Article 213 in Chapter 14 of the Penal Code of Bhutan states, “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of unnatural sex, if the defendant engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature” Does unnatural sex, which is graded as a petty misdemeanour, include homosexuality? How rife is homosexuality in Bhutan? Observer’s Phuntsho Wangmo delves into these questions and more.
Homosexuality is still a taboo topic in modern Bhutan. Whenever there is talk of the subject most people ask, “Are there gays in Bhutan?”
Many Bhutanese people still have shocked expressions on their faces when there are any discussions about homosexuality. But more shocking is that even the educated are ignorant about the fact that there is a gay population in Bhutan.
Letro is a young man with a normal career and friends. He has the same interests as any young man. But he is exclusively gay. And, since it is not accepted in society he is secretive about his sexual orientation. “Bhutanese society thinks of it as abnormal behaviour” he said. According to him, there are gays in Thimphu, ranging from the young to the old and the married.
“My friends told me I was stupid for talking openly with the media” said Letro. “They don’t want to come out in the open because they are afraid that they might lose their family and friends” he added.
Most of the gays Letro knew refused to even give comments for fear of being identified if their identity was not kept secret, despite promises that their names would not be revealed.
According to a legal expert, the term “unnatural” sex, as mentioned in the Penal Code of Bhutan, has not been defined yet. Most people are confused about what exactly falls under the term.
Internet sites mention Bhutan as a country where there is a law against homosexuals with imprisonment ranging from a month to a year. But because there is no precise information on this subject, there are diverse reports that confuse and mislead.
But legal experts say there have been no cases of homosexuals being imprisoned in Bhutan to date. Even Letro was hesitant to talk at first because he thought that homosexuality was punished in Bhutan.
According to science, sexual orientation (including homosexuality and bisexuality) is the result of a combination of environmental, emotional, hormonal, and biological factors. Also, being homosexual or bisexual does not mean the person is mentally ill or abnormal in some way.
In most societies, people who are against homosexuality often call it “unnatural”. But homosexual behaviour exists even among animals.
The Oslo Natural History Museum also had an exhibition in 2006 on homosexuality among animals entitled “Against Nature?” It said that homosexuality has been observed among 1,500 species, and that the behaviour has been well documented in 500 of those species.
Homosexuality may be termed “unnatural” but, to gays, it is normal. According to a psychiatrist at the national referral hospital in Thimphu, Dr. Damber Kumar Nirola, no homosexual has ever come to the hospital to consult or seek counselling. There was only one case of a man from Paro with Gender Identity Disorder who did come for counselling.
Gender Identity Disorder is a disorder in which one experiences discomfort with one’s own sex and desires to live as a member of the opposite sex. Homosexuals, on the other hand, nearly always identify with their own sex.
“It is an individual’s choice. We have to respect their rights. As long as they do not victimise anybody,” said Dr. Nirola. According to him, sometimes people become homosexuals because of circumstances. It does not mean that they are abnormal.
Male homosexuality has been known to exist in certain restricted environments such as monk dormitories and army barracks.
Like most younger people today, Deki, a young working woman, feels homosexuality is acceptable.
“People should not make fun or pass comments at gays. Times have changed and society should accept them as even they have the right to live their life the way they want to,” she said.
As for Letro, he has plans of settling abroad where he can live openly with the fact that he is a homosexual instead of having to pretend that he is heterosexual, which is what he must do here in Bhutan.
Gay marriages – the politically correct term being “same sex unions” – have been legalised in such countries as South Africa, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, and Spain. As for Bhutan, gaydom is still a shadowy realm found in chat rooms and gay websites.
Till the time Bhutanese society accepts and respects gays in our society, gays will always remain silent and secretive. And people will continue to ask over and over again, “Are there gays in Bhutan?”
Source – Bhutan Observer