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6 Apr 2007

gay in lhasa

Fridae's Beijing correspondent Dinah Gardner travels to Lhasa, Tibet and speaks to young gay and lesbian Tibetans about their lives in the city's small yet flourishing queer scene.

How gay friendly is the Dalai Lama? Well, the charismatic exiled leader of Tibet says he supports gay and lesbian rights. But only for non-Buddhists. Same-sex intercourse, he says, is simply wrong for believers of his faith. In that case, he might be a tad unhappy then, to learn that Lhasa, capital of his estranged Himalayan kingdom, now has a small yet flourishing queer scene.

Lhasa's iconic Potala Palace
It's hard to find, but the city does have a gay bar. Yeshe, a 20-something gay Tibetan who is working as a bar manager for a tourist restaurant in Lhasa, says Lanse Tian Kong (Blue Sky) is quite hidden, but "there are so many gay boys who go there, especially on Friday's and Saturday's. It's packed." To protect it, its location won't be given here.

There are also popular cruising spots in the city, says Tenzin Tsetan, a gay Tibetan from India, who runs gaytibet.blogspot.com, a blog with resources on gays and lesbians in the "autonomous region" and Tibetan communities around the world.

"As for gays in Lhasa, I think the way they meet each other is mostly through cruising," he says. "There are certain public parks and toilets where they tend to go and meet."

"It seems like there is an underground gay scene in Lhasa," he adds, "but the community is not vibrant and open and nor is there a support group."

According to a local lesbian, there are no dyke bars, and girls will rarely go to Blue Sky bar. "We meet each other through friends, or normal bars, or through the Internet," says 30-year-old Lhundrop.

Lhundrop is wearing baggy jeans and a loose blue sweater. Her hair is cut short and spiky like a typical Chinese T (tomboy).

"I make myself look like a boy because I know it's easier for girls to like me and accept me like this," she says. "Occasionally I like other butch girls but usually I like feminine girls."

It's doubly difficult for gay Tibetans since not only are they living in China, which is not big on gay rights, but according to their spiritual leader, gay sex is condemned as a sexual misconduct. Even so, some scholars say that in old Tibet, gay sexual play between monks was very common.

"Some people - the younger generation accept homosexuality, but most Tibetans cannot accept it," says Lhundrop. "I have never told my parents. They are really traditional. They don't have any experience of this, but I think if I told them they wouldn't reject me."

Whereas many closeted Chinese lesbians and gays are pressured by their families to get married, Lhundrop says her parents have given up pushing her.

"I just told them that marriages between men and women in Tibet aren't really stable these days, there is so much divorce," she smiles. "Even my parents got divorced, although they are back together now. So I use this as an excuse, I say I don't want to get married because it will only end in divorce and they accept this and don't pressure me any more."

She says she is serious about finding a "wife" later and adopting a child.

"I definitely want to settle down later with a girl." The table of her friends - a lesbian couple and a gay boy - erupts into laughter. She explains that she's a bit of a player. "I have had a lot of girlfriends - usually they last about a week."

Despite a lack of Tibetan gay role models - Tibetan-born crooner Han Hong, is rumoured to be a lesbian but has never publicly come out - Lhundrop says she knew she was a lesbian from the beginning.

"I have never had any feelings for boys, and so I've always known I'm a lesbian. I had my first girlfriend when I was 15 years old."

Tenzin says the gay community is mixed between Chinese and Tibetans, which raises another problem. The relationship between locals and Han migrants is tense. Many Tibetans resent their presence in their city.

This sour relationship is clear at the table. Yeshe says that all the money boys at the Blue Sky bar are Chinese, while Lhundrop says she's dated Chinese girls but much prefers Tibetans. "I'll never settle down with a Chinese girl," she says.

But, Dawa, a flamboyant, 25-year-old Tibetan gay man, dressed in a white pleather suit jacket and union jack loafers, says he loves his Chinese boyfriend.

One of the main problems, says Tenzin, is that there is so little visibility for gay Tibetans.

