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15 Nov 2010

Cambodia's first gay town

Make no mistake: This is not a place to celebrate sexuality. This is a place for survival.

Along the train tracks in one of Phnom Penh’s ubiquitous slums, the noise never stops and everything is changing. Longtime residents are fearful that they’ll soon have to move. This place isn’t safe anymore, they say. It isn’t moral anymore. 

Along these same tracks, roughly 100 new residents, in search of asylum and community, have trickled in over the last several years and now lead lives of shocking desperation. Most of them only sleep during the day. Some perform acts of prostitution. Others dress as women. Almost all of them are homosexual men. And this place, Beoung Kak 2, has become a home: Cambodia’s first gay town. 

But this isn’t Boystown in Chicago, nor the Castro in San Francisco. This isn’t a place where homosexuals can celebrate sexuality, individuality, love. Make no mistake: It’s a place for survival. 

Every month more newcomers arrive, and as this community expands and supplants longtime residents, it represents both a burgeoning confidence among Cambodia’s gay population, as well as the difficulties that lie ahead for homosexuals here struggling for acceptance and equality.

As two worlds converge and clash in Beoung Kak 2, each seems allegoric, as though re-enacting a bigger national issue. The young, radically sexual newcomers stand juxtaposed against a traditional set of neighbors that are baffled, and sometimes frightened, by the swelling number of openly gay Khmer down the road.

For more photos and the full story, click here.


Reader's Comments

1. 2010-11-15 23:13  
Oh a sad story again for Cambodia. I worked/lived in Cambodia from 90-92 and go back annually. Khmers are a strong and resilient people, they will find a way to solve this major problem.

Mytraiya (my Khmer name)
2. 2010-11-15 23:19  
Where is Beoung Kak 2? i have been working here for quite sometimes but have never heard about the place. yes it is sometimes quite sad to hear people turn to be homosexual in order to survive.
3. 2010-11-16 11:17  
@2... I think these people are already gay. They don't "turn gay to survive".
Comment #4 was deleted by its author on 2010-11-16 13:17
5. 2010-11-16 14:52  
My heart goes out to the brave men who are building this community, even when it comes out of despair. It is impossible for me to imagine the day-to-day problems. These guys are pioneers and from my heart I wish them well and that society will accept them (us) for who they (we) are.
6. 2010-11-16 16:15  
This is such a sorry story from a country where the people have suffered so much. I trust the people involved find ever lasting happiness and the world, as well their country, begins to understand and accept the individual right to live unimpeded by the morals and beliefs of others.
My strength stay with these people.
7. 2010-11-16 18:10  
no ......they are not allready gay......like in other poor countries in the w100orld......one has to do anything to survive......i have been living in thailand for a few years......it is the same there.....the poor sell themselves to make ends meet.....most have wives and children........blame the government for low wages...less than $100 a month.....working 12 hours a day. 7days a week......
8. 2010-11-17 07:46  
It could have been better if it would not have been so overwriten by a foreigner applying a western social framework on asian culture. And even so who still uses "homosexual" to speak of MSM, and what is a "transgender homosexual"? I doubt any Katoye either understand or see herself as either of these !
9. 2010-11-18 04:49  
my first bf was khmer and they are nice ppl
10. 2010-11-18 17:15  
A couple of words that stand out on reading the full article are "fearful" and "scared", referring to the emotions of the "normal" people living around this gay settlement.

In many countries, it is this nameless fear within the straight community, born out of ignorance, superstitions, conditioning and mindless dogma, that makes it hate gay people without even understanding them.

If social activists can use this opportunity to work with these straight neighbours and educate them on the meaning of sexuality and what being gay implies (and what it does not imply), thereby eliminating this baseless fear, it can lead to better acceptance of the gay community. At the same time, the activists can also educate these gay people on how to conduct themselves so as to not appear threatening to the straight community.

Of course, one may jump in and demand to know why the converse doesn’t apply: why the straight community shouldn’t be educated so as to not appear threatening to gay people. It’s a simple matter of numbers. Statistically, gays are outnumbered hugely by straight people, and, on top of that, if the two communities collided head-on, many (most?) gays wouldn’t even join the fight, preferring to remain closeted. (We are aware of many closeted gays who actually sided with the straight ones in such situations before they got outed.) Guess who’ll win that fight then. Let’s accept that life’s not fair. We just have to work with the cards we’ve been dealt. What we CAN do with our cards is try to turn as many of the "against gays due to ignorance" to at least "neutral or sympathetic towards gays". Then we'll have only the much smaller number of "rabidly anti-gay under all conditions" to contend with.
11. 2010-11-18 22:30  
Yeahh.. I completely agree with no.7.. they are not really gay.. but force to be one due to economic issue. Even here in siem reap, i have noticed that nowadays the number of she-males have been increased rapidly, if you go to any clubs you will find them in a group.
12. 2010-11-19 20:17  
given the amount of wealth in the world and given many homosexual men in freer countries have access to such wealth wouldn't it be nice if some kind hearted philanthropic men started a 'Gay' run aid agency based on such aid agencies as PLAN international was started to run programs in countries like Cambodia to educate and train these young guys in usefull occupations not just leave them to be sex fodder for skanky foriegn tourists.. pray I win LOTTO soon guys
13. 2010-11-20 12:52  
Come on , people do not turn to homosexual to survive. I am sure there is more that meets the eye.

This place could be a place where these gays can call their own , a place where they can get accepted or a place where they are a majority. It could be a herd mentality amongst the PLU there.

I do not have the answer but I am sure people do not just turn gay / homosexuals to survive. If you are one you are one. Nothing can change that. It's written in your DNA I supposed.

I knew I was different when I was in the kindergarten. It has nothing to do with my environment. It's nature not nurture.
14. 2010-11-21 00:46  
so sorry.....but I live in California and we have the same here.
Lots of poor gays ...before many so called lady boys but now its
not fashionable to dress in that fashion..gays are not looking for drag.
make more money in casual mens clothes..
Have traveled to many countries in Asia and find the same..only in shopping malls.
Comment #15 was deleted by its author on 2010-11-21 00:48
16. 2010-11-21 01:16  
Now i know how lucky i should be to live in a liberal country.
17. 2010-11-21 05:06  
I like comment 10 and 12 and 13. Comment 14 is accurate about gays in the US being assimilated...(kind of bored to death), but I think actually if we gays in the United States of America are smart and know how to live a life, we have the freedom to dress right for the occasion or dress how life feels at the time. If we want to communicate to the world a certain mood with dress or attitude ~ We all do more excellent when done in a proper setting with the right liberal backup!
Comment edited on 2010-11-21 05:10:34
18. 2010-11-22 12:21  
Yes, we all know about DNA and being gay but when you are driven by the despair of abject poverty to sell yourself for prostitution, you have not turned gay, but have been forced by circumstance to behave in that way just to survive. Please, fellow brothers and sisters, do not judge but try to understand. It was not that long ago that medicine tried to 'force' gays to be straight (shock therapy) but you cannot be anything other than what you are and be thankful that you are not forced into a life you do not relish.
My prayers are with these guys in Cambodia, gay or not, that they at least find some happiness and receive respect from those of us who can never truly understand their predicament.

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