Sunday, November 2, 2014

'A good-for-nothing, stupid, sissy gay'

Yuri Galler Saw, 39,
Restaurant Owner
Mae SotThailand


I should tell you at the outset that my mother named me Yuri Galler. She was a fan. There’s nothing more to my unusual name than that. But me? Myself? I am just rubbish, a trouble maker, a good-for-nothing stupid idiot.

My father grew up in a conservative Karen culture and my mother was from a very religious Hindu community. They were young, uneducated, they married without the consent and acceptance of both their families. She became a Christian, they were disinherited and ended up staying in a small bamboo hut on my father’s family’s land, where I was born. My mother gave birth alone, tears and pain her only companions. My father was out partying with his friends. Pretty soon he became a drug addict and I rarely saw him. I lived each day with my mom, seeing bad days and many tears, due to the pressure and humiliation from my conservative Karen community, and especially from my relatives. (The Karen are a minority group in Burma/Myanmar, JL)
My mum sold goats’ milk and sweetcorn, which funded my schooling. By sacrificing meals she saved enough for piano classes and while the community laughed and gossiped she sent me to participate in the church choir at the age of five. She saved five bucks a month from her housemaid salary and bought me a violin when I was seven.

My father was often drunk and abused her to the point where she accepted it, allowing it to happen quietly with tears in her eyes, not wanting me to know the pain she was going through. While my relatives always humiliated me because I am half Karen , she would always stand in front of me and defend me. At the end of every humiliation we always ended up hugging each other in floods of tears, under the watchful eyes of those filled with judgment and laughter.

My weakness as a child was my sensitivity. People would point at me so that wherever I went I felt shame. No one cared about me, I was an outcast. Kids made fun of my behaviour and thoughts. My relatives put me down and use me as an example of everything that was wrong and abnormal. I received no special presents, no toys to play with, no books to read. I had to use the bag I was given from first grade for many years to carry my school equipment. The only thing I received from my relations was blame and torture.

Being gay is a major sin in the conservative Karen community. I had no idea what I was, but I felt abnormal. The community whispered and blamed my mum for not raising me properly, for raising a sissy.

One night, when I was seven, my father tied my hands together and dragged me to a big mango tree in the middle of our village. He told me that ghosts lived there and then left me alone in the dark. I was scared to death, and sobbed for help. Neighbours and relatives came and laughed at me. I received no help; instead they said they would use me as an example to punish the sissy boy that I had become. After all the laughter and remarks all the people left me and I was again left alone in the dark. I remember clearly calling for my mum, but she never came. My dad knew she would have heard my cries so he chained her up inside the house. I cried and cried, shaking with fear. I felt that it was my entire fault because I did not act accordingly to Karen culture, that I was being punished. My mother was also being punished and I could hear her cry as my father beat her. It was all my fault. I was only seven and I started to hate myself. I felt I was useless, rubbish, a trouble maker, a good for nothing stupid, sissy gay.

About a year later my mum gave birth to a girl. I loved my baby sister so much and I would take care of her and look after her when my mum went to work. One day I fell asleep as I was very tired after selling sweetcorn. I did not know that my sister was very sick and in need of medication. The next day when my mum returned from work she found my sister’s dead body. She knew that if my father learned I was supposed to be watching her he would kill me. We cried for what seemed like an eternity, hugging the dead body of my sister. My mother took the blame for my sister’s death and I can still remember how my grandmother came into the house and tortured her in front of me, hitting her with a stick, beat her, kicking her and swearing. When my father came home with his friends they took turns slapping her. How can I forget that night? My mother with her tears flowing, holding and protecting her four-month-old daughter’s body, worried that people might hit the dead child. How can I forget every face in that room, beating my precious mother like she was an animal. How can I forgive myself for the pain my mother’s went through because of me, for my failure at minding my sister?

