If people in Phnom Penh weren’t aware of what it meant to be a lesbian, last year’s hit movie Who am I almost certainly enlightened them. The movie, directed by Phoan Phuong Bopha, which explored what it means to be a lesbian in a society in which such behaviour is widely rejected, was one of the most successful and provocative of any movie in Cambodia’s recent film history.
While the movie took great dramatic licence in its portrayal of a romantic relationship between two woman, applying overt stereotypes and societal misconceptions of what it means to be a lesbian, the topic is one that many young Cambodian’s deal with every day.
Being a lesbian does not mean you act a certain way or like certain things, it just means that you are a woman who is attracted to women. We talked with some young Cambodians who have answered the question “Who am I”?, and are proud of their answer.
With short hair and a boyish style, 16-year-old Leaksmey has been “out of the closet” for two years. Leaksmey says she realised she was a lesbian after breaking up with a boyfriend whom she had no romantic feelings for.
Leaksmey started dating a girl in her class, who she says she was deeply in love with, but after breaking up with her, Leaksmey was dishonest with a number of different women. However, upon meeting her present girlfriend, Leaksmey said she has become honest again.
“I am sure she loves me so much because there is no one else who can care for and love her like I do, and she broke up with her boyfriend also because of me,” explained Leaksmey.
Leaksmey wishes that her relationship could last forever, but she realises that it can’t because the people around her won’t allow her and her girlfriend to stay together.
“Her cousin hates me so much. Once they came in a group to hit me, but I neither protected myself or fought back,” she said. “I won’t be afraid, even when they come to hit me again or kill me. I will keep saying that I love their cousin,” Leaksmey said.
If Leaksmey had to choose between her girlfriend and her family in the future, which she expects she will, she is not sure which one she will choose. “I am not sure if I will change my mind out of pity for my parents. I know I am happy to be who I am, but now it is hard to say,” she said.
Na Na is an 18-year-old high school student who says she wants to be a lesbian because she sees many women around her doing it. “I don’t know how being a lesbian will be, but I want to try because I saw lesbian couples looked lovely,” she explained.
Na Na says she knows that one of her relatives is a lesbian, but she and her girlfriend have not been accepted by their families. “They have tried hard to make their living and have been living with each other for many years.”
To Na Na, the advantage of finding a girlfriend is that going out with other women won’t get her into trouble with her family or with men. “Now there are many young girls who love girls in high schools,” explained Na Na. “Some of them are real lesbians, but most of them are not; they just follow each other.”
Whether it is true love or not, the younger generation of Cambodians is realising that sexual preference does not make them a good or bad person, despite the fact that it may go against societal norms. It is just part of who they are.