"Among the Tibetan communities both inside and outside Tibet, there is zero visibility of homosexuals although we do exist. On 9 December, two members of the Tibetan gay community, Tenzin and Jampa, both Tibetan expats living in the US went on air on a Tibetan webcasting forum and spoke openly about their lives as gays. This was the first time any Tibetan came out publicly."

In that case, what a great move it would be for Tibet's new generation of lesbians if Han, provided she really is gay of course, had the balls to come out to her public.

Reader's Comments

1. 2007-04-06 13:17  
Not a great ending, but this is one of Dinah's best reporting jobs so far, I think. Let's get her to survey the gay scene in Ulan Bator next.
2. 2007-04-06 14:36  
I've always felt places like tibet, bhutan, nepal and all these exotic places with their tanned, well muscled, rosy cheek boys a gay shangri-la waiting to happen.Just thinking about it makes me excited...
3. 2007-04-06 14:55  
Tenzin, you famous guy!>_< anyways, keep the good work. ur proud friend;)
4. 2007-04-06 15:34  
I dont know how to say tibetian kind of alienate chinese gays or lesbians,maybe there exist historical or moneyboy issues

in shanghai,there are lots of boys chasing caucasians

As my friend said,we are not just skin
Probably when you talk and share with them whom from different regions,you will find the surprising beauty

5. 2007-04-06 15:35  
I dont know how to say tibetian kind of alienate chinese gays or lesbians,maybe there exist historical or moneyboy issues

in shanghai,there are lots of boys chasing caucasians

As my friend said,we are not just skin
Probably when you talk and share with them whom from different regions,you will find the surprising beauty

6. 2007-04-06 17:52  
Hello from Florida! Thanks for a wonderful story. It was nice to read that gay life exists in Tibet. I wish them all the best and hope that they can live in peace and enjoy their lives. Good Luck to you...it is a long journey ahead for you all!
7. 2007-04-06 21:57  
u were born in a lovely city
and i hope to fight for my rights there in my hometowns tooo

don't give up!!!
8. 2007-04-07 00:16  
"This sour relationship is clear at the table. Yeshe says that all the money boys at the Blue Sky bar are Chinese, while Lhundrop says she's dated Chinese girls but much prefers Tibetans. 'I'll never settle down with a Chinese girl,' she says."

What I have to say is that this paragraph is politically incorrect. Every case where the author used "Chinese" here, it should be replaced by "Han", as Chinese refers to the nationals in China, while Han refers to its dominating ethnical group.
9. 2007-04-07 11:23  
WOW an article not about hunks and sex. Thank you!

"How gay friendly is the Dalai Lama? Well, the charismatic exiled leader of Tibet says he supports gay and lesbian rights. But only for non-Buddhists."

Can some one help me here? Is or was Gay an issue in the Buddhist scripture?
10. 2007-04-07 14:24  
i think the map is wrong...
anyway, as now Tibet is a part of China.
11. 2007-04-07 14:38  
The map is misleading if not wrong. The font size of Tibet should be reduced so it doesn't give the impression it is a single country, and I agree also that it is Han vs Tibetan, so Dinah please use politically correct descriptions, otherwise you will be seen as one of those anti PRC elements even though your intention may be noble
Comment #12 was deleted by its author
13. 2007-04-07 16:07  
Can some one help me here? Is or was Gay an issue in the Buddhist scripture?

There was never anything about gay sex specifically - ALL sex - heterosexual or homosexual - can become a sexual misconduct in Buddhists text. Further to that, specific example quoted is "lusting after another man's wife".

Isn't it the job of an enlightened one to bring light into the darkness of the conservative mind?

Anyway I am not sure if it is in the reporting but wasn't it here at Fridae that an article was posted that the office of the DL had said it supported gay rights etc. Perhaps there were some developments after that...
14. 2007-04-07 16:20  
Just let say keep religion aside. I always believe that same sex intercourse was banned in most religion was because it hinder the grow of their community or nation. In the past, religion in most empire played an important advisory role and therefore, it could be one of the factor it was banned or forbidden.

Anyway, if u wanna be gay and be yourself, therefore, just keep your religion aside. I am a Buddhist and I pray twice a day and I AM GAY. I am no less than any Buddhist in this world as I am being a good person practicing my life with Buddhism teaching.

