Beauty salon

Burmese LGBTQ makeup artist trades beauty salon for border hideout and revolutionGlobal Voices

May Oo, a gay celebrity makeup artist, at an anti-regime protest in Yangon in February 2021. Photo and caption from The Irrawaddy, used with permission.

This item was originally published in The Irrawaddy, an independent news site in Myanmar. This edited version is republished on Global Voices under a content sharing agreement.

Until the military takeover on February 1, cosmetics, fashion and beauty design were the most important aspects of May Oo’s daily life.

For over a decade, he has used his skills and passion to transform people’s visual appearance, an activity that has made him one of Yangon’s most sought-after makeup artists. May Oo’s clients included celebrities and family members of senior military officials.

“It’s the job that I really love and see it as a creative art,” said May Oo, who is gay.

But the military takeover that toppled the elected government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi turned his life upside down.

As a supporter of the NLD government, the 33-year-old opposed the coup.

We cannot accept it. The military stole power from the elected civilian government, which we voted for.

Like millions of others, he joined the anti-coup campaigns that have sprung up across the country ranging from hitting pots and pans at night to daily street protests to the call of civil servants to strike. At the same time, he disseminated information about the anti-regime protest movement known as the Spring Revolution in Myanmar on his own social media page, which has 770,000 subscribers, impressing his clients with photos of him. with a megaphone shouting anti-regime slogans from the front. of a protest column.

In March, May Oo refused to provide makeup services to affluent families who planned to attend a junta-hosted religious ceremony in Naypyitaw, in which the junta was to confer titles on wealthy people.

But he ended up paying the price for his activism.

The regime issued an arrest warrant against him, citing incitement. The soldiers raided her apartment and took everything, including her computer and makeup boxes. “They also destroyed everything in the whole room,” May Oo said. Fortunately, he managed to escape arrest.

After the junta’s crackdown on protesters intensified in late March, May Oo was forced into hiding in April, due to his involvement in the protests and his support for victims of the repression and their families.

As of September 2, the junta had killed 1,043 civilians and arrested a total of 7,768, of which 6,132 are still detained. In addition, during their raids, the junta troops looted and destroyed property.

During confinement during the first and second waves of COVID-19 in 2020, May Oo was able to continue her work, in particular by providing training to amateur artists. He has trained amateurs and young talents in his profession since 2017, when he opened the May Oo Magic Beauty school, as well as leading a makeup team. His salon employed 12 full-time people and around 60 part-time artists before the coup.

May Oo took to the streets to join the anti-regime protest movement, calling for the restoration of democracy and the release of the detained civilian leader, State Councilor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon in February 2021. Photo and caption from The Irrawaddy, used with permission.

Now May Oo leads a very different life in the border area where he feels safe. (He declined to provide details for security reasons.) He was previously trained in weapons, like other young people determined to overthrow the regime through armed resistance, but he found that his hands, familiar only with makeup brushes weren’t good at guns. Since then, May Oo has devoted her time and energy to other activities, such as fundraising for the movement.

I know my strength is not [in military activities], I have therefore chosen to support this revolution in any way possible. I just see myself as a pillar to help the revolution be victorious.

May Oo admitted that he couldn’t help but tip his hat to the young women he had seen seriously enlisting in military training, adding that seeing them left him with mixed feelings.

I’m sure they never thought they would go through such a difficult life. But they see that nothing is more important than toppling the regime. Thus, they feel immune to all the misery and hardships they face. I feel sad for them but at the same time I feel happy [for the country].

As a gay man open to his sexuality, his hopes in voting for the NLD in the November 2020 elections were simple: he wanted a government that would respect human rights, including those of the long-standing LGBTQ community. of discrimination in Myanmar. .

He told The Irrawaddy that, from his perspective, physical and verbal abuse of LGBTQ people had decreased under civilian government.

For a long time, we have been insulted for our sexual orientation; but after 2015 we felt less discriminated against and makeup artists were given the opportunity to choose whatever path they wanted.

LGBTQ people are subject to official persecution and discrimination under Article 377 of the Penal Code as well as the Police Act. People who engage in homosexual acts can be punished with up to 10 years in prison. The push for legislative change began under the NLD government, and the LGBTQ community had high hopes for it.

I have experienced discrimination as a gay man since I was young. I don’t want to go through this again.

It has now been nearly five months since May Oo went into hiding. He said he sometimes feels regret, especially when he sees people having fun on Facebook.

This feeling doesn’t last long, however, because I take comfort in knowing that I didn’t do anything wrong and take a good side.

When asked if he messed up his old life as a makeup artist, he said yes and no. He misses it when he thinks about what his life was like in the past.

But when I think about tomorrow in this current situation, I don’t miss it at all anymore because you can’t guess what’s going to happen next. It’s exciting [to see] what the future holds for me.


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