WHEN a popular Cambodian radio station recently aired two very frank interviews with
homosexuals, more than 100 women, old and young, flooded its offices to meet the
"They wanted us to build a higher antenna with more range," said FM 105
manager Mam Sonando. "They were very happy about the shows."
Radio is not the only media tuned in to growing cultural curiosity in Cambodia -
everyone, it seems, is talking about homosexuality.
Newspapers used the story of a same-sex wedding as their main front-page story, and
residents of a predominately gay neighborhood say they have been besieged by reporters
questioning them about their sexual affinities.
"A lot of journalists are bothering us," said one gay man in his 30s, who
declined to give his name. "They write that we work in the day, wear long hair
at night and then sometimes steal from people. It's not true," he said, sadly
chipping at the pale pink polish on his fingernails.
Analysts said the sudden public fascination with homosexuality may be a symptom of
Cambodia's nascent sexual revolution.
They said after years of civil war left families broken apart and some traditions
forgotten, some sexual taboos have been cast aside - especially among the young.
A two-year study by the Cambodian AIDS Social Research Project found that one-third
of young women and 87 percent of young men surveyed were sexually active, and 10
percent of young men had sexual relations with other men.
Another study by the international aid agency CARE found young men often had sexual
experiences with other men.
"There are many gay people here. Some live in groups or communities, some don't,"
said Sombok Owleuk, a gay man who wears a traditional women's skirt.
With few exceptions - such as a handful of local newspaper articles - the public
mood toward homosexuality has been mostly positive, ranging incredulity to support.
The marriage of two women received the green light from district officials in 1995.
At Cambodia's first known wedding of two gay men last September, officials wouldn't
sign off on the affair, but most of the two men's neighbors, as well as monks and
nuns, attended the gala event.
That wedding, which featured the traditional ceremonies of foot-cleaning, banana-eating
and elaborate costumes, threw the two men into the spotlight for months, though the
couple has since separated, one of their friends told Reuters.
Government officials said the legal status of same-sex marriages was usually determined
by district officials.
Social scientists say the generally benign attitude toward homosexuality is partly
rooted in a perception that it is not a distinct sexual orientation.
People may experiment with same-gender sex, and even the language does not draw clear
lines around gays, they said.
The word for gay is "kteuy", which has a broad range of meanings, including
homosexual, a mannish woman, an effeminate man, a hermaphrodite or cross-dresser.
Karen Quintiliani, in "One of the Girls", an in-depth study on Cambodian-American
gay men, wrote that many reported they were free to act out feminine roles during
their childhoods in Cambodia.
One Cambodian man was cited as saying: "I think sex between a man and man is
very common, but people don't make a big deal out of it."
However, Bit Seanglim, author of "Warrior Heritage", a psychological analysis
of Cambodian society, said the current tolerance may not last.
"There's a novelty now, an attraction. Later on, when people realize ..... this
is a challenge to their traditional view, they may think otherwise," he said.
So Sotheavy, a 56-year-old gay man interviewed on FM 105, said on air that understanding
was not a given.
"There are still a lot of obstacles," he said. "I sometimes have to
hide in the day."
As for the radio station's manager , he said he hopes his broadcasts would prevent
"It is my duty - I want to do all I can to help people understand their society,'