Just dun mix both together, just be gay as u r and be practice watever religion u find your meaning of life. :)

15. 2007-04-07 18:37  
mushu's comment is appalling... i have no doubt that he speaks with the most generous and sincere mind, but call it what you will, his views promote nothing but hypocrisy, double face, self-denial, self-delusion, double personality... what on earth does "keep religion aside" imply and could he honestly think about it for a second ??? if you're a believer you do NOT, you can NOT keep your religion aside. It's absurd and totally opposed to the very basic principles of EVERY RELIGION. On the other hand if you're not a believer then why argue ? When you're gay you're not Buddhist, and when you're a Buddhist you're not gay, is that what you imply ?
I wonder if we'll ever grow out of these infectious, silly and Jesuistic arguments, for HEAVEN'S SAKE (lol) !! When shall we simply begin to understand that religions appear in certain socio-historical contexts, complex paradigma to which they BELONG whether we like it or not. All the great religions that we know appeared in societies which rejected homosexuality for MANY reasons and not just the simplistic one stated by our friend mushu. It is more than obvious that, if a religion where to appear today it would certainly view the gay issue differently. Alas we're stuck with these old codes which offer enlightening views on many issues, but ALSO unfortunately defend or promote attitudes and behaviours which happen to be totally unthinkable today (to mention just one example the old testament actually considers that lapidation of an adultery woman is normal!).
To me the question that should be applied to every religion is "where do we draw the line between the SPIRITUAL teaching and the SOCIO-POLITICAL brain-programming ? Not a single religious teaching has ever managed to escape recuperation by political powers. Indeed all through history the so-called religious leaders have more than often used their spiritual leadership to justify their voracious appetite for political power. See how Georges W. invokes God whenever possible, as if he had brunch with Him every Sunday ? Or how Saddam suddenly turned out in court with the Holy Qoran in his hand, after years of being blatantly and openly non religious ?
The Tibetan influence at the Chinese Imperial Court was based on religion and it was huge, to a point where some analysts say that the Tibetan were actually pulling the strings behind the scene all through the Ming and the T'sin eras, so that Mao Dzedong's (otherwise outrageous) invasion of Tibet was not JUST what the western pro Dalai Lama newborn Buddhists and weepers essentially tell us it is. It was ALSO a long sought after form of revenge, quite similar to the way many European countries eventually rejected the political grip of the Pope and told him, more or less violently, to mind his own business.
I have to add that The Dalai Lama's opinion as stated in Fridae's article, is no less appalling. Hey, if you believe that something is WRONG, you don't make a difference between Buddhists and others. If he really made that incredibly Jesuistic comment, all I can say is that I find it extremely disappointing. I don't care if he's immensely popular and otherwise immensely wise... this comment is downright stupid, not to mention scary too, because it conveys that "us and them" attitude which does so much harm in the world, especially when religions are at stake.
Comment #16 was deleted by its author
Comment #17 was deleted by its author
18. 2007-04-07 22:26  
The UN and all over the world including your government were admit that Tibet belongs to China for a looooooooooong time.......Why dont you just move on?
19. 2007-04-07 23:35  
a lot of lamas tell me I can hump guys and suck dicks and I can still be a buddhist. I'm confused with this article.
20. 2007-04-08 18:07  
Would someone please tell "goowa" that the subject of the article (and/or my comment) was NOT whether or not Tibet belongs to China. Interestingly on reading the various comments, the Chinese guys all seem to have this very defensive and outdated nationalistic attitude when it comes to Tibet. Hey guys, your country is great in many ways but when it invades an independant neigbour it's plain aggression and there's no justification for that. There might be explanations, historical and sociological reasons, that's precisely one of the points I tried to make in my former comment, but no matter what the reasons may be, the action itself is wrong. And pleeeease don't invoke the UN etc, as we all know very well that politics are about being realistic, not about being moral.
Comment #21 was deleted by its author
Comment #22 was deleted by its author
23. 2007-04-08 22:03  

yveserwan ....Are you French?A French talk adout invade????????!!!!!!!!!Are you out of your mind?
Study your history ok?!

