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Gay life in Yangon, Myanmar

Gay life in Yangon, Myanmar

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.

Battle of the Queens

Battle of the Queens: Queen Elizabeth of UK recently oversaw gay marriages whereas Queen Victoria in 1860 introduced Myanmar’s homophobic laws

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:

  • 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

In fact, on our trek to Inle Lake from Kalaw in Central Myanmar, we only attracted a few smiles when showing off our brand new Burmese sun hats:

Our new sun hats for our Kalaw trek to Inle Lake

Our new sun hats for our Kalaw trek to Inle Lake in Central Myanmar got a few giggles

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 lunghi (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?

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. 

More recently a new gay friendly bar and restaurant opened up in the expat area of Yangon called O’Thentic. It’s a French creperie and wine bar at the corner. Tuesday is the most popular night here with the gay community. You can find it at the corner of Yaw Min Gyi and Bo Var Niung Streets. 

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:

  • Three Seasons Guesthouse: it’s central with really sweet open minded owners and delicious breakfast. Rooms are around $30 a night
  • Sule Shangri-La Yangon: also centrally located, close to most tourist attractions and super posh! Rooms are around $200 a night.
  • 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.
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 road side tea stalls. There’s lots of excellent online resources about fun things to do in Yangon which I also recommend checking out.

#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:

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24 Comments

  1. As always, a very insightful blog article,. So looking forward to meeting you two!
    Xx

    Reply
    • Thanks Penny 🙂

      Reply
  2. 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

    Reply
    • Thanks Claire 🙂

      Reply
  3. 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?

    Reply
    • Thanks Wilfrid. Wouldn’t be surprised if that were true 🙁

      Reply
  4. 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.

    Reply
    • Thanks Charlie!

      Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
    • Thanks Dachy! We quite agree 🙂

      Reply
      • Wonder if he is single still 😉 Wish I can see him when travelling there in the near future.

        Reply
  6. could u get me the address and contact 3seasons guesthouse please as i will b in sangon end of may

    Reply
  7. You earned my respect, Beau Tun. 🙂 A smile from me, a Cambodian gay.

    Reply
    • Awww thanks Dia 🙂

      Reply
  8. * 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 !!

    Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
    • We hope so too!

      Reply
  10. Thanks for another interesting post, guys! Greetings from Slovakia!

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading Vladu!

      Reply
  11. 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

    Reply
    • Thanks a lot for the info Chris 🙂

      Reply
  12. Hey love reading your blogs. Really informative n gets me excited to visit these destinations. Thanx buddy.

    Reply
    • Awesome 🙂

      Reply

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