Whoever arrives back first after work, at the little wooden cottage they call home, makes dinner. Unless he is too tired, in which case they eat out. This is the normal daily routine for this couple.
Tin Ko Ko and Myo Min Htet fell in love 10 years ago, and immediately encountered barriers – rejection by family members, money problems when they first started to live together.
Now they will mark the 10th anniversary of their relationship by getting married, before relatives and friends. Theirs will be the first public gay marriage in Myanmar, though the location of the ceremony is a secret. Other gay couples have married, but preferred to do so in private because of prevailing social attitudes. The government won’t stop a gay marriage, but nor is it officially allowed. Tin Ko Ko and Myo Min Htet fear protestors might crash their wedding and try to stop it. Still, they are in high spirits.
“Words can't express how happy I am. I never dreamt that he would do something great like this for our anniversary. I thank him for his surprise gift,” Myo Min Htet said, adding, “I look forward to celebrating our 20th or 25th anniversary as well.”
Both will wear European suits at the ceremony, signing a document to declare their fidelity before witnesses. “I am happy that I can make a difference that other people in our community have never done before,” Tin Ko Ko said.
In 2004, Tin Ko Ko, then aged 28, left Yangon for a construction job in Magwe Region, where he met Myo Min Htet, an 18-year-old college student. At first they were friends, spending their days together, talking deep into the night and sharing everything. They had no secrets from each other. “Our friendship soon deepened into love. My parents thought we were friends, that we loved each other like brothers,” said Ko Myo Min Htet. “When our fondness grew, we decided to build a family and live under one roof together,” he added.
“We both dress like men and behave like normal men. That doesn’t provoke a reaction from people. We don’t have problems with the neighbours,” Tin Ko Ko said.
In their North Dagon cottage they have a television and a washing machine. “Every Sunday, I share the housework with him. If he cooks, I wash the clothes and sweep the floor,” he said.
When they get out of work early, they go to the cinema or stroll alongside Inya Lake.
Like any couple, they sometimes fight.
“I am short-tempered and get annoyed easily," said Tin Ko Ko. "If I’m tired I sometimes shout at him. He is pretty thick-skinned.
“After spending years living together, we’ve gained a better understanding of each other. I’ve come to know his likes and dislikes. I try to avoid doing anything wrong that hurts him, and he does the same,” he added.
The couple plans to adopt a child.
“We’re both busy now, so this is for the future. He wants a boy, but I would love a boy or a girl equally,” said Myo Min Htet.
In 10 years, they have taken the rough with the smooth. When Myo Min Htet left his family, who are Buddhists, to live with Tin Ko Ko, they endured bitter reproaches from cousins over their “unnatural relationship”, though his parents were accepting. In Buddhism, a common belief is that if a man is gay in this life it means he has sexually assaulted a woman in a past life. “They were ashamed and said they had never seen this kind of relationship before,” he said.
When Tin Ko Ko's construction work ended three years later, he returned to Yangon to find another job. Myo Min Htet followed him six months later.
“He had been doing distance learning at college. He would return to Magwe for exams, then come back to Yangon,” said Tin Ko Ko.
Life in Yangon, in 2007, was hard. Both were unemployed and struggled to pay the rent. “I didn’t want to become a burden to my parents, so I did odd jobs to live on. It took me years to find a decent job,” he said.
Tin Ko Ko now works for Kings and Queens, a community-based organisation that works for LGBT rights, and Myo Min Tun works with LGBT healthcare at the Aye Nyein Myittar organisation.
Not many couples have their courage to struggle free from parental influences and people’s deep-rooted attitudes toward gays by living well independently.
“It can come as severe blow to a boy to discover his sexual orientation at the age of 12, 13 or 14. Some parents or siblings hate to see him dressing and behaving like girl, and tie him to a post and hit him with a stick,” Tin Ko Ko said.
“Some parents become more severe with their children when they are fully grown. They arrange a forced marriage with a woman. Though they obey their parents through fear, the marriage eventually breaks up. That leaves a deep scar on him and his wife,” he added.
“They must have the courage of their convictions and find a decent job so they can stand on their own two feet and support their parents. Only by living well in society can we change people’s deep-seated attitudes toward us,” he said.
The morning sun slanted through the window of their little home. Tin Ko Ko finished off his chores by filling the water tank, then shouldered his bag, locked the door and walked toward Myo Min Htet, who was waiting to leave for the office with him.