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Hmong Contemporary Issues
Hmoob cov Xwm Txheej rau Tiam no
Les Problématiques contemporaines des Hmong


Essay
Hmong Gay: When Men Fall in Love With Men, and Women With Women 
The original text is in Hmong Language
 
by Lindy Her-Lee
 Translated from Hmong: Kao-Ly Yang


Foreword
by Kao-Ly Yang, Ph.D.
While starting to teach Hmong language and culture in California in the years of 2004, I observed that the theme of homosexuality interested a lot the Hmong students: they often asked questions, and even proposed semester projects such as this one. I was well aware that such a theme was sensitive, so capable to hurt deeply parents and children. It surely gave birth to debates, misundertanding and conflicts. People still questioned the soundness of homosexuality whether or not it was against nature. I decided to publish Lindy Her-Lee's essay in 2006 because I thought it was important to openly question taboo and forbidden topics because they offered the opportunities to learn more about the social frontiers of a cultural group while living immerged in other societies and cultures. Such topics will reveal the infinite possibilities of an ethnic group like the Hmong and their adaptation skills and capacities to reinvent their society, the gender roles, and the identities.
For a diasporic community like the Hmong, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning Queer (LGBTQQ) community raises several questions: 1. How does the Hmong community define gender roles for the LGBTQQ? 2. In a patrilinear society where men are the holders of the traditions and identity, how does one insure the transmission of the culture if there is no children? Because of their minority status, how do LGBTQQ people deal with a double belonging, e.g. to the Hmong community and the Mainstream society?

Because more young people openly come out as LGBTQQ, this is a new issue that needs to be take into consideration because we all need to understand the homosexuality issue so that our small community recognizes the various voices, paths, search of a place of significance and happiness.
Beyond a collective worry of transgression of the social norms, we all shall recognize that being an outspoken gay or lesbian is still an act of courage, sincerity, and of integrity.


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I. A case of Transsexual in Laos
 "When I lived in Laos, I met a woman of about 40 years old who asked my parents for a night lodging. This woman wore female clothes but behaved like a man.  She claimed she knew some magical tricks and healing charms, and also she would have other special  skills. Her name had both a female name as well as a male name.  At that time, I was ten years old.  I never saw such a person so that I asked my mom: "Why does she wear female clothes but speak like a man? "  No one was able to answer my question. 


That night, my parents asked her why her name was composed of a male and a female names.  She finally gave the reason: when she was born, she had the "two parts", the male and the female sexes.  When she was young,  she was not really aware of her difference.  Her parents were unable to help her. There was no doctor knowledgeable about this type of issue. 

When she became older, she knew that her physical appareance was difficult to accept by others, and it would be hard for her to find love among the Hmong people.  She then decided to flee far from her family and became homeless, depending on others' charity and generosity.  The Elderly did not believe her at all.  They said: "Impossible to believe you. You are lying! Can you show us your two parts?"  This woman quietly answered: "Yes, I can.  I  can  pull up my pants if you wish!"  When she said that, no one dared speak up anymore."-H H, 2006


II. A New Emerging Issue: the Hmong Gays and Lesbians
According to the Hmong social system, the real support comes from the children and the close relatives. Filial pity insures prosperity and success.  The Hmong people strongly honor their ancestors and their animist religion.  Socio-political and religious authority belongs to men; as for women, their roles are limited to giving birth, taking care of the domestic life inside the household. When a daughter gets married, she  leaves her lineage to become a new member of another lineage where she will adopt her husband's religious pratices, names and family as her's. Hmong lifestyle and beliefs have been transmitted from one generation to another. Hmong people do not want their culture, religious practices dispear because they believe that their culture has its uniqueness, which makes the Hmong people a distinctive group.


America is  a prosperous country where opportunities are numerous.  Changes have been introduced in the Hmong behaviors, beliefs and lifestyle. The choice of spouses also has become more complexe and questioning. In the years of 2000,  there is a small group of  men and women who started to claim to be gays or lesbians.


In Hmong language,  I use the term of "Gay" spelled as  "NKES" to classify the group of gays and lesbians. 
This is a new phenomenon, impossible to hide.  But being a gay or a lesbian is still something new inside the community. Some members do not know yet how to consider the phenomenon, whether it is true or false. 
People are curious about this issue. Questions are raised. Why do some women become lesbians, some men, gays?   How can a woman love a woman, and a man, a man? How can one accept homosexuality?

