How to be bold

How to be Bold

My father was in the Nepalese Royal Army, and as I was growing up my uncle, brother, and father would always talk about warrior activities. My home was also very near to the barracks. I frequently saw army personnel roaming through the fields of my village. I was so impressed with their dress, personality, and discipline. Working for the government was a prestigious profession. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to feel more bold.

Growing up, I never thought I was attracted to girls. I always agreed with my father when he wanted to search for boys to marry me. Sometimes he would come home and tell me that he was out searching for boys for me and that he found none. “Oh, that’s OK, I can marry a girl instead,” I would joke, and we laughed together. At that time I was so small, I didn’t feel like my real self.

When the army finally opened entry for women, it felt like fate. I was in the army for one year, and then, after the incident with Bhakti, I was expelled for fifteen days. They called my father and told him that now I could go home and complete my studies. Since childhood, I had been very keen to join the army. All of these incidents with homosexuality charges happened. My father took me home. I was so depressed. I lost my career—my everything. My world was so blank that I could hardly even stand up. The army was a very healthy challenge. I had never been punished before.

After the incident, villagers were gossiping about my character. From my room, I could hear them. There were rumors that I was pregnant out of wedlock. Not only that, while I would be traveling out of the house they would confront me. I was always completely speechless, completely blank. I never even came out from my room. I watched TV, played with my mobile, and cried.

Later on, Bhakti called me. I blamed him for letting me stay in his room in the barracks, so I never picked up. During the investigation the army officials asked me why I brought things from outside for him and why I was lying on the bed in his room. Because of those long ago phone calls over the weekends, they blamed me. After two or three months, I got another phone call. My niece picked it up—Bhakti was keen to talk with me again. I thought, Okay, what will happen if I talk? I will just pick up the phone and scold him. But he told me, “There is an organization that wants to help us. If you want, you can come and see.”

For the first time, I came to the Blue Diamond Society with my father. It didn’t feel awkward because at that time I was completely unaware of the community and its issues. I think my father was searching for some kind of support for me, so that it might freshen my mind. Bhakti said the organization wanted to help and support our case, and my father came to find out what kind of support they would give us. In the end, my father was worried that if we filed the case against the army, that my little brother would be discharged too. None of us wanted that.

Gradually, I started meeting with Bhakti again. After about four or five months, while I was so depressed and unable to stay with my parents at home and in my gossiping village, Bhakti offered me to live with him closer to the center of Kathmandu. There was no smile on my face. I was completely unable to live with myself anywhere. I thought, If I leave my village, it will be easier for me to forget that situation. So I moved in with Bhakti.

I was afraid of my parents when they were slowly coming to learn about our relationship. When I started living with Bhakti, I stopped going back to my home. Through phone calls, my family realized that I had become happier. Once my elder brother called me and told me he was on the street outside of my room. Over tea, he said that I shouldn’t have to worry about my situation and that everything will be fine soon enough. He said that he was fine with the fact that I was staying with the girl who was expelled with me for the same case. He said, “Just try to be happy. Just tell me, whatever makes you happy, I will do that and accept you. Even if you want to go abroad, I will help you. Just don’t be alone and keep yourself isolated.”

In Nepali society, all family members are usually very attached, and we spend a lot of time with our families. This can either help or hurt the coming-out process. My brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews helped me a lot. So I agreed with my brother and slowly started going home to meet my parents.

Soon Bhakti and I both did an interview on a news station. They wanted some information about whether a lesbian couple has a desire to have children or if there were other options. I thought many other lesbian couples might come to learn about lesbian relationships and feelings. I wanted to inform people about that, but I asked the news station to blur my face because at that time I never wanted to disclose my identity and hurt my parents’ dignity. They said, “Yes, of course.”

I never watched the interview when it aired, but my family members did. It went viral, and my family started calling me, crying, and asking, “Why are you doing all these things? We are still fighting with the villagers. We are telling them you’re not a lesbian, but still you’re opening yourself in this way.”

The TV station had not blurred my face! I thought of killing myself because I never wanted to hurt my parents, and even today I don’t want to hurt my parents. At the time, I went to the television channel and told them it troubled me deeply. “Please do not repeat that interview again,” I said. I asked them to erase it from the program, and they did.

