“I always thought that I was a girl” says transgender woman and make up artist Umisha Pandey (43). Unlike many trans Nepalese, her family supported her trans identity from early on. Wider society was not so kind.
“My childhood passed and in school everyone teased me by calling me a baby girl-boy.” With a group of other women she started Blue Diamond Society, now Nepal’s biggest and most influential LGBTI organisation. Despite her own immediate family support, she is acutely aware of the impact family pressure has on LGBTQI+ Nepalese.
“To face family is really difficult. To say that you are third gender and attracted to the same sex is a courageous act.”
She see this as a crucial first step though in the country’s movement towards a more accepting country. “When family does not understand, society will not understand, and when society does not understand it is really hard to get the state to understand.”
When asked about her hopes for the future she says “I hope that there will be a society where people like us will also be able to live dignified life.”
Eshan Regmi (29) describes himself as follows: |My biological identity is intersex. My gender identity is male. I am heterosexual.” He defines intersex as “those whose internal or external reproductive organs do not match the traditional definition.”
Detailing his early life he says “I was born in 1989 as a daughter in a lower middle class family. I was a brilliant student, and I was always a topper in my school. At the age of thirteen when I was studying in class eight, I began developing masculine characteristics. My parents were in great pain.” This is when the discrimination began.
“Society began calling me different things. They looked at me differently, and started whispering as soon as I walked by. ‘Is this a boy or a girl?’ and laugh at me… My friends did not allow me to sit next to them or play with them. Teachers pulled my hair or pinched my breast. I left school… I started spending time alone. I cried a lot. I felt I was alone in this world. Why is God punishing me? I tried committing suicide several times. My parents were saddened to find me in this condition.”
He says his father, in particular, never gave up on Eshan. “My dad was in pain. Because for whatever I was, I was his child and he loved me… He realised that I was not like other daughters.” Then, his father died.
“I felt that there was nobody left for me in this world. I felt that I was very broken.” Against his family’s wishes Eshan left home. He eventually came across Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation. Their focus was not on intersex but through them he started to learn more about the issue.
Eshan started doing work with the organisation. On several occasions he tried to have relationship with women, but it never worked out. That was before he was reunited with an old friend. “When I felt alone in my village a person had helped me in many ways. She was my only friend. Later, I found out that she wanted to spend her life with me.”
Sunita Thing, Shankar Koirala & their children
Transgender woman Sunita Thing (36) with her heterosexual husband Shankar Koirala (34) and their sons Sudip Thing (13) and Dipesh Thing (10).
At age 12 Sunita, from a poor rural family, was sent from her village to Kathmandu to be a domestic worker. She knew she was different, and wondered why, but knew no better than to obey her father when, at 17 she was asked to marry a woman. It didn’t feel right to her though, so much so that she tried to kill herself. Soon her first child was born, and then a second. She had started to become aware of the LGBTQI+ community through Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation, and realised she was trans.
“After meeting several people like me at Blue Diamond Society, my happiness knew no limit. I started changing on a daily basis.” She then met a man. “His name is Shankar and I fell in love with him. We started living together.” This brought her into conflict with her wife. “I then realised that it was impossible for me and my wife to live together, because we thought differently. We got divorced and went our separate ways. I got my children’s custody.” Everything then changed very quickly.
“I introduced myself as a transgender women and changed my role from their mother to their father. I started counselling them on LGBTI issues from a young age. I started taking them to Blue Diamond Society’s events. My sons have accepted me as their mother and Shankar as their father.” Now they present as any other normal family. “We live as husband and wife, like any other couple. We are happy. It has been eleven years.”
Nillam Poudel (27) is an activist, model, make-up artist and transgender. She talks about the early years of her journey. “I did not wear boys clothes and after I grew up my father started scolding me, and I started wearing male clothes. I did not know I was a transgender then. I did not know my sexuality. At eighth grade I started reading newspaper and learned that I was a transgender. Even if I wanted to hide, it was impossible to hide my identity. I had very feminine qualities.”
Nillam has always fought to be respected and accepted: “The worst aspect has been lack of respect from society. People still use derogative terms… I have to suffer through a lot of discrimination… They hurt my spirit but they have not broken me. My sexuality has prevented me from getting work, and I have often wondered why people are so mean to me.”
She tries to stay strong but the struggle has taken its toll. “I would be lying if I said I am not experiencing depression… I locked myself for two-three months. I did not want my roommates to find out. I would increase the volume of my TV and cry.” She’s not alone in struggling to be accepted: “I have seen my friends hurt themselves because their families have not accepted them. Many have become alcoholics, while many others have committed suicide.”
