Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Tashi Choden is gender-fluid and Bhutan’s Miss Universe 2022 contestant. Photo: Instagram/@tashi_chombal_dorji

Gender-fluid Miss Universe contestant on having a ‘gay aura’ and why Bhutan should be seen as an LGBTQ-friendly country

  • Tashi Choden was crowned Miss Bhutan 2022 in June and is set to represent the Himalayan country at Miss Universe 2022
  • Choden talks about growing up as a queer Asian person, having a ‘gay aura’, what it means to be gender-fluid and the importance of embracing your imperfections

Landlocked Bhutan, known for its ornate monasteries, beautiful forts and dramatic landscape, is steeped in devout Buddhist culture. Last year, the Himalayan country decriminalised homosexuality and this year it is entering a contestant in the Miss Universe pageant for the first time – one who is gender-fluid.

Tashi Choden was born in Nagaland, northeast India, to a Bhutanese mother and a Tibetan Khampa father. Both died when she was young and the 23-year-old has lived with her maternal aunt and grandmother in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, since.

Choden has been modelling since the age of 15 and was crowned Miss Bhutan 2022 in June. She is set to represent her country at Miss Universe 2022 later this year.

In an interview with the Post, Choden spoke about growing up as a queer person in a patriarchal society that is nevertheless all-inclusive and how Bhutan – which still has strict Covid-19 quarantine regulations in place for tourists – has the potential to become an LGBTQ-friendly destination.
Choden was crowned Miss Bhutan 2022 in June. Photo: Shangreela

How will the legalisation of homosexuality and your winning the title of Miss Bhutan bolster Bhutan’s image as an LGBTQ-friendly country?

“The decriminalisation was proposed by the finance minister [Lyonpo Namgay Tshering] during parliament’s summer session of 2019. The amendment was approved in the winter session of 2020 and it received royal assent on February 17, 2021.

5 make-up brands by LGBT icons, women of colour that embrace diversity

“It has all been an amazing journey; it was a win-win not only for myself but for my community as well; they have shown me immense support and showered me with love, having won the Miss Bhutan title in June, which is Pride month. The stars were aligned perfectly for me.

“Tourism drives the economy of the country and Bhutan has never discriminated against people visiting its land. Though we do not have gay bars and clubs like in other touristy countries, Bhutan is definitely an LGBTQ-friendly country because we treat everyone as equals and we want the same treatment for anyone visiting the country.

“We are a small nation but we took a progressive step to decriminalise homosexuality without fearing the consequences of hurting the religious and cultural sentiments of its people. This move will allow the youth to grow, who are the future of the country.”

Choden has been modelling since the age of 15. Photo: Instagram/@tashi_Choden_dorji

Bhutan is a conservative society; how difficult was it to open up about your identity?

“I’ve always been very open and vocal about my sexuality so it wasn’t that hard for me to come out. Initially, it was a little difficult to make my family understand about my sexual orientation as I come from a very ‘straight’ and conservative family. But things have changed now, as they have accepted me as I am.

“I think people around me always knew I wasn’t ‘straight’; I always had that ‘gay aura’ so it wasn’t very unexpected, I guess,” she chuckles. “I was welcomed and congratulated by my close friends.”

Choden is set to represent her country at Miss Universe 2022. Photo: Shangreela

How did you come to decide you were gender-fluid?

“Yes, ‘gender-fluid’ can be new jargon for everyone, even to LGBTQI community members. I first came out as bisexual when I was 15, on social media and to my friends, but then I realised my affection was tilting more towards women, so I did some research on gender identities and that’s how I realised I was gender-fluid.

“It’s how you show your gender to other people through how you look or act; for me it was through gender expression. Although my gender expression shifted from feminine to masculine, I have always identified as a woman.”

Choden identifies as gender-fluid. Photo: Shangreela

As a queer Asian woman, what advice would you give to those who are worried about coming out?

“I always say this; not to rush. Just because someone else is coming out or is already out doesn’t mean you have to come out as well. Do it when you are ready. It is important to know that a person should come out for themselves and no one else.

“Also, it is important to love yourself with all your imperfections because that’s what makes you stand out.”