Gay life in Myanmar – interview with gay local boy Aung Zuy

Stefan Arestis

Myanmar is a very conservative and religious country with around 89% of the population practising Buddhism. In addition, it has retained the old colonial homophobic laws inherited from the British Empire.

Whilst Queen Elizabeth in the UK recently “signed” gay marriages into law, 150 years ago, Queen Victoria oversaw section 377 of the 1860 Penal Code being passed into law, which criminalised sodomy with up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine.

Although section 377 remains today (like similar laws in India and Sri Lanka), we couldn't find any recent enforcement of it.

Since 2010, the military government of Myanmar has made sweeping political reforms which opened up the country more, particularly press censorship.

This has since allowed better reporting of LGBT issues and therefore with it a lot of development for the Burmese LGBT population, for example:

  • Myanmar just had its first public pride party with thousands turning up to celebrate as part of its famous &Proud Film Festival.
  • the first Burmese gay pride festival took place on 17 May 2012, commemorating International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia
  • in November 2013 the popular opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, called on the government to decriminalise homosexuality and repeal of the homophobic section 377 laws
  • the first unofficial gay ‘marriage' took place in Yangon in March 2014
  • Myanmar's first LGBT film festival took place in November 2014 called “&proud” with over 1,500 attendees.
The first &Proud Yangon LGBT Festival
The first &Proud Yangon LGBT Festival was held in November 2014

SO, WHAT'S LIKE BEING GAY IN MYANMAR?

We've learnt by now on our travels that even in quite homophobic countries like the Maldives, there's one rule for tourists and another for locals. Despite being a conservative country, we found quite an active gay ‘scene’ (for Asian standards) in Yangon.

We met local boy, Aung Zuy who told us what it was like growing up in gay Myanmar and also about gay life in Yangon. We have unfortunately had to use a different name to protect Aung Zuy's identity.

Dhammayangyi Pahto temple buddha Bagan
Dhammayangyi Pahto temple buddha at Bagan

#1 Mingalabar Aung Zuy, introduce yourself:

Hi Nomadic Boys! I'm Aung Zuy, 31 years old Burmese gay living in Yangon and a teacher for young children. Sorry for the anonymity but because of the homophobic and closed society I live in, I have to be careful to prevent this affecting my career.

#2 Are you out to your friends and family?

My Yangon social circle is quite small and it didn't take them too long to figure it out. Not many guys my age are single. They are either married with kids or parading around the town with a trophy girlfriend. I refuse to be something I'm not, so people quickly reached the “he must be gay” conclusion.

With my family, they knew it all along since I was growing up as a child with my distinctive interest in lipstick and all other pretty things, including boys. But obviously with my career, I have to be careful so as to prevent it negatively affecting me. We still have some catching up to do.

Stef posing with pretty waiter in Kalaw
Stefan posing with a pretty Burmese waiter who insisted they look alike

#3 What was it like growing up as a gay man in a country with a really oppressive military regime?

I don’t think the military regime was ever a factor in oppressing the gay culture. If anything, it would had only slowed down the fruition of the general public’s knowledge about modern homosexuality.

Burmese traditions and values have always been very conservative. Burmese culture in general is very sexually oppressive, so people have very limited views on what homosexuality is. Most people only consider transvestites, transsexuals and obviously effeminate persons as gay.

It really puzzles them to think two masculine looking men would only have eyes for each other, not for a woman. That’s changing slowly now in the cities thanks to Facebook and other social media.

Boys at Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda
Spotted these two young lads at Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda

#4 Do you think the laws will change soon to be more inclusive?

I think the time will come soon. Things are changing here very fast. But there are still many fundamental things the country is catching up on first, like education and health care. As you know, same sex sexual activity is still illegal and in theory punishable by fines and possibly life imprisonment. Although this law is rarely ever enforced, its very existence is an insult to the LGBT community here.

#5 The Burmese longyi (sarong): do you wear yours commando?

Ha ha ha you cheeky boys – wouldn't you like to know? Well the truth is that traditionally it's supposed to be worn commando and in the villages that's the real deal. But in modern society, it is considered offensive to go commando in urban society.

Burmese village boy with lunghi
A Burmese village boy we spotted in Bagan with lunghi: commando or not??!!

#6 Are there any gay bars or parties in Myanmar?

My favourite is the gay friendly restobar called O'Thentic on Yaw Min Gyi Street. It's a French creperie and wine bar at the corner. Tuesday is the most popular night here with the gay community. They also have a drag show on the 2nd and last Tuesday of each month, which gets quite raucous!