Soon I learned that the television station had called Bhakti to ask if they should really blur my face. Bhakti wanted to give me a platform to talk with my parents very clearly, so he told them it wasn’t a big deal. He wanted us to live more freely. Until then, I wasn’t able to talk with my parents in a direct way about being a lesbian. Nepal is a male-dominated society where females have very little privilege and rarely get chances to leave the house or decide their futures for themselves. We are not often economically independent or able to raise their voices against what we’re facing in their families. It’s taboo for women to talk about what’s happening within relationships—whether they’re happy or not, whether they want to leave their partners or not. It’s taboo for women to do this. Once a woman gets married, she must stay with that person for life. Because of these structures against women, I think lesbians are one of the most ignored minority groups in Nepal. My parents knew about my relationship with Bhakti, but I never told them very clearly that I’m attracted to girls and that I’m in love with a transgender man. How confusing!

When I came to know it was Bhakti’s fault, I was so furious with him. My brother came to our office and talked with our senior officials, and he wanted me to come back home to stay with my family. I stayed with my family for a month to get away from Bhakti, but I missed him. I was habituated with him, so I had to come back. I couldn’t forget about my love and my relationship, which went deeper than that incident. He didn’t want to hurt me, I realized. That incident was about giving me a platform to talk with my parents. Now, because of those conversations with my family about the interview, they are okay with me being a lesbian.

My family said, “Whatever you are, we are happy with this. If you are happy, then we are happy. But please don’t disclose this in any media.” I agreed to that. I never tried to give my interview to any newspaper or television with my real name revealing that I’m was a lesbian. If I’m thinking about my happiness and my rights, I should fulfill my duties to my parents. If I want love and respect and everything from my family, I should respect their thinking and feelings as well. I’m still doing my job. I’m an activist and everyone knows I’m working for the Blue Diamond Society. I can still do the work. Now I’m engaged in documenting human rights violation cases in Nepal. I’m advocating for the rights of community members. I’m running awareness programs and delegation programs for people from the government and civil society. I’m still fighting for rights, but it doesn’t mean that I should broadcast my identity in front of the world. Why should I?

Even though my situation turned out alright, if I wasn’t so lucky, I could have easily killed myself.1Suicide was the leading cause of death for women aged 15-49 in 2008. (Source: Suvedi, Bal Krishna, Ajit Pradhan, Sarah Barnett, Mahesh Puri, Shovana Rai Chitrakar, Pradeep Poudel, Sharad Sharma and Louise Hulton. 2009.  Nepal Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Study 2008/2009: Summary of Preliminary Findings. Ministry of Health, Government of Nepal.) If I was born into the kind of family that wasn’t able to support me or if my family was telling me to die, the TV program could have caused my suicide. The Media shouldn’t ask somebody else’s permission about whether to reveal another person’s identity. Although Bhakti is my partner, it was not his decision. After he disclosed my identity, the villagers would not let it go. I hope eventually villages and families will be more accepting of their children coming out in public, but it will take time.

I used to focus on guns and war; I used to work in the army to feel strong and bold. Now I’m trying to be bold in different ways, by raising my voice against homophobia and gender discrimination. Very recently I came to know that there are lots of lesbian and gay couples in the army. They know that there are sexual and gender minorities in Nepal and in the army, but they probably don’t have clear knowledge. One community member suggested to me to go to the human rights program in the army and try to start sexual and gender sensitization programs. Now that the army is considering the human rights of army personnel as well, I think there is hope for this. We might have some success. I will try to be bold on that too.

These incidents gave me a new style of confidence. Back when the interview showed my full face, my uncle asked me why I gave this kind of interview and I strictly told him, “You’ve known me since childhood and you know my behavior very clearly since I grew up with you. If I like females, then I like females, and that’s that.”

By Sadhana KC. Sadhana is not using her real name for this story and refrained from providing a bio to protect her privacy.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Suicide was the leading cause of death for women aged 15-49 in 2008. (Source: Suvedi, Bal Krishna, Ajit Pradhan, Sarah Barnett, Mahesh Puri, Shovana Rai Chitrakar, Pradeep Poudel, Sharad Sharma and Louise Hulton. 2009.  Nepal Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Study 2008/2009: Summary of Preliminary Findings. Ministry of Health, Government of Nepal.