Power from the Inside

When I was a child, I always thought, Why is my body like this? I was always frustrated, crying alone because I wanted to be a girl but my body was male. Many times I would wear my sister’s clothes secretly, and many times my mother would tell me, “Why do you behave like a girl? Change your behavior.” At school many times my colleagues would point me out, “Hey, look at him, look at him, he’s like a girl!” Ever since I was twelve years old I never wanted to go to the toilet because the boys would try to check what genitals I had. They’d say, “We want to see, we want to see.” I felt so ashamed. I would have to wait until everyone else was inside the classroom, and I would never go during the regularly scheduled toilet times so I would always be late for class. My teachers would punish me.

This was in my hometown, the tourist city of Pokhara in the western part of Nepal. Pokhara is surrounded by beautiful green mountains. Behind the green mountains, there are much higher snow-white mountains. There is one mountain, Machhapuchchhre, that looks like a fish’s tail, the roof of Pokhara over 7,000 meters up in the sky. With fresh air and a large lake, Pokhara is more quiet and peaceful than the capital city.

I had many lady friends, and boys would tell me, “Oh, wow, how do you have so many girls? Please find me one.” Even though I had those girlfriends, I had to sit with the boys and wear boys’ uniforms. I felt very, very uncomfortable in those clothes. I sat in the second row of the classroom and the boys behind me would always pinch me; touching my chest, bullying me, and teasing me. I wanted to tell the teacher, but I was scared that maybe the boys would abuse me after school. I kept this secret all the time, and I cried inside because I thought I was the only one in the world who felt like that.

After grade twelve, I read about the LGBTI movement in newspapers. I was eager to come to Kathmandu but I had no money for the trip. Luckily, one day, my parents sent me to get my passport so that I could study abroad in Cyprus. I met lots of gay men and transgender women friends in the city, and suddenly I didn’t want to go abroad because I felt more comfortable in my country’s capital. I met my boyfriend too. But I had no options—my family had already spent money on the visa. My gay and transgender friends also said that in Europe there would be more freedom. Finally, I flew away to Cyprus.

I knew nothing about Cyprus, but I was studying travel tourism. For my studies I needed 400,000 rupees, but I told my parents it required 800,000 rupees so that I could give the rest of the money to my Kathmandu boyfriend to come with me. During the first three months, I was alone in Cyprus. It was totally different from Nepal: a different culture, a different society, a different language. Many people say that when we go to another country we will be homesick, but I wasn’t ever homesick because I knew that my boyfriend would come very soon. When I saw him in Cyprus I thought I was in a dream. I felt like I had won the jackpot.

For a few months we stayed together with pleasure and with everything. I had no idea that he was greed-minded. When I ran out of money, he changed. He would fight with me constantly. Meanwhile, I had already passed one year of school and my parents were begging me to come back to Nepal on my vacations to begin arranging my marriage. They told me all the time, “Send us your picture to show the girls.” I wanted to tell them that I didn’t fit in that category, but slowly, every time, I would tell them, “Next year I’ll come back.” Next year. Next year. Always next year. Seven years went by without my parents.

Between these seven years of my life, things were very up and down. My boyfriend left me. He flew to another country with my money. He never even spent one euro on me, and I supported us the whole time. I hear that now he is in Holland. He left me when I had only had 20 euros total, and my landlord threw me out. I stayed in the park for seven days. I spent one Euro on bread. I slept in the park and drank any water I could find and ate the oranges from the orange trees in the gardens. Their taste was so bitter. At that time, hunger tasted better than food. I felt so bad that I could not pay my parents back.

After six days, I met a Sri Lankan guy who was a gay cross-dresser. He saw me crying so many times and the last day he asked me, “Why are you crying?” I told him the whole story of my life, and he took me into his house and gave me shelter for free.

My visa was finished already; I was illegal. My new friend wanted to help me as an asylum seeker, but I had no money to pay the lawyer. Because I had no other choice, I had to sell myself… for 100 euro. I went with an old man. After I had come back home, I felt so guilty that I wanted to commit suicide, but that Sri Lankan guy gave me advice: “This is life. We all have ups and downs and we have to survive.” In this way, I ran my life.

