News and Views on Tibet

Completely out of the closet- An Interview

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“We are not special” says Tenzin Jigdel (name changed), a Tibetan Gay who finds no reasons to hide his identity from anyone.

By Tenzin Dickyi
New Delhi

The subject of homosexuality definitely remains a taboo in our society like in many countries. We have denied to acknowledge the existence of such people in our society who too like us crave for openness and freedom. People generally find it very difficult to comprehend what homosexuality is all about. Their first reaction always remains weird and many thinks marriage is the only ‘cure’ for such behaviour. Parents are the one who usually takes longer to make peace with this aspect and still hope that their son or daughter will come out of this ‘phase’. But it takes so much for a homosexual person to accept what you are because everything doesn’t happen the way you want. However they become a happy soul when society accepts them as what they are because they are just an ordinary person. And Knowledge is the key. Educating and informing all people about sexual orientation and homosexuality can only trim down and break these prejudices in any society.

Mr. Tenzin Jigdel recently unfolded some real truths about himself as being a Tibetan Gay to phayul. And we hope that this interview will positively demystify some myths, hopefully trigger certain change and establish some home truths about homosexuality in our society.

First of all can you please tell us something about yourself?

Well, I am a Tibetan youth born and brought up in exile in Dharamsala. I attended the Tibetan Children’s Village School. I am currently a post graduate student seeking a degree in Media studies.

I come from a very ordinary Tibetan family and both my parents have been civil servants all their lives for the Tibetan Government in Exile.

I am a very down to earth, kind hearted person, single and seeking and I keep high interests in the field of arts.

Tell me a bit about how and when you first realized that you have attraction towards men?

I realized I was gay quite early on in my life. Initially in grades two or three, I still recollect that I would have infatuations towards both girls and boys but during my early teens, it struck me that I was more and more attracted towards boys. Later on around the age of 13 or 14, I would constantly have a crush on this boy or the other. Of-course they were all teenage crushes but the urges were strong and real.

During those early years, I was confused; there was no one to tell me what it’s like being gay. I thought I was some kind of a freak falling for boys rather than girls. I badly needed some answers at that time but there was no one to turn to. I went into the school library to find some references and as you would expect there was none.

Somehow a copy of the book, Teleny or Reverse of the Medal came into my hands. I don’t remember where and how I found it. The story of that novel was set in Paris in the late 1800s and it was a love story between a young French man and a Hungarian pianist. Strangely the book was sort of the first thing that introduced me to the gay world. It was a very erotic and an exciting novel which is rumored to have been partly written by Oscar Wilde.

In passing during my childhood, no one really spoke about homosexuality. It seemed as if even talking about it was a sin. The only time I’d hear the words gay or homos were in bad jokes. I kept it all to myself until the time I left home after high school.

During my late teens, like other boys and girls, I too began to explore my sexuality. I’d had many encounters with my school mates where we would have mutual sexual indulgence which at later stages in our lives we all rather not talk about or pretend as if it’d never happened. But those encounters were a way of re-affirming my own identity as a young gay man.

In the last years of my high school, I was a wrecked teenager – confused and lost. Even though I had realized that I was gay long ago, I still haven’t found much answer to my questions. Soon I’d be graduating and let out into the world but I was really not sure where to start from.

Several months into my last year of high school, I fell in love again for the nth time. This time I am not sure if it was not just a crush in passing but I desired this young boy so much that I couldn’t resist him. We were close friends of a sort and there was this incident where I came on to him. This was a real shocker for him I guess. He just completely disowned me as a friend and told my other friends about me. I don’t blame him much for that because after all he’s also a Tibetan born and brought up in a conservative society. He was young and was not exposed to many things in the world.

But somehow it totally blew my world upside down. High school was a hell hole – word soon spread through out my friends circle and it seemed like the whole school knew about my orientation. I went through the worst time of my life then. Many of the friends I have been close to for years, all of a sudden, decided not to be friends with me anymore and since I was just a kid back then, I took those things very seriously and I was devastated.

I felt like running away as far as I can. I was ashamed and scandalized but solutions there were none. So the only thing that helped me survive that last year of high school was to stay close to the friends who did decide to stand by me. I loved them dearly and they are still the most important people in my life even now.

So when you have more attraction towards men, how do you find girls? Are you friendly with them?

For a gay man, they look at other men just the way a girl would look at them. And the question about how I find girls, I’d just simply say that I am not attracted to girls. I have many female friends but in terms of sexual attraction, I am turned on only by men.

Can parents help children struggling with same sex attractions turn away from the homosexual lifestyle?

There’s only one answer to that: “NO”. Sexual orientation is not a disease or an addiction. A homosexual does not need to be cured of being gay any more than a heterosexual needs to be cured of being straight. No one is really struggling with same sex attraction. It is a beautiful thing. What children struggle is with the fact that the people around them are not accepting who they are? If as parents, if we come to know that our kids are gay, the only way to help them is to help them deal with it and to let them know that you are there to support them. If you are not sure as parents yourselves, then seek help and seek knowledge. Ignorance can cause a lot of trouble to you and your kids.