Whatever the community may say, we all need to talk more about it to better find appropriate ways to resolve it. If one day, two men decided to get married, how could families deal with that?  Should they be allowed to do the traditional wedding? If yes, what to do in fact? Who will be the bride, who will be the groom?  The same questions are applicable for lesbians' wedding too? We cannot avoid such events even if the  Hmong community is still very conservative and traditionalist.

However, does the practices of marriages between gays or between lesbians imply possible spiritual conflicts? If yes, what should we do to prevent them (Hawj, 2006)?  These questions concern real problems. Even if a fraction of the Hmong community already converted to Christianity, the majority of the Hmong people are still very respectful, even rigide toward their traditional beliefs and social practices and norms.  In consequence, what could the Hmong gay and lesbian community do in order to live in harmony within their sexual orientations?  Even for daily life for example, there are problems: what kin terms can parents use to address a lesbian or gay spouse?   

The eleventh of May 2001, two young women, Panhia Xiong and Yee Yang, committed suicide by throwing themselves in the Millerton lake, near Fresno, California. They used a leather bell to tie themselves before jumping into the water. Panhia Xiong was 17 old years, and Yee Yang,  21. Why did they commit suicide?  The explanation given by the newspaper "Fresno Bee" focused on the fact that they were lovers: Panhia's mother was against their relationship because it is against Hmong way of living: a woman cannot love another woman  (Fresno Bee, 2002).  

Such an event shaked the whole community and made people ask questions:  the Hmong Elderly, keepers of the traditions have no idea on how to handle such a new phonemenon. But, when people are capable to die for such a thing, there is urgent needs for all to take time to analyze the situations to better understand the issue and to learn to cope with gay and lesbian issue, before worse scenarios happen. Whatever we do, it is not easy at all. I believe there must be solutions if we all are capable to unite to discuss about the issue, to increase awareness about the seriousness of such a phenomenon.


III. Homosexuality and  "Sciences"
 According to research, there are two main hypotheses regarding the origin of the homosexuality. The Gay and lesbian phenomenon may be du to genetics and/or socialization (Wikipedia, 2006). The current findings emphazise on these observations :
1. Gay's brains have more similar features with women's brains. 
2. Gay's fingerprints look like women's
3. Twins: if one is gay or lesbian, the other has important chance to become homosexual too ((Wikipedia, 2006)

There are currently some professional organizations who advocate for a better understanding of homosexuality. Before, these organizations sought to change gay or lesbian sexual behaviors because being a homosexual was perceived as an illness that one could cure. But some have changed their working hypothesis:  it is not an illness anymore that they could cure (Wikipedia, 2006).
  

The outcome of the demographic Census 2000 showed that there are 132 Hmong homosexual couples in the US. In California, there are more than 55 couples. In Minnesota, there are 28 declared couples.  In the states where there are less Hmong such as Alaska, Georgia, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, or Washington, we found a few couples. (ACCEPT, 2000) 

In  the newspaper "Hmong Today", Xeng Lau,  a young Hmong man, may be the first one to openly talk about his homosexuality.  He stated he has started to like men since his childhood.  He thinks that being gay is not against the norms of the Hmong culture because his parents made him who he is; he cannot change himself. Love between gay people depends upon individual's choice; it doesn't go against law of this country if both lovers have legal age. The cause of his homosexuality is neither somebody's fault nor due to an illness. It is more a fate that he totally accepted.  (Hmong Today, 2004)


IV. Cultural/Societal Aspect on being Hmong and Gay
Why do people dislike homosexual people? The reason may be mostly cultural. Some people believe that homosexuals cannot give birth and so cannot produce descendants, and transmit the cultures, which would lead to the death of the culture and its poeple. 


In the Hmong community, children are crucial for the preservation of the ethnic group. If a child is gay or lesbian, the bilateral and generational social exchange is limited or non existing. Parents cannot count on their children to transmit the family traditions, history, etc. There is no hope, no social expectations.  The lineage will come to an end of its genes (Hawj, 2006).

However, in Minnesota, Church and community leaders have gathered to prostest against legal weddings of homosexual people.  Such weddings will be agains the law. (Hmong Today, 2004) 


V. The Needs and the Outcomes
Many of the gays and lesbians take stand for their sexual orientation. They want to share their struggles so that more people will become more aware of the difficulties they experience as LGBTQQ. 