Slowly, slowly, I found a job as a child caretaker and housekeeper in Cyprus. Later on I found a job at a nail salon. I never said that I was tired because I didn’t want to lose the work; I always worked long hours. I lived at the salon, waking up at 6:00 a.m. and working until midnight. My boss was very happy with my work and my honesty. She knew that I was illegal but didn’t have any problem with it because she thought I was a good boy. In this way, I suffered on the inside in Cyprus.

At the end of those seven years, a policeman accosted me and deported me to Nepal. My boss met me in the prison to give me my luggage and 200,000 rupees as a gift. I was like her brother. She always inspired me, saying, “Life is very special and we don’t have to give up on life. At every turn, we can discover opportunities.” For this hope, I was grateful.

When I arrived in Nepal, my heart would not allow me to return to Pokhara because my parents would force me to marry a girl. I didn’t want to ruin somebody’s life, my wife’s life. So I hid here in Kathmandu. In front of the mirror in Kathmandu, I took off my clothes. I looked at my body. I felt that my soul was in the wrong body. I realized I had to wear what my mind and heart wanted. The very first time I wore the clothes I wanted to wear since childhood, a woman’s casual attire, I felt like a magician’s wand had touched my body—I became a lady.

Slowly, my money in Kathmandu ran out because I had no work. My many transgender sex worker friends advised me to go to Thamel, the tourist district. At the beginning, I went for prostitution hesitantly—my heart never allowed me to stay. Slowly, slowly, I found a better job in a branch of Blue Diamond Society, Nepal’s NGO for sexual and gender minorities. I would still go to Thamel sometimes, but later I met a friend who persuaded me not to do that anymore because the lives of sex workers are very risky. The police can catch you any time, the clients can harass or rob you, and you can get sexually transmitted infections like HIV or syphilis. Sex workers have to be careful; money is not everything, and life is so precious. Money can buy only the cheapest happiness.

I was working at a satellite drop-in center as a peer educator. It was only three hours per day working in the field, meeting people in Shanker Park and other cruising zones1“Cruising” is an English word that refers to the practice whereby men seek and sometimes have sex with other men in various pre-designated public places; in Nepal, often bus parks, public toilets, the tourist areas and large temples. Though this term is new to Nepal, cruising is a practice that pre-dates its arrival. to educate them about HIV/AIDS and about the LGBTI community. In the beginning, I felt shy to speak about these things with strangers, but then I felt that if I am telling ten people about HIV/AIDS and LGBTI issues, if at least one person out of every ten can eventually understand our issues, then my work will be a success. I had a male get-up at that time, but with some make-up on my face. I was not a man and not a girl. Many people pointed this out and would talk back to me. Yet however many people teased me, I got that much power from the inside. Always, I said to myself, I will show you one day what I am. I never gave myself up. I’ve seen my life go up and down. At some points, I didn’t even have one rupee to eat, and in those times I wasn’t even frustrated because I knew money would come and go. I never gave power to the money. I just considered my work.

If you want to wear ladies’ clothes but pretend you are male, or if you are gay but pretend you are attracted to girls, you live two lives. You’ll always have to play two roles. If you try to save your family’s honor, you will always lose your own happiness. If we always keep ourselves a secret, every single day we are dying. It’s much better to tell your family and die that one day than to die every day for the rest of your life.

By Simran Sherchan. Simran Sherchan identifies as a transgender woman. She finished her plus two in Prithivi Narayan University and was working toward a diploma in Hotel Management & Travel Tourism from Americanos College in Cyprus but had to drop out due to financial problems. She has worked as a peer educator for the Blue Diamond Society branch office in Chabahil, and she is now a Secretariat Coordinator for the Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities Nepal in Kathmandu. She won the 2012 Red Ribbon Award at the Ms. Pink Transgender Beauty Pageant.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. “Cruising” is an English word that refers to the practice whereby men seek and sometimes have sex with other men in various pre-designated public places; in Nepal, often bus parks, public toilets, the tourist areas and large temples. Though this term is new to Nepal, cruising is a practice that pre-dates its arrival.