There’s a monthly gay party called FAB hosted by Gay Yangon Events (YG) which is great fun. The FAB Facebook page will give more info about their next party. It attracts a mixed crowd of both locals and foreigners.

There is also a club called the Ninth Floor, which attracts mainly young locals and curious flamboyant gentlemen like yourselves! Hahaha. It's known locally as “JJ Disco” and any taxi driver will know it. It's located in the Mingal Zei group of buildings, north of the old British colonial area and close to Kandawgyi Lake. 

FAB logo
FAB monthly gay party in Yangon

#7 Are there any gay-friendly hotels you recommend in Yangon?

There are a hotels in Yangon I know are very gay friendly from my own experience and from recommendations of friends who've visited me:

  • Belmond Governor's Residence: I love Belmond hotels, they're super classy. They are also members of IGLTA and extremely gay friendly. Rooms are around $900 a night.
  • Sule Shangri-La Yangon: also centrally located, close to most tourist attractions and super posh! Rooms are around $200 a night.
  • Three Seasons Guesthouse: it's central with really sweet open minded owners and delicious breakfast. Rooms are around $30 a night
Aung Zuy in boat at Hpa An
Aung Zuy posing in boat at Hpa An in south Myanmar

#8 What do you recommend people do in Yangon?

The Swedagon Pagoda is a must because this is one of the most religious sites in Yangon. You can also visit the Bogyoke Aung San Museum for a lesson in Burmese history. I also love China Town, it's always buzzing with life, especially in the evening.

Foodies should check out the excellent street food of Yangon, including the many roadside tea stalls.

#9 Finally, tell us about the Taung Byone Nat festival?

This is an annual religious festival near Mandalay during the full moon in August. The “Taung Byone Nat” attracts many transgender people. It's interesting because given the anti-gay laws of my country, the transgender community are more well accepted here compared to other countries in the West like the USA. It's a very colourful and fun festival to check out.

Sebastien shopping for a new dress in Yangon street markets
Sebastien shopping for his outfit to wear at the next Taung Byone Nat festival

Watch our video Myanmar travel video as we made our way from Mandalay to Bagan, Inle Lake and Yangon:

Happy travels are safe travels

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Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor and author the gay travel blog nomadicboys.com. As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about travelling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gay Times, Gaycities, Pink News, Gay Star News, Attitude and Towleroad. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practised as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

32 thoughts on “Gay life in Myanmar – interview with gay local boy Aung Zuy”

  1. Hey, there is a gay friendly place in yangon called Ô’Thentic who do lgbt gay night on every tuesday.
    There are drag show on every 2nd and last tuesday of each month.
    OThentic brasserie in yaw min gyi street

  2. I was really excited to read your article and wasn’t disappointed. It was really interesting reading about what it’s like to be gay in Myanmar. I currently live in SE Asia in a smaller town and there isn’t much of a gay scene. It’s interesting to see similar views in most SE Asian countries.

  3. New gay friendly bar and restaurant in the expat area of Yangon. Othentic is a French creperie and wine bar at the corner of yaw min gyi and bo yar niung street. Every Tuesday is the friend s Tuesday which is popular in the gay community

  4. Wow, I’m local myself but I don’t know that these people have to hide what they want to be because of the law and scare of people opinion. But recently everything starts to change, hope these guys can proudly tell their family and friends that they are gay.

  5. * Hi Guys ! I’m from Singapore……. will it be possible for me to meet up with ‘Beau Tun’ ?
    Because, I will be in Yangon for the first time this friday 21 August ….. Is there anyway to
    contact him ?. I Appreciate this very much…..thanks ! ….. # I did History & Geography subjects
    on Burma/Manymar……so you can imagine how I have come to appreciate the Culture & History
    and Beauty of this Timeless Land !!.

    *Mingalabar & Jezu thae malae !!

  6. Beau Tun is super hot in Chinese’s eyes, no matter to gay guys or some straight girls.
    Would like to know more story about him and his life in such a country.

  7. Great interview and a very good choice of questions. Very interesting to have an “insider’s” perspective on this sort of thing and also to see how Beau came across as very patient and hopeful about the situation and how it will progress in Burma. Thanks for sharing guys.

  8. Great interviews, thanks Boys. One of the things that puzzles me is that many of the former colonies of Britain still retain, after such a long period of independence, the anti-gay laws – assuming that they would never have instigated such legislation otherwise. Do they use the historical experience as a scapegoat to justify their reactionary stance?

  9. I am always very intrigued by these in depth q&a’s and think you are doing a fantastic job of finding out how it really is in these countries to be gay – fascinating x

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