might not be strange to see male couples walking along the street in this day and age. However, many lesbians are still afraid of being honest about their sexual orientation, and hide it from their friends and families.
“Being a lesbian is not my personal wish, but it comes naturally,” Nhen Sombo said. Now aged 31, Nhen Sombo realised she was a lesbian back when she was a child and knew it was something she couldn’t change about herself.
“I don’t love men. Still, I’m as ordinary as others,” she said.
For some women, the decision is not as natural as it is for Nhen Sombo. They’ve turned to the same sex because of traumatic experiences with men, such as domestic violence or infidelity.
At the age of 20, Jessica, who asked for her real name not to be revealed, said that she used to have many boyfriends before becoming a lesbian. However, her experiences with men were cold and disheartening; but her experiences with women are sympathetic and relatable.
“Before, I never thought I was homosexual. But after spending time with other lesbians, I’ve found these women quite warm. They care about me and understand me, even when it comes to little stuff. My boyfriends never understood at all,” Jessica said.
“Also, lesbian women are definitely not demanding when it comes to sex, while men ask me for it all the time.”
Ms Sothearoth, 22, a university student, said that although she identifies with being a lesbian, she’s not sure if it’s biological or not. Her decision to love other females was prompted by the pain of growing up with a physically and emotionally abusive father, who eventually abandoned her family.
“I don’t like men,” she said. “They are irresponsible. They love to make women hurt and keep us controlled, while they have many lovers.
“Honestly, I would rather be a lesbian, even though I don’t think I am, than dare to love a man.”
Lesbians face many challenges in Cambodian society; first and foremost, finding a role in family life. Second, they often face discrimination from their families and offices.
Nhen Sombo, for instance, had to leave home after telling her family she was a lesbian. Then, in 1997 when she applied for employment as a garment worker in Phnom Penh, she was denied the job for looking too masculine.
“I felt isolated, but I have never given up,” she said.
Currently, Nhen Sombo works as a security guard.
The Women’s Network for Unity (WNU) and the Rainbow Community Kampuchea (ROCK) are working to find gays and lesbians a voice in society. These two NGOs encourage homosexuals to be open and honest.
Noy Sitha, a volunteer at ROCK, said: “We’ve formed ROCK to find legal and social acceptance for homosexuals. They were brave enough to express themselves, and it is within their freedom to have happiness.”
“ROCK and WNU will stay by their sides.”