Last time I was in Yangon, I got to go out for breakfast with my aunt and her long-time girlfriend. She lives with her younger sister and her old dad (who’s my dad’s dad, so my grandad). My aunt runs a small business at home with her younger sister. The old man has funky sleeping hours; he would sleep in 3 or 4 hour intervals throughout the night and in the daytime, but he stays at home all the time. The sister manages the house and takes care of the sales at home. My lesbian aunt’s the one who gets to go out and meet people and take care of the management. She’s an early-riser and so is her girlfriend, and everybody else sleeps in, so they sneak out every morning for breakfast after which they go separate ways for the own business purposes. The early rising thing – it could also be a habit they got themselves into because they need to sneak out. Anyway, I just happened to be up early that day and they took me with them.
Before we go on, about my aunt and her old girl … I’ll just regard her as a tomboy – because being homosexual of your own gender and being trans of the biologically non-assigned gender is always a confusing thing in Burma. People still think I wanna be a woman. She dresses like a man – shirts and pants, most of them custom-made, and men’s grooming products. (I just inherited a bottle of Calvin Klein CK be EDT from her.) We kids address her as an uncle. My dad and his siblings address her as a sister. Her father calls her a daughter and she herself uses the feminine pronoun for the first person. So except from us kids having to call her an uncle, she’s a lesbian. She is not at all a “lady“, but she is well-respected among family and friends because she is such a nice person. And since her mother died in mid-2009 (I think), she’s started to get really spiritual. So yeah, she’s become some saintly figure in the family and everybody loves her. She’s one of my favourite aunts actually. Yes, there are favourites and there are ones I’d like to kill with my bear hands, heehee.
Her girlfriend, on the contrary, isn’t loved by everyone. She is someone whom the Burmese would call a “real woman“. And should her relationship with my aunt be put into the wife and my aunt, the husband. Anyway … She has a plump body but wears strictly women’s clothing, and she has quite a sense of style, I must say. She’s 60+ years old and my aunt’s 54 or 55, so NO, I’m not talking about a hot lesbian couple here. She’s from an Islamic family who has converted to Buddhism, and like my family, despite our Chinese bloodline, is very integrated into the Buddhist-Burmese culture, so is hers – although I’m not sure of her ethnic origins. So yeah, Burmese people are racist, generally speaking. They have an obsession with racial purity, and so do the Chinese. Let’s just say my aunt’s a white-skinned (so-called) Burmese and the old girls a dark-skinned (so-called) Burmese. That could be one reason why my family couldn’t be happy with my aunt’s girlfriend.
But of course, there are many other reasons. I’ll put them forth in a while.
During the breakfast, I asked them how they’d met. I didn’t get much out of them. They were just staring at each other sheepishly and whispering slowly. My aunt was in her junior or senior year in college/university studying some branch of chemistry. She went on a field trip to a factory where her girlfriend supervised. And they’ve been together ever since. It’s been 25 to 30 years! Isn’t that wonderful? But they never really came out. They were just it.
And back to the reasons why my family isn’t very happy about the two of them … By the way, I have no idea what the girlfriend’s family’s take is on their relationship. Here are the plausible reaons:
Reason #1 :: They’re gay. It’s an unnatural lifestyle, a social deviance and blah blah blah. But my aunt’s always been boyish, and my grandad has deliberately done nothing about it. (Here’s a little back story: His eldest son, who died of cancer before turning 20 on an unrelated note, was left-handed. And the old Chinese man wanted the eldest son to be right-handed, so he tried to correct the little guy. I don’t know whether or not he succeeded but my uncle started to stutter compulsively when he talks. The man felt guilty that his trying to correct his son’s left-handedness caused the stutter, and took things easy on all his 6 other children. He wasn’t at all the strict dad he should’ve been for his times.) My aunt got really lucky, I must say. I’m sure nobody saw the relationship as harmful because nobody knew lesbians are sexual. Burmese people have the idea that only penetration counts as sex. Lesbians can’t have sex without penises, and men shouldn’t be gay because one partner needs to bottom while the other tops, which is wrong. Till a couple of years back, the girlfriend would come sleep over at my aunt’s place 2 or 3 nights a week. Whenever she comes over, people disregard either of their existance – not because they were gonna have sex or anything, but just acting as if the couple didn’t deserve their attention.
