Love in the time of genocide

Three transgender men living in secret under the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime share their stories of love, loss and betrayal

WHY WE WROTE THIS: Because Cambodia’s LGBT community has endured through even the harshest moments of history.

Looking out of the car window, rumbling down a bumpy dirt road in Pursat province in Cambodia’s west, Noy Sitha, 68, points to an otherwise unremarkable stretch of a muddy canal and says, “stop”. More than 40 years ago, he had been one of the thousands digging up this irrigation waterway for the Khmer Rouge regime. 

The ditch stretches hundreds of kilometres from this province all the way north to the city of Battambang. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge forced Sitha, a transgender man, singer, and activist, from his home in Phnom Penh to work in the young women’s collectives in this village. Now, four decades after the Khmer Rouge’s fall, Sitha strides out of the vehicle, sporting a pink shirt and umbrella – his favourite colour – and halts. “This is where I met my wife,” he declares. 

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Tabitha Payne