workplaces, despite the fact that he lost all his motivations from his best friend’s response.
When he decided to come out at his full-time workplace, he thought he would receive huge support like his part-time workplace; contrastingly, his full-time colleagues started to sexually harass him; in which it affected him mentally, verbally, and physically. Thus, they would not welcome him to have lunch with them, and some of his male colleagues even verbally harassed him by calling him “Lady boy, gay, and genderless”, and physically harass him by, “Grabbing my chest” – said Phanna.
As coming out is not easy as it sounds, not all the people choose to come out, since they are afraid that they will have to face things that happened to Phanna although there are still hopes. Because of the hopes to receive love and acceptance, there are those who are not afraid of coming out and showing their truth.
For that, there is also a story about a person, who hasn’t come out yet, but he is confident and optimistic the society will accept him. Soben, 25, who had just started living in Siem Reap a year ago, had found himself the place that accepted and empowered him to be who he is. Despite all the results he witnessed from other individuals, who had come out, and got rejected by family, friends, and society, as well as himself being verbally harassed by his high school, he still is not afraid of coming out, since “I know myself. It is my life, so it is my choice” –said Soben.
Moreover, he also added that, “All the discrimination that LGBT+ community received, because people still not abandon the ideas that individual in this community will likely to drop up of school, become a sex worker or even more”. –continues Soben. Even though, he knows clearly that he have to face many unwanted obstacles such as, cutting ties with family, friends, and society; he still determined to come out as gay in the near future, “when I am totally ready” –said Soben.
In their words to those who are struggling and in the same shoe as their, they had provided some hopes that“know who you are clearly, and wait for the right time that you are confident people will support you. That is the moment you should come out.” hopingly stated by Phanna said, and for Soben, “You have to be surely ready, and set your main goals, since you might walk on your own path when you come out”.
Their stories and advice show those who are still questioning, or afraid of coming out that they don’t have to be afraid of being who they truly are. Most importantly, you have to believe that you are also a beautiful human being, and every human deserves their privileges, and the rights to be who they really are without any prejudices.
*Soben is a made up name by the writer as the real name of the interviewee was changed to keep their anonymity.
This article is written by Mynea Yi, a 1st generation participant of Story Corner 2020 which aims to break the stigma on LGBT+ through storytelling and the engagement of youths through dialogue and series of training on gay rights advocacy and basic journalism. Story Corner 2020 is hosted by Buzz Talk Cambodia.