After a quick, makeshift funeral, my mother took me back to her village, which entailed a two-day bus journey from Rangoon, and then another day on foot. She didn’t have any money so she had to beg along the way. When we eventually reached Taunggyi in Shan state, we were exhausted, hungry and in need of rest. We knocked on a wooden door, and many strange eyes and faces stared out upon us. One belonged to an old lady who looked so sweet and pretty, but who spoke harshly, like thunder. I didn’t understand their language but I felt my mother’s pain and I cried also. I wanted to leave but mother sat on the ground in front of the house, begging the old lady in desperation. After a full afternoon under the hot sun sitting and begging, we were given water and invited inside where we were given food and milk. A few more hours went by and I began to see a smile from the old lady, who I found out was my grandmother. I was so tired and fell asleep on my mother’s lap. When I woke up I felt like I was in heaven because I saw my mother smiling for the first time in what seemed like years. I felt so warm and I felt that love was all around me. I was free and alive that I almost forgot about my past, until a few days later when my father came and forced us to return to Rangoon. I did not understand my mother and I asked her why we had to go. She never answered me but I saw something in her eyes. I did not understand why but her eyes told me it had to be done, we had to return to the place that we ran away from, I had to accept that.

My mother had another child when I was nine. My brother. I felt so much hurt and pain when people treated my brother like a human while they treated me like a street dog. He got toys, he got affection and love, and he had friends. Well, I reckoned that life is not fair and it was all because of me being abnormal. (When I was 13 my mother gave me a sister, which was like a present from God. I treated her so well, taking care of her every minute of the day and I thanked God for bringing her into my life. I felt I had to repay the debts I incurred when my first sister died.)

Years passed by and I endured the same problems, without understanding what was happening to me. Whenever I took a bath, I would look into the mirror and say “I hate you”. I faced sleepless nights struggling with my own self-hate. Stress, frustration, loneliness were my constant companions and I used to cry almost every night, hurting myself by peeling off my skin with a knife, or dripping hot candle wax on myself. I just wanted to give up this useless body. I hated myself and everything that I was. I disappeared into my closet, trying to understand why I was the way I was, trying to understand why people hated me so much.

To cover my own fears and abnormality, I focused on my study and church activities. I won every competition in church and I was the top student in my class every year. But all I got from others was blame, accusing eyes and gossiping lips, especially from my relatives. I did not stop trying though and kept on learning, working very hard because of the smiles and encouragement I received from my mother.

When I was in the eighth grade I fell in love for the first time. We were 14 and he didn’t know that I was gay. We were in the same class, we used to read together and talk about girls, watch porn movies and talk dirty. I used to go to his house, telling our parents that we were doing homework but instead spending my nights with him, looking at his face while he fell asleep. I felt so happy when I was close to him. He would ask me to solve his personal problems and tell me his every secret. It made me feel alive, trusted, and human. One night I kissed his lips whilst he was sleeping, but he woke up and the first thing I saw on his face was a cold, accusing look. He pushed me out of his bed, screaming and shouting so that his parents and the whole neighbourhood would wake up. His family rushed into his room, turning on the light and what they saw was me, shaking and in shock, sitting on the floor. My friend, who I loved kept shouting and telling everyone that I was gay and how I tried to have sex with him. I dared not look up at their accusing faces me and I didn’t know how to explain myself. I started running, running far away from those burning eyes into a dark street, crying like a fool, running with no destination in mind. I was terrified to return home since I knew that this news would soon reach my father and my relatives. Where could I go? I had no friends, no relatives, nobody would accept me.

There was a big banyan tree just behind the church near my school where I often went to read and find solace. Since I couldn’t think of a better place to go, I went there crying and praying to God:

“Take back my worthless soul”, I implored. “I don’t want to live anymore. You have shown me no mercy. You let me became gay and gave everyone a chance to torture me. You didn’t give me a warm family; instead You gave me a father who hated me and relatives that were disgusted by me. You gave me this harsh and cruel life. I am so tired of living in this body. I have tried so hard to become a normal person but instead You let me fall and end up like this.”

I sobbed and cried in the darkness under that big banyan tree. Then I heard a voice whisper, also sobbing, promising me I was not alone. A person slowly approached me and hugged me and we cried together until the dawn came. 

Mother, you found me.

With her support and love, I passed the 10th grade with a high rank but since we did not have enough money to send me university, I had to leave school and find a job. My first real job aged 17 was as a waiter in a five star hotel. I learnt many things but still I faced difficulties because I was gay. I was so sick of my life but whenever I was ready to give up, my mom would give me strength to move forward.
It is hard for my people, the Karen, to get on in Burmese society, so I was thrilled, through networking, to get a job as a flight attendant. After three years I became the first Karen to become a chief purser.