Is homosexuality defined by behavior?

Homosexuality is defined not only by behavior although there are certain forms of behavior generally associated with homosexuals. Homosexuality in very simple terms is the word used to describe people who are sexually oriented to be attracted to the same sex. So it’s just a sexual orientation just as heterosexuality is. Sexual orientation is different from sexual behavior because it refers to feelings and self-concept. Individuals may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors. The same question can be asked of heterosexuality. Is it defined by behavior alone? Of-course not.

What have you been hearing from people in response to what you are? How did your parents react?

I haven’t come out to my parents yet but I have openly come out to my siblings who have been very supportive so far. In the beginning they were not so surprised, one of my sisters told me that all along she knew. She said she was waiting for this moment for a long time when I’d come to terms with myself. Generally they are very supportive but they are afraid somehow about how I’d be received in the Tibetan community.

As for my parents, they are old and they have been through a lot. I don’t feel the need to tell them. In an ideal world, I must tell them and free myself but then I think it would be selfish. In my opinion, they won’t understand it and I’d have to go through a lot of trouble to make them understand causing them pain and causing myself pain. I am really not sure what to do in that area. If they somehow came to know and if they bring up the question to me, I will be honest and I will tell them the truth.

Otherwise I live far away from them and I am an adult who make my own decisions. I love them dearly and I don’t want to cause them any pain at this age in their lives. I guess if they were younger, I would have told them long ago.

The idea of marriage for two such individuals (of the same sex) is an absurdity. Do you think a homosexual relation will last forever?

Wow, What a statement? Do you seriously think gay marriage is absurd?
I am not a big fan of all forms of marriages – gay or straight but I believe all individuals must be allowed to enjoy the right of getting married to their partners whether they are of the same sex or not. This is a very tricky argument here. Those who are against gay marriage say that this will destroy an important social institution but then gays wanting to marry are really upholding this social institution. They believe in long term commitment and they seek stability. They uphold the symbolism that marriage brings – a sense of obligation and social recognition. Unlike heterosexuals marrying, gays wanting to marry seriously understand how important marriage is for them in their opinions.
Do you think a HETEROSEXUAL relation will last forever?
There’s no guarantee for any relationship be it straight or gay relationship.

In context to Tibetan Community, the subject about homosexuality remains taboo. Was it so difficult to keep yourself fixed in the society?

I am not sure if I can speak about Tibetan community as a whole. I have lived only among Tibetan exiles in India which is much smaller than the community in Tibet. Yes it does remain a taboo but among those who are more educated and those who’ve seen the world, does understand the real issue.

Knowledge is the key. Educating all people about sexual orientation and homosexuality can reduce the anti-gay prejudices in any society. I am not sure if Tibetan schools in India or elsewhere has sex-ed classes but those are ways of helping reduce/prevent misunderstandings.

Was it so difficult to keep myself fixed in the society? No it wasn’t. I am someone who tries to live an honest life as much as I can. I have come out to many of my close Tibetan friends and it may come as a surprise to you that they have been very accepting. I am proud of being a Tibetan and as a gay man I always tell myself that I am not special.

Tell us something about the acceptance and aversion towards homosexuality in our Tibetan Society?

Homosexuality is not new in the Tibetan society but discussing homosexuality openly in public is new. I am not sure how it’s going to work but so far from my personal experience I think we will be surprised again.

Were you ever reluctant about coming out openly and speaking about your sexuality?

Why do gay men and women have to come out and why don’t heterosexual men and women don’t see the need to tell others that they are straight? Living in the closet effects ones’ mental health and the coming out process helps gay men and women adjust themselves in a given environment with their identity. The more comfortable one is with their identity, the better one’s mental health.

For me personally I was a reluctant about coming out. I was not sure where it would all lead me to. I avoided the idea for a long time but there was a point where it felt like I was living a lie by keeping a secret. I thought my family and my close friends had the right to know who I really am.

I am still not completely out. My strategy is that if someone wants to know whether I am gay or not, and if they asks me the question, I give them the truth. This way I am not screaming out to the world that I am gay and I am living an honest life.

It makes you feel a lot more comfortable with yourselves and with others.

Anything you would like to tell to our readers?

We are not special.
As Tibetan exiles I think it could be a little bit easier to understand homosexuality or at-least it might be easier to try to understand.
As Tibetans, being a minority literally everywhere, we have to constantly go through identity crises and discriminations. Homosexuals through out the world face the same problems, sometimes even harder for those who are stuck in a minority within a minority. As Tibetans when we go out into the world, people ask you where you are from, and we tell them – “From Tibet”
Isn’t that in China, they ask you.
“No, yes it is but it wasn’t.” As we try to explain, some people understand and some don’t.
Then for those born in India, we are asked, doesn’t being born in India make you Indian?
“No, not exactly. We are born in India but we are Tibetans for real.” Some are convinced and some aren’t.

So many a times, ignorance and lack of knowledge makes you ask these questions. The more people know, the less prejudiced they become.

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