“You must be my first gay client,” the barber said to me, when I told him I wanted a hair_____a “boy’s haircut.”
Already, I was labeled, before my appearance had even changed.
I thought Cambodians had learned to accept the idea of “breaking gender norm.” They praise the people who have done it, like Sorn Seavmey, the Cambodian female athlete who does Taekwondo and wins gold medals. They even praise women who join the military force, which is considered a man’s job to protect his own country.
But, they hadn’t.
Why can’t people accept, “Dressing is how a person express themselves?”_______This was the thought that came to my mind, as heat was burning inside of me, thinking of the comment the barber made. .
I decided that I want to inform people that stereotypes do not define everyone. I stayed there, and got my haircut, ignoring the way people were making fun of me.
“Oh, now you look handsome,” the barber said half chuckling when he finished cutting my hair.
I didn’t know what the chuckle meant, but I knew one thing for sure, it made me feel bad. Because of gender expectations, I am supposed to have long hair and I don’t. Does that mean I should be embarrassed? Does that mean people can make fun of me as much as they wish to?
How many people in Cambodia, will have to go through this kind of experience?
Why is it so hard for Cambodians to accept people who dress differently from what their gender is “supposed” to be, and those who fall into the LGBTQ+ category?
By far, there is no real answer to this question. However, there are a few possible reasons according to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and some other new media including Phnom Penh Post.
(1) The lack of understanding of sexuality and gender. The idea of sexual orientation and gender is a new concept to Cambodia. This country barely has any words to describe gender or sexuality, except for five words which are still fairly ambiguous. (1 and 2) Srei and pros, meaning “a human being of the female sex,” and “a human being of the male sex,” the words that Cambodian generally use to describe gender. (3 and 4) The word “gni,” and “chhmol,” also indicate gender, meaning “female” and “male”. However, this pair of words is sometimes also used to describe the biological human’s gender in some circumstances, but is mostly used for plants and animals. (5) Khteuy is also word used to describe gender, according to the Buddhist Institute Dictionary, this word refers to a person who has both female and male reproductive organ. However, Cambodians has developed a connotation to this word, they use this describe a biological woman or man who put on personality and behavior of the opposite sex. But mostly this word is used to describe a man who dresses like a woman.
(2) The idea of “oddity”. As explained above, the concept of gender and sexuality is unfamiliar to Cambodians, therefore, anyone who does not fall into the traditional categories of gender and sexuality are considered the “odds”. The odds aren’t always accepted, and welcomed. According to CCHR, more than one third of transgender women are denied for a job because of their gender, forcing them to having jobs that the public and society considered dirty; more than 50% transgender women said that they become a prostitute. This data only represents transgender people, data on other sexual orientations and genders remain unknown.
(3) “In a basket of fish, if one is rotten, the rest will rot.”
Due to the above reason, Cambodians had developed stigma about the “odds,” saying they’re crazy, outrageous, and are the one involving in illegal and despicable activities like drug dealing and thievery. Some denied that, difference in sexuality and gender can’t exist. They think that the odds are staging it for fame and attention from the public. Moreover, an “odd” seems carry the reputation for all the other odds. If an “odd” does something atrocious, the society thinks that all the odds are atrocious as well, forgetting that stigma does not imply to everyone in LGBTQ+ community and dismissed the reasons behind what they do. Consequently, “odds” are generally being ostracized and abuse both physically and emotionally. Some even say that the odds should be ashamed for who they are, as well as their family, and that they deserve to be punished.
Many people leave out the matter that the odds are dying inside when their stigma tends to stay immortal.
Cambodians are known to worship and respect their past king, king Norodom Sihanouk, but maybe not with this statement, which he made more than a decade ago, “Gays and lesbians would not exist if God did not create them. As a Buddhist I must have compassion for human beings who are not like me but who torture nobody, kill nobody.”
Author: Sythong Run