I never neglected my music, and produced an album of Karen songs which sold 10,000 copies. Suddenly I was a star. This made it even more difficult to come out, as I still thought that being gay was abnormal.

After I became a flight attendant I began to attend the university at Yangon, and succeeded in getting a bachelor’s degree in Economics. I also had the chance to send my mother back to school and university to complete her education. She got her BA and then attended the Karen Theological seminary and obtained another degree. My mother became a deacon at my father’s family church and also became a vice pastor. She was appointed to teach bible in the Karen Theological seminary – how happy that made me!

And my own fame kept growing! Can you believe I was voted Mr Popular in a big competition between all the universities in Myanmar?

My relatives started to talk politely to me. They gave me the leading role in the family, asking me to find good jobs for them. They showed love, respect and kindness. I started to feel successful and powerful for the first time in my life. However, that deep-rooted fear buried inside of me still existed. I was still terrified that people would stop liking me if they discovered that I was gay. I had to continue to pretend that I was a straight man, a 'real' man and hide who I really was because of fear that they would reject me and treat me like an outcast once more.

My grandmother organized a marriage for me. I never thought of getting married to a woman but I felt I had to conform and show people that I am a man and would do what’s right by society. I talked to my mother about my fears and she sent me to a theology seminary, hoping that I would find out what plan God had for me. I wanted to try find answers to why I was the way I was, hoping that I could find a way forward in my life. I decided to quit my job and enroll on a Master program of Arts in Christian Study for four years. This allowed me to postpone the wedding.

Days, months, years went by and I stated to feel more positive about my sexuality. I started to accept myself. I could feel the love of God and at last I understood that God made me this way, to be gay and I should not feel ashamed about who I was anymore. However, still no one knew. My strength and desire to stand up in front of everyone and shout out loud “I AM GAY” kept getting stronger.

I quit the seminary during my last semester, telling my mother that I wanted to start my new life as the man I am but, not in this country and not in this narrow-minded community. I packed my suitcase and said my goodbye to my mother, leaving everything behind me. Yes, I left my popularity, my fame, money, everything. What mattered more to me in this world was to start to live my life the way I wanted to live it, be proud of who I was, no hiding, no more secrets. With a one-way air ticket and $70 in my pocket, I headed off for my new life in Thailand.

I started as a cleaner in a small food store for 50 Baht (around $1.5) and one meal per day. I had no visa, no money, and no friends, nothing but my determination to succeed. The first two months were hell, but I got a job with an NGO which offered me a good position and a Thai visa.

My life was moving forward again and I thank God for that. I was stationed at the most beautiful small town in the Northwest of Thailand which was clean, the weather good and the people were pleasant. That’s where I found him. I met the person I wanted to share my life with, my husband.

One night at a local club, I felt someone approaching me and when I turned my face to see who it was, I saw a charming guy looking at me with a smile that made me immediately smile back. He ran onto the dancing floor hugging me and started to kiss me on my lips. I was shocked because I had never seen him in the town before and I didn’t know who he was. I felt myself becoming very relaxed and at ease in his presence. He kissed me in front of everyone in the middle of the dance floor and from that moment on we have shared each other’s life. I have finally found happiness, love, peace and a wonderful partner to grow with. I am strong and most importantly I have begun to love myself.

My life has given me many painful experiences and I really did start to doubt that love would ever enter my life again, that I could love somebody and be loved in return. But now I believe again. I live my life as freely as the wind blows, as freely as a bird flies, at ease and comfortable with myself. I am not scared about what the future holds for me since I have endured the worst throughout my childhood. I am not afraid to face difficulties, judgment, and disgrace anymore. I am a man, flesh and blood just like any other human on this planet. I want to make the most of my life, live each day with appreciation and happiness and most importantly I want to share with others who have experienced the same pain as me. I can now say to everyone that I am gay and my work accepts me as what I am. I have many gay friends who cheer me up, and many straight friends who admire me and love me for being honest and free. I have an income so that I can now survive in this world. I enjoy my life, my gay life.

Credit to How to Be a Man 

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