Still, she is strong she says. “There are still a lot of difficulties and challenges, but I have not lost courage.” Her perseverance has not been in vain. “The best thing has been acceptance from family, friends and being able to accept my own identity.”
She has a message for those who read her story: “I want to tell young LGBTI people: Don’t be scared. First accept yourself and then worry about family or society. If you can’t accept yourself, family and society cant do anything. One you accept yourself, society becomes a background noise. If you don’t accept yourself, society and family will weigh on you. So accept yourself.”
Boby Tamang (33) works for Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation, as an office assistant. She is also a sex worker.
As a child Boby recognised she was different from other boys and girls. “There was nobody like me in my village. And I thought that I was completely alone in the world”, she says. At the age of 13 she ran away.
“I left my village because I hoped to find people like me.” In Kathmandu she did find people like her: “After I met other transgender people, I realised that I was not alone and it made me very happy.” Her struggles were not over though.
Like many other trans people in Nepal, finding work proved difficult. Soon she started doing sex work to survive. “We are forced to do sex work because transgender don’t get employment opportunities, and get kicked out of school. Normal girls and boys get work, but we transgender have to face difficulties. Even if they hire us, they kick us out after a month or two. We have no choice but to do sex work.”
Boby has now been a sex worker for 10 years. Her work has meant she’s been arrested 10 times. She has had to be strong to survive. That has sometimes meant taking a stand for who she is. But as she has grown older, she’s also changed how she reacts to those who don’t understand her.
“In the early days, people discriminated against us. I used to fight a lot. I told them, ‘we are humans, cut us you will find blood and shit, the same as yours’. I have now given up. How many can you fight? Let the one who says it, say it. I have learned to tolerate their words. They cannot be educated. I am not going to care what anyone thinks.”
It took Maneb Tamang (27), 14 years to come out.
“When I came to Kathmandu in 2003 I try to talk about my sexual identity with my friends but I afraid so I always hide my feeling that make me depressed.” Maneb chose a dramatic way to finally come out.
“After long time last year, 2017, I decide to come out with my sexual identity same that time here in Nepal Gay Handsome Nepal pageant.” He was a finalist and won the Mr Gay Handsome Congeniality Award. He was then asked to do a radio interview.
His fears were unfounded: “By this interview my other straight friends know about me. I feel lucky they message me and call me to encourage for my work.” While his friends have been supportive, he’s still hesitant to tell his family: “Maybe they don’t understand it. I don’t know about…still they unknown about my sexuality.”
Maneb councils young LGBT youth through Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation. His struggle to accept himself as a young person means he is particularly sympathetic to LGBT youth and the challenges they face: “So many children…their parent do not accept this thing… they have to be outside, they kick out. You know, here in Nepal under 18 LGBTI children working as a prostitute because of that things.”
“I was born as a boy but my feeling was a girl”, says 32 year old Simran Sherchan, a trans woman and now National Program Co-ordinator for The Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities, Nepal.
As a child, with no exposure to open LGBTQI+ individuals or educational materials, she was confused about who she was. She then thought she was gay, until at 19, she read about transgender women: “When I realised I was trans, that was the happiest moment in my life. I realised I was not alone.”
Simran’s family though wanted her to marry. “I hid myself in Kathmandu so they couldn’t force me to marry her.” Without a job and family support, Simran descended into poverty. “I had to do sex work for money. For 6 or 7 months. When I was doing that I saw a lot of violence and problems. I really didn’t want to do sex work but I didn’t have other options.”
Her experience on the street led her to Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation in Kathmandu. They offered her a job as an outreach worker. “I left sex work and started my new life. Now I go everywhere for the LGBT community.”
When asked what she wants for the future she says “I hope people will accept LGBTI people more now. If we stay in the dark side nobody can see us, we must come into the light show the people that we exist, we are also beautiful.”
Artisha Rajaya Laxmi Rana, Armont Samsher Rana & their children
Transgender woman Artisha Rajaya Laxmi Rana (23) with her partner Armont Samsher Rana (24) who identifies as a gay man. They have been together for six years.
Armont says: “They say that couples are made in heaven but we met through Facebook”. While Nepal is perceived to have progressive attitudes towards the LGBTQI+ community, Armont says there needs to be more work before equality truly exists.
“We are happy but we don’t have the right to get married. Same sex marriage has not been legalised in Nepal. Don’t we have the right to live like straight couples and get the legal recognition? Aren’t we equal like other citizens of the country? Don’t we have the right to find our partners? Will the Nepali government listen to our voices? Should we always live like this, without getting married? Our spirit hurts when these questions come to mind”.
Armont and Artisha are passionate about seeing the fight for equality succeed in Nepal. Armont says: “People say that we go to America or other places where our love is legal, to get married. But as far as possible we would like to stay in Nepal because it is our home”.
