Understanding Others Through Listening to Their Stories
During my childhood, my surroundings taught me that the members of the LGTBQ+ community are “strange” and “different”. I remember when I was young, my mom took me and my brother to visit my big aunt often. Aunt would always tease my brother about being gay because he plays with nail paints and dolls that mom bought for me. Then my mom would respond with “I’m also worried that he will become one.” Those conversations about the community made me think that they were wrong for worrying their family members as well as not following the stereotypical concept their genders were supposed to be. A few years after that, a learning project totally changed me and I’d like you to witness the serendipity that shapes the foundation of my thoughts on the LGTBQ+ community.
Through discovering new people, listening and observing, I realize how common this case happens in Cambodia. And they all share similar stories that, when a guy wears or plays with make-up, cares about their appearance or is just being artistic, people will assume they are gay on the first impression. When a girl hangs out with guys, talks or laughs very loudly in a lower tone and acts “manly,” as in playing lots of sports and being careless about their appearance, the public will speculate them as lesbians.
Looking back at it, I can see how wrong I was about the community and how badly I was influenced by those conversations about them. Sometimes I think about what I would do if I were from the community:.
- I wouldn’t want someone to assume my sexual orientation based on my interests, what I do as a hobby nor how I look!
- I wouldn’t like it when my friends laugh, glare, point at me and mock me for being a part of the community.
- I will hate to keep things to myself because no other people understand.
- I would be brokenhearted and despairing if my family doesn’t want me as their daughter anymore because they think my lifestyle is based on choices and not who I truly am.
I really hope all these expectations and stereotypes vanish in the 2020s when the world is becoming more knowledgeable and open-minded. On the other hand, I also understand that people need time to adapt to the Modern Era. Recently, my family had a celebration of housewarming. The night before the ceremony, my brother hung out with one of his close friends who in my family’s opinion, is girly. My dad got really angry and blamed my brother for letting the boy sleepover and for befriending him in general. My dad repeatedly said in an angry and quite disappointed tone, “It’s not like you don’t have other friends to hang out with. Girls should act like a girl and boys should act like a boy, don’t hang out with someone who isn’t purely their gender. He might influence you to become like him in the future.” After that, he would threaten my brother to hit him “if he hangs out with the boy that has long hair.” This made me feel sympathetic for the boy and my brother. Though later that day, I told him that, “the boy has long hair because it’s his choice and it doesn’t determine that he is gay. Moreover, you shouldn’t restrict them from hanging out, that is too controlling and apparently, the boy is a good person, he doesn’t bite!”. I tried to defend the boy, my dad wouldn’t listen to me because he’s been following the same pattern for 45 years and he’s just close-minded! (Sorry dad). I understand why he got mad; however, changes happen all the time and we need to adapt and change. That is why we all need to start teaching youth the importance of sharing and listening to others’ perspectives to achieve a world with harmony and justice.
As someone who is IMPACTED by listening, sharing and understanding new perspectives, I admit it feels exceptionally good to accept the LGTBQ+ community as a part of nature and life. And I wouldn’t have become very empathetic toward the community if it weren’t for Liger Leadership Academy and project Adolescence. Adolescence is a 7-week long project led by a senior student, B Venghour with the help of a learning facilitator, Sam. We divided ourselves into different teams including: Painting, sketching and mixed media, Sculpture, Marketing and Performance team. Each team is responsible for creating masterpieces for some section of the story written by B Venghour. (Except for Marketing team which focuses on financial support) The story is about a boy growing up in his society where the things he enjoys doing are considered girly. It includes emotional struggles he had to face before coming out and all the intense discussions about the LGBTQ+ community he had with his parents. By being a part of this project, I am willing to use my ability and talent to strengthen the art gallery and share this story with the public because I want to see Cambodian society being more open about gender and sexuality. If the project empowered me to take some time and reflect on the misconceptions, I’m sure it will reach people on a bigger scale.
Unfortunately, our project was interrupted by the outbreak of COVID-19 which was chaotic and abrupt. We had no choice but to separate our team due to social distancing rules declared by the government. Since then, working together has become very challenging. Everybody is not at the same pace in life, we have our schedules and life obstacles that need to settle. Yet for the passion to make the gallery possible, we broke through our differences and came together to meet and discuss this project. I am optimistic that a lot of people will understand the side of the world they once thought was unusual, strange or non-natural after discovering Venghour’s story!
Now as a person with a completely different mentality from the past, questions cluster inside my head like sugar attracting ants. I am genuinely curious as to what people think is actually wrong about being a part of the LGTBQ+ community. If the people who discriminate against the community can put aside their prejudice, would they finally acknowledge that they are no different than any other human beings on Earth but with a unique preference of their sexual partners? Do they feel good for assuming someone’s gender? Do they feel more superior because they are not from the LGTBQ+ community?
All the rhetorical questions aside, I believe that gender and sexuality shouldn’t be the factors that make someone feel proud. They should be more proud of who they are personality-wise, their core values, showing respect toward others, their efforts and achievements. So, let’s all appreciate our existence on this planet and start loving each other for our uniqueness and individual preferences.