A few days ago, I received the following heartfelt email. Although unexpected, it was truly encouraging hearing from a fellow LGBTQ Tibetan back in India. I’d like to thank Tae Yen (a pseudonym), who wishes to remain anonymous, for the message and the illuminating conversation.
From India, 20 years old, apprentice at a tattoo studio and learning tattooing. I knew that I had things for the same gender since pre school, I was keen on being paired with girls more than guys for school projects. I asked my mother if it’s ok to find girls beautiful? She had an idea as to what I was indicating and she told me that it’s ok. She acknowledged me with terms, lesbian and gay. I searched, and I grew up. I had celebrity crushes, basically girls. I like a girl for now but I can not let my family know. I lost my mother when I was in my teens, if she was here it would’ve been easier.
Well, I’m not ashamed of my sexuality. While being queer is hard for many in India, it is especially so in a Tibetan family where understanding “love regardless of gender” is tough. But I’m proud of my tomboy self. I respect my androgynous side and with great acceptance, I accept myself as bisexual. My friends are aware of my sexuality and they’re supportive. Hope I’ll be out of the closet soon, properly.
Tashi delek! Thank you so much for sharing your story and being willing to do this short Q&A. Can you talk a little bit about where you grew up and what you’re currently up to?
I grew up in Dehradun, studied in Christian schools, basically non-Tibetan schools. Tried studying Tibetan when I was young but had a hard time because I had no basic knowledge of the Tibetan language. And currently I’m working in a tattoo studio and along with it I’m learning how to tattoo. Soon to be the first female Tibetan tattoo artist I guess? And I’m still in Dehradun, hustling hard.
What’s your preferred pronouns and how do you identify?
They/them. Well, I’m genderfluid, I don’t identify as a girl or a guy. There are days when I feel feminine and days when I feel masculine. I cannot be in a box of identification. And my sexual orientation, bisexual, leaning towards finding girls more attractive, haha.
How old were you when you first realized you were also attracted to girls?
I knew it from a really young age that I actually like both guys and girls. I was more comfortable with elder cousin sisters than guys but at the same time I was into video games and stuff so I used to go through the conflict of being a girl with certain people and being guyish with my male friends. I was in 6th grade when I had a crush on a senior girl. Started too young, lol.
Could you talk about some common misconceptions people have about bisexuality?
Misconceptions related to bisexuality is outnumbered, how people call bisexuals greedy and that we are not satisfied with one gender, that we jump to others. How it’s hard for lesbians to trust us completely and straight people going through the same trauma that we’d cheat on them. How we are called indecisive. So much more but the reality is, we like both girls and guys, doesn’t mean we’d sleep with or cheat on everyone. Trust us, we carry the same heart as others do. True love is what matters the most.
I loved how you put “from the closet” as the subject of the email you sent me. Even though your friends know you’re bisexual and are supportive, I understand you view yourself as still being in the closet since you haven’t come out to your family. What are some of the concerns you have about coming out to your family?
Haha, my writer instincts to be thanked. To be honest, I have dropped hints on my dad about me not being straight. I used to show him news reports about the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) community in India and he’d respond saying it’s a sin to be gay and it’s the karma that people who are homosexual are paying for the sins they committed in past lives.
This installed such a great fear in me, that if I tell my dad he’d disown me. Fact is, I’m independent enough to live my life, but I’d always want my family to support my partner whether it’s a girlfriend or a boyfriend. My aunt is better at understanding such stuff but she too would fear accepting me as me and advocate the societal norms. I have a younger sister, who out of all, is cool and would accept me at the right time.
Among your friends, who was the first person you came out to and was there a particular reason you picked them to come out to? How did you tell them and what was their reaction?
Last to last year, one of my close friends was discussing how she finds girls attractive and I reciprocated with I know exactly what she meant. Then I came out to her that I’m bisexual and how about she do some research as well and take her time in understanding herself. Well turns out she is bi/bi-curious—yet to be decided—but she is taking her time. Reason I had to tell her was I basically liked her. As she is taking her time, I’m waiting for her. She was overwhelmed with my thoughts about her but she was good enough to not trap me in until she is sure about everything.
After that, I came out to almost everyone on Instagram through a long post except my family as I don’t have them on my account. Everyone was happy but some lashed out, called me names and paired me with my friends. Started rumours saying how I’m dating one of my friends. On the other hand, some were really supportive and I’m lucky to have them!
Could you talk about some of the difficulties LGBTQ Tibetans in India face?
Ok. So, in India, LGBTQ individuals of all nationalities (Indians, Tibetans, and others) are in a dangerous situation. Under section 377, it’s illegal to have a romantic relationship with the same sex, let alone get legal rights to marry who you love. As LGBTQ Tibetans in India, we have to deal with racism as well as homophobia. Since we are refugees and generally exist outside the Indian community, a large number of Indians who catcall us, make fun of us, and unfairly treat us do so on the basis of our race.
Let’s say there was a gay couple walking down the street, hand in hand. If they happened to be Tibetans, many Indians would speak out against this simple act of love and say it is ruining the Indian youth. Since they consider us outsiders, they’d blame us for influencing other people by living a gay lifestyle. All because they count us as foreigners, the blame will be on us for influencing their beloved kids. Therefore, racism and homophobia added together makes our community have a tougher time, more than ever!
Do you see our society changing for the better in the near future?
In talks of our Tibetan community, I’m actually happy, for your taking such initiatives and people accepting humans as humans. Aren’t we the one who have been fighting for human rights since the beginning of time? I’m happy to see inspirations like Tenzin Mariko, one of the most gracious ladies I have ever seen! Yes. I see our society changing for the better in the near future. A bit more awareness among the elder Tibetans and a bit more empathy from the Tibetan youth. Viola! We are good to go!
Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Any advice for someone struggling with their identity or looking to come out of the closet?
Nothing more. I poured my heart out to you in answering your questions. Advice as such, I’m not someone great to learn from or take advices from but if you’re struggling with your identity, remember there is no pressure on you, take your time. You should not rush into things, good things come to good people. Do remember if you feel like you have no one, I’m here for you. Somewhere in India, someone is always there for you. Taking wrong steps like self-harm is not a solution. Coming out of the closet or staying in your own Narnia is on you. Coming out to yourself is more important than to people. Love yourself first. For every heart that is scared to come out.
I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. Thank you for reaching out and sharing your story. Means a lot.