At the same time, a few organzations support the causes of the gay and lesbian community.  Phia Xiong,  a social worker in Minnesota, started an organization that he called SOY, Shades of Yellow to outreach the general population. His long term target is to develop more awareness and sensitivity in sharing gays and lesbians' experiences and struggles unknown by others, and to bridge understanding between parents and their gay and/or lesbian children for more tolerance and forgiveness. There are about 35 people who have participated to the activities organized by SOY. (Jackson, 2006).  

The twenty first of January 2006, SOY has innovated a Hmong New Year festival for the gay and lesbian people.  There were about 300 attendees wearing traditional costumes. There were  activities such as singing, picnic, and sharingl experiences. Phia Xiong believes that such an activity will decrease the gaps betwen homosexuals and heterosexuals so that one group won't feel afraid of the other group.  When people openly talk more about differences, there will less ignorance, and more possible communication.
In the long term, will occur possible dialogs regarding the challenging topics such as the spiritual issue, traditional wedding practices for LGBTQQ, parents's acceptance, communication inside lineages, etc.  
 

In fact, it may be possible to modify Hmong religious practices to incorporate gay and lesbian weddings. In history, there were changes that were introduced in different periods in the past centuries that are still remembered by the Elderly. For example, elders In the  lineage of the "Lee 7 sons" (Lis xya txig) still remember one of the changes in a social practice that was incorporated in an essential rite. The lineage had socially and spiritually integrated a son-in-law into the family. He became a son even if he married their daughter. This was an innovation of a forbidden practice that could be duplicated. Thus could lineages make exceptions to homosexual children if their parents do really love and care about their children. There would be no offense to the house spritual guardians of the lineages if all accept the new practices.


VI. Conclusion

Whoever you are, whatever you believe,  all men and women are human beings. Gay and lesbian people also wish for love, lasting relationhips, legal recognition for them to live together.  I think we shall understand that love is the core of this issue. We shall change the Hmong wedding practices so that gay and lesbian people will be able to find a place within their culture. Law are made by people, so people could make a way for all to walk in.  We shall learn from each other to improve our understanding and communication so that there won't be any social divisions in our community, any fights against each other's beliefs or visions, which will weaken the development of the Hmong community.

All our dreams shall turn to the same hope: we all are human beings, and only hope for love. 


Bibliographic References
1.H, H, Personal interview, asthiv 7, lub 4 hlis ntuj 2006,
2.Homosexuality and Medical Science.Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_medical_science
3.Jackson, Tom. Nearly Invisible. Gay Asians with HIV. Gay News Blog. Sau rau hnub 21, lub 1 hli, xyoo 2006. http://www.gaynewsblog.typepad.com/gay_news_blog/2006/01/21/
4.Lawj, Xeeb. Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender Hmong People. Hmong Today. Sau rau hnub 11, lub 3 hli, xyoo 2004.
http://www.hmongtoday.com/displaynews.asp?ID=1542
5.Lost in America:Embracing the Forbidden. Fresno Bee. Sau rau hnub 11, lub 8 hli, xyoo 2002. http://www.fresnobee.com/special/hmong/pnxiong/
6.Mouachuepao, Kathy. GLBT Hmong Coming Out Party. Hmong Today. Sau rau hnub 3, lub 2 hli, xyoo 2006. http://www.hmongtoday.com/displaynews.asp?ID=2144
7.Mouachuepao, Kathy. Religious Leaders Rally Against Gay Marriage. Hmong Today. Sau rau hnub 20, lub 5 hli, xyoo 2004.
http://www.hmongtoday.com/displaynews.asp?ID=1617
8.Tucker, Denis. ACCEPT. Accepting Cultural Change Through Education, Prevention, and Trust. www.acceptgayhmong.org
9.Vang, Keng. Welcome to My World, GayHmong!
http://www.geocities.com/gayhmong/



The essay  was written for the Hmong 101 course at California State University of Fresno on May 2, 2006.
Text Reedited in 2018.

Copyrights © 2006 Lindy Her-Lee
All Rights Reserved.

Keywords:

Acceptance
Binary roles
Bisexual
Family
Gay
Gender roles
Heterosexuality
Homosexuality
Identity
Lesbian
LGTBQQ
Pansexuality
Queer
Queer gender
Sexual orientation
Social change
Social normes
Transgender