A picture is worth thousand words, especially when freedom of expression is curbed due to fear and stigma.
The queer community in Bangladesh is mostly underground. A culture of collective denial (of the existence of queer community in Bangladesh) is widely prevalent – a fact attributable to social conservatism. Stigmatization and taboo have made the gay community in particular, a vulnerable community. Unable to cope with social conditioning, they try to redefine a way of coherence.
These individual interviews tell a story of personal longing, belief, multitude of emotions and silent resilience. The stories not only portray the human reality of being gay but also capture the gay community challenging hetero-normative structures.
Age: 25, Profession: Journalist
Being gay in Bangladesh, you have to be silent regarding your sexuality, because people (there are exceptions of course) can be pretty hostile towards you. You can come out to your closest friends, cousins, co-workers, build a safe- network- a circle of people who can accept you the way you are, you’ll feel good about it too. In Bangladesh it’s also possible to go to gay parties and circles to meet people but the main challenge is religion and the way people think.
Few Bangladeshis decide to come out because also because of internalized homophobia, thinking that being gay is something wrong, for which they choose to do nothing about their sexuality.
In Bangladesh, more recently people have started talking about LGBT issues. Of course there is a long way to go, but LGBT issues are being talked about, which is a good start. There should be more strategic campaigns in schools and universities though.
When I came out I felt empowered, safe and loved. It has been a year since I first came out (to my elder sister) and then to more people. My friends were very supportive. It has to do with our education, upbringing, which is not the same for many people out here.
Age: 32, Profession: Private Service
I remember when I was a teenager and I came to know about myself it was a constant fight with myself for acceptance. It was not my fault but being in Bangladesh I had to go through this struggle which I should not face. Then it was the stage of dual personality management for what I should wear, how I should sit and the tone I should use for talk. When I remember those days, it feels like a nightmare. I did not have enough confidence at that time, and it took me years to have the strength to come out in front of my friends and family.
One cannot live openly with their homosexually here in Bangladesh as it’s a conservative society where people never talk about sex and sexuality. The main challenges are social conservativeness, dependency to the family, religion and rights.
I remember the day when I came out to my best friend. It took me three attempts in three different weeks to talk about it. He did not react at that time but later he said that I should go to a doctor. I felt so sad thinking my best friend considers me mentally sick.
From society I would like to ask only one thing. That is tolerance.
Age: 26, Profession: Musician
In Bangladesh some people think it’s a curse to be a gay, that they are abnormal, incomplete etc. My friends are okay to accept it but it is really difficult to open up in front of family. It’s possible to open up to those people who are positive about it. But the percentage is really very low.
The main challenges I feel are prejudice and misconceptions about homosexuality. Our society and government are hostile to this topic.
Age: 29, Profession: Banker
I am not out to my friends and family, so I cannot tell how difficult it is. I just came out to some of my good friends who belong to this community. Main challenge here is taking the decision of coming out and thinking what will be his/her reaction after hearing the truth. I think it depends on the willingness of a person or the situation he is going through.
I am out to one of my best friends only. He was my university friend and we know each other for more than twelve years. I never thought to come out to him but I had to tell him the truth five years ago. He was very curious about my private life. One day he asked me to share the most personal secret of my life. Then I told him that I’m homosexual. At first, he thought I was joking but after some time he realized that I was telling the truth. He was too shocked to discuss about it anymore.
Age 25, Profession: Doctor
Being a gay man in Bangladesh is not that easy as we constantly have to hide our sexuality from society, family and friends. There is no social acceptance of gay people in Bangladesh and still it’s considered as a Taboo. It’s obviously the religious views, family and social in acceptance and also the communication gap between the parents and their children about sexuality and sex education.
Few Bangladeshis decides to come out because they are afraid of social humiliation, fear of being driven out of the family and for the economic dependency on their family.
I had to come out to one of my friends and he took it pretty well. According to him, I am a human being first and a good friend. He said he is completely okay with my sexuality. But I am not yet out to my family.
I just want to be accepted by my society, just the way a heterosexual person is accepted, without any discrimination in social and professional life. I want to live my life with my dignity.
Age: 28, Profession: Software Developer
I found it very difficult to accept it when I was growing up. You will feel that you are an alien or sick person, who needs treatment. In Bangladesh it depends on your social class whether to live openly with your sexual identity. But I think it’s almost impossible to be open to everyone.
I think family is the main challenge to come out in Bangladesh. Secondly it’s the society. They just hate it. I would like to ask my society to think ahead, and love and to let me live as a human being.
Age: 33, Profession: Business
Bangladesh is a Muslim country, where openly discussing about sex is a taboo, let alone sexual orientation or preference. So, it is very painful and difficult to live a gay life in this country. The younger generation seems more homophobic than the elder people in this country.
The main challenges for coming out in Bangladeshi society are security, honor and lack of awareness on human rights.
I am one of the very few fortunate and bold persons of Bangladesh who has come out to his mother and sister. And my father and the rest of my family came to know this later from them. And I barely care about the rest of the world. I am out to most of my close friends. I was successful making them realize this fact that whoever I am, I am naturally like this, and I am normal. This was not my choice, neither was I ever molested, nor did I got spoiled watching pornography or by any bad company. This is the reality of my life that I am gay by birth and no medicine or treatment is there to change me. I wish this society learns something from my family and my friend-circle.
Age 25, Profession: Visual Artist
I think it’s not so difficult to come out among friends but it’s near to impossible to open up in front of family in Bangladesh. Though most of my friends accepted it but still some were there who reacted. When I was 22, I thought of coming out to my friends and initially most of my friends were shocked but I am thankful that they did not leave me alone. Religion and section 377 are the main challenges that many gay men don’t want to come out. Lack of awareness about rights is another reason.
Age: 28, Profession: Young Entrepreneur
In Bangladesh a gay man’s life is not so simple. In a conservative family of Bangladesh where guardians hesitate to accept a relation between a guy and a girl before marriage, there being gay is a curse. Even some families start to neglect the gay member, so eventually he becomes isolated in the family. In the friend circle he can’t express his sexuality; he has to act like a heterosexual. For the risk of being avoided, often people have dual personality management. I have personally observed that most of the gay boys of Dhaka city maintain separate friend circles, the gay friends and the straight friends.
In this society peoples look at a gay like wild animal who is unwanted in the city. They don’t treat him as human. So living as a gay man in this country is very challenging.
In Bangladeshi social structure, often young people are financially dependent of their family which makes them afraid when the question of coming out occurs. The whole process is like a vicious circle because of insufficient sex education.
Age: 24, Profession: Student
In our Muslim and conservative society it’s quite tough to be a gay and out. This is because to maintain social decorum and values of the social culture. I’m quite introvert, so I’m not facing any difficulty yet because of maintaining my privacy. Yet the circumstances are not so supportive to live out with my homosexuality.
Bangladeshi society is very conservative, where a gay can have sex with another man wherever they have a private place. There’re lots of renowned people I know who got married due to social pressure but apart from having a wife, they have post marital affair with another man.
To bring change we need tolerance among the civil society and a liberal view so that all of us can express their different sexuality without fear.
About the author:
The author has started working as a LGBT rights activist in Bangladesh with a group called ‘Boys of Bangladesh’ since 2007 which works on social awareness building and LGBT rights issues. He strongly believes that media can play a vital role to change social perceptions and norms.
Photo Credit: Tanvir Alim and Ali Asgar
Special Thanks to: Animesh Khan