You must understand...We love the country who loves us,We love the people who loves us!

BTW....My frist comment just aim at the article
That iconograph of map of Tibet is clearly appeared that Tibet is out of China....you agree with that? ok ....Then tell me about Guyane Francaise?

24. 2007-04-09 02:07  
One day, in the future, the world will be a much better place for gay people. We're not asking for special treatments. We just want to have the same rights that everybody else has.
25. 2007-04-10 10:39  
Nice story about fellow gay people in an interesting part of the world.

I was sadest to read that the Dalai Lama does not accept (buddhist) gay people. I that really true? How does he explain his view?

26. 2007-04-15 13:42  
Referring to comments re.China in the article, I can only say that I wish that people from other countries would stop running down China. Not disputing the political rights or wrongs of matters , I can honestly say that I lived the happiest years of my entire gay life in Beijing. Only wish I had never left the place. Very sad to observe that gays in Asia seem to think that gay life in the west is a bed of roses. Laws may change , but people don't.

27. 2007-07-29 19:15  
I'm going to visit Lhasa from August 9 through 14. Assuming that I won't be suffering miserably from altitude sickness, I wonder if I will be able to find the "Blue Sky" bar and have some fun, even though I can hardly speak Chinese, let alone Tibetan.
Comment #28 was deleted by its author
Comment #29 was deleted by its author
30. 2009-02-18 04:47  
Please provide credible documentation for the paraphrasing of the Dalai Lama's position as "same-sex intercourse" being "simply wrong" for Tibetan Buddhists. I find it, through my own awareness and research as a queer Tibetan, a questionable assertion on the part of the journalist. As the researcher states, the Dalai Lama supports gay and lesbian rights. In reference to Tibetan Buddhism in particular, he has encouraged a re-examination of texts, to see whether any homophobic content is a result of cultural influence, and could therefore be changed/improved.

As a religious and political leader, he has certainly said more and been more supportive, and less conservative than many others. Besides that part, though, I think it is problematic for him to be singled out, and in the same implication, Tibetan Buddhism being singled out. The religion, at heart, is philosophical, not one that is based on creator-worship like the other primary faiths. Its primary points are to encourage self-reflection, in order to gain realization concerning illusions that cause grasping/attachment, confusion/ignorance, and unbalanced passions. As a queer Tibetan raised with a heavy tutelage of Tibetan Buddhism, I have never found anything in the source texts or canon readings that speak about homosexuality. Any possible quotes found are likely not speaking from any place of authority (i.e. no primary Buddhist scholar, anyone from Milarepa to Atisha to Nagarjuna). Current day lamas interpret, much like any teachers do, so finding a lama or monk or nun somewhere that speak homophobically is not a reflection of Tibetan Buddhism.

But to return to my main point/question, I would appreciate documentation on the part of the journalist. And sources such as the conservative American organization the New Republic are not sufficient.
31. 2010-11-19 10:01  
There is no country on the face of the planet that does not have "blood" on it's hands: there is no country, tribe, nation that has not, at one time or another, invaded another. Goowha, following the logic that countries who have invaded others should not comment about Tibet; this forum should just disappear and we should only discuss fashion and celebrities. I am often humbled here by my ignorance and proud of our global community for the respectful dialogue about very important issues.
32. 2011-06-20 10:57  
I found the article interesting and comments even more so. It reflects the very sensitive issue of how society in Lhasa is divided very sharply along ethinic lines. The reason for these divisions is caught up in culture, history and power structures.

I believe that the authors use of the map and refering to Chinese and Tibetans isn't a case of being non-PC or of encouraging division i think it is a reflection of how things are seen from the Tibetan's (some not all) point of view. Since this article is specifically written and them it is appropriate to state it in these terms.

This is the same thing as when a Chinese (all inclusive here) says somethign like "westerns are...." or more relistically "foreigners are...." where "laowai" is used for foreigner and excludes all asians. it is non-PC but it reflects the locals point of view.

ok said my piece let the bashing begin. ;-)

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