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Beyond tolerance, acceptance is necessary: LGBT community in Bhutan
Nima Gyeltshen, May 16, 2013
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As the world marks the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia today to eliminate discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, a Bhutanese lesbian shares her experiences and dreams with our reporter Nima Gyeltshen

Sonam [real name withheld] is a twenty-two-year-old girl who lives in Thimphu. With spiky hairdo and un-girly mannerisms, she looks very much like a boy. Sonam is a gay.

Sitting across a table in a restaurant and smiling mischievously, says Sonam: “I am a guy trapped in a woman’s body. I am what I am; it doesn’t bother me at all.” Her handsome face grows solemn.

“For as long as I can remember, I have always been this way, like a guy. While my friends played Barbie, I would be hanging out with the boys playing toy trucks and fighting,” says Sonam, recalling her past. “Those were the good, carefree days.”

As Sonam grew up, things became increasingly awkward. She had to hide her sexuality from everyone and suffered immense emotional traumas.

“I have had to go through so much in life just because I was born this way, especially in my junior high days when I was still trying to figure out my gender. Kids can be mean sometimes and don’t realise what harm they are doing to their friends. I have been called all kinds of names. That was painful,” says Sonam. Some of her friends had even started a rumour that during every full moon night, she becomes a hermaphrodite – a person with both male and female genitalia.

Sonam went through severe depression. “I began to feel worthless and started to hate everything around me. I hated my world. I hated myself.”

Sonam started dressing and acting like a girl to avoid badmouthing. That, however, didn’t make her feel any better and left her more confused. It was hard to pretend being who she was really not. “It was really very painful not understanding who I was, what I was.”

After high school, Sonam went to India for higher studies. That was the first time she enjoyed the freedom that was long denied her at home to be what she really was. There, in India, she didn’t have to hide that she was a gay or fear public censure.

Says Sonam: “I cannot thank enough this one girl in my college who encouraged me to be who I was. I then realised that if I continued living my life being scared of what people might say or how people will treat me, I will never be able to live my life fully. Were it not for her advice, I don’t know what would have become of me.

“I no longer have anger or hatred towards those who have treated me cruelly. We are all humans and humans err. We are scared of the unknown and things that we cannot comprehend. I have forgiven them all and chosen to live my life my way.”

Sonam says that although she is a person whose sexual orientation is to persons of the same sex, she is a human all the same and deserves to be treated kindly. It is not her fault, says Sonam, so much as it is Nature’s.

“The reason I want to tell my story is because I want my past experiences to be a lesson for some people who is like me out there who are struggling. I want them to know that it’s all right to be different. In the end, we have to make our decisions. But the point is: we must be able to live our life the way we want to live and be happy,” says Sonam, who hopes that time will come when Bhutanese will become more accepting of people whose sexual orientation is to persons of the same sex.

Says Sonam, confidently: “Time will come. I believe it will. We will then have understood that ostracising and punishing people with different sexual orientation is wrong and inhuman.”

Looking out the window where the dusk is gathering amid the shrieks of children on the pavement, Sonam stands up, adjusts her shirt and shuffles out with a grin.

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