Reason #2 :: Racial barriers. I just explained above. We’re of Southern Chinese descent and the girlfriend’s of some Indian descent. Things would’ve been a disaster had they not both been Buddhist.
Reason #3 :: We’re a rich family. Hers is not quite so. So it’s kind of a matter of pride and vanity. My great-grandfather came to Burma as a teenager alone, not even knowing any Burmese, and got rich doing multiple businesses. And his sons, among whom my grandad is the eldest, inherited all the businesses and et cetra, et cetra. You get the story. We fun our own family business. The girlfriend worked at a government-owned factory with low payments. It was an ew-she’s-not-rich-enough kind of situation going on there. And our family probably believed she was with my aunt to exploit the family fortunes. I am not going to comment on the validity of that, but she sure did benefit from our family fortunes by being with my aunt. And we gossip behind the couple’s backs of how much of an asshole the girlfriend is. She’s now retired from her government employment but owns a small printing business my aunt had helped her start and partially owns.
So what am I trying to say here? I’m trying to bring up the topic of marriage equality. I need to point out here that I truly believe they are in a committed long-term relationship, rather than one in which the girl is using my aunt for the riches of our family. Because, we’re rich but not filthy dirty rich. A conspiracy is that she’s a straight woman who’s taking advantage of my aunt’s lesbianism, which is preposterous. When my aunt got pretty close with a lady doctor 5 or 6 years back, the old girl was freaking out and doing all she can so the doctor and her girlfriend don’t get to meet up. So that debunks it. Also, were she straight, she could exploit some gullible man, which would be much easier.
Burmese people need to put lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of effort in order to embrace diversity. In my aunt’s case with her relationship, the racial differences were bridged by the sameness of religious faith. Also, for the acceptance of the gay thing. we’ve got a long long way to go.
Disregard the diversity issues, Reason #3 will automatically go away if the couple were married by law. Well, I can’t say my aunts are in a common-law marriage, since they don’t live together as a couple or a family. Burmese women are the father’s property till they get married – not by law, but they technically are. When married, they’re the husband’s. And when widowed, the son’s. Free/self-liberated women are regarded as sluts or prostitutes from time to time, which is a shame. (That’s why I’ve been telling my sister to escape from the Burmese community as soon as possible. College in politically liberal setting in a foreign land is a legitimate pathway she’s chosen for herself- and I’m proud of her.) Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, my aunt doesn’t own herself. She doesn’t have agency. She can’t act on her own behalf, although she’s head of the family business. Her sister (her business partner) is also single. She’s got a worse life because she doesn’t date or know how to have fun at all. My lesbian aunt, she’s still family property, and of course, my family doesn’t like it when her girlfriend tampers with her. On the flip side, with the girlfriend’s family, I presume, my aunt’s tampering with her girlfriend is not that big of a deal because we’re sort of from a higher social strata.
There’s a big tension that surrounds their relationship. And they’ve managed to keep it together for almost 3 decades. It’s love. It’s like magic. It’s magical. They deserve to be happy – well, happier than this. A legitimate marriage might be the solution, although I’m not sure if they’d want to get married at this point in their lives. But it would definitely liberate them from the bounds of the Burmese traditional family values. They could lead happy independent lives that way. That’d be beautiful!
I used to believe my aunt’s girlfriend is an evil bitch, like most everybody else in the family. But since, coming out, my perspective has come to change. They’re a same-sex couple and they genuinely love each other. She’s just being a bitch to my family because they won’t let her have her woman and try to push her away at the same time. That intolerance is the actual evil, not her assholeness. That assholeness/bitchiness is actually a reaction to the repulsion she feels from my family and her need to be with the one she loves, my aunt. She and my aunt deserves to be married and have their happily ever after. They really do!
This is probably a very common lesbian love story drama in the Burmese community. And I’ve written this post in hopes that one day Burmese folks and all humans on earth would embrace diversity fully and everyone would be free to build their lives with whomever they truly love. Amen!