Growing up gay was not easy for Sabak Pogati (25).
“I didn’t feel different, but people made me feel different”. School was particularly difficult. “The hatred that I faced around the boys, especially the boys…the boys bullied me a lot… I used to feel alone. I could not share my stories with people or my friends. I did not have many friends”.
Reflecting on his childhood he says, ‘It was traumatising and I wish no one to go through what I went while growing up because childhood and its memories should be the precious one. I was so frustrated with my life and didn’t see nothing good so I always you know thought of committing a suicide”.
Life has changed though. “After each thunderstorm there will be a day with rainbows’, he says. And he realises things could be so much worse: “I consider very lucky that I am born in Nepal where people are so receptive. I hear stories from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, in Asian countries people are brutally murdered for being who they are. I consider myself very lucky and fortunate that I am born in a family, my mom and dad loves me no matter what”.
Growing up transgender was not easy for Rukshana Kapali (19).
“My school life was the most miserable life and most miserable moment. I can remember because of the hate crime I faced… I felt powerless at the time. I felt that I was alone and I could not do anything”.
Not only was she bullied by other pupils, but she was physically assaulted by the principal. “He was telling me that I was bringing bad name to school. I can still remember his fist on my face. I can still remember he kicking on me. I can still remember the way he yelled. The whole building heard what he was yelling at me. I still remember the whole series of tortures that he started on me when I came out”.
Coming out to her family was nerve wracking. She decided she would do it when her family was all gathered together for her grandfather’s birthday. “I was really scared, I was really nervous and while I was putting on the clothes… I was like ‘Ok should I really step out?’ Step out, then step in. Step out and step in. I thought let’s just take this”. She walked towards the gathering. “How are they gonna yell at me? Are they gonna scream at me or push me? How are they gonna react with me coming out this way? They didn’t speak a word”.
After that day, she continued to present as female. Then her family confronted her. “People started to scold me, yell at me, people started talking about me, things accelerated very difficult for me. It was the moment with my parents. We had a emotional scene. I don’t think I wanna recall whatever happened there. That was very emotional part of my coming out”.
Eventually, realising Rukshana was not going to change, her family accepted her. “When my parents started accepting me as their daughter was the happiest moment in my life”. Rukshana is an LGBT and indigenous rights activist. She campaigns in particular for the rights of the Newa people. “We are told that we cannot speak our language. And we are told that our heritage and culture is not valid and it’s not okay to talk about that.”
Growing up a trans was not easy for 19 year old Angel Lama. “I knew I was different in my early age. I used to like wearing skirts. I was kind of like more into pink color more than blue”, she says. “I was attracted to boys”, she adds.
“After harsh bullies and horrible situations I passed out from school to high school where I could not make friends.” She was forced to leave home at 16 by her parents when she refused to give up identifying as female. For a short time she ended up homeless: “I was wandering in the streets. At that point I was totally broken because I did not know where to go and ask for food, I was sixteen and half, and everything was strange.”
She missed two years of school. She has now rededicated herself to her studies and works part time at Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation in Kathmandu. This year she was crowned ‘’Miss Pink 2018′, Nepal’s largest and most prestigious transgender beauty pageant.
“I was once homeless. Now I am prestigiously crowned Miss Pink Nepal 2018. It’s a prestigious stage for transgender women in Nepal. Its a great thing and a great achievement of my life.”
Speaking about her hopes for the future she says: “My main motivation in life is to make a world a place where normal is not based on gender, body shape, race. But just based on work and your heart”.
Anuj Peter (30) is a gay man and a Program Officer for Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation. One of the main pressures on young men and women in Nepal, he says, is for them to get married.
Anuj was not immune to this pressure: “To show me as a perfect man I decided to get married with a lady”. Many gay men get married he says. Fortunately, he says, he didn’t make that mistake: “When I get engaged with her, we decided for pre-honeymoon. We went to for the one night and at that time I feel that that was the worst night of my life.”
“When I start kissing her I feel that this is not the person what I supposed to do because that I already that the fun with the boys. And I compare how I feel with the boys and how I feel with the girls because that was the first time I was kissing some girls in the relationship with. So I think if I cannot spend 10 minutes with her in a one room, how can I spend my whole life in that room”. He pulled out of the engagement: “This is not my right to make her life destroy”, he says.
He wishes though that LGBT couples had the same rights as straight couples: “Sometime you feel alone and wish that Nepal will legalise marriage equality”. Ultimately he just wants the same rights as everyone else. His message to fellow Nepali LGBT community members is this: “Fight for yourself and fight for your community and the family will accept you. Because there is the love and the connection with the Nepali family”.