A new minority

A New Minority

In the early grades, my body was just like a child’s, and sometimes you can’t tell if young kids are really girls or boys. After I passed fifth grade, I started in a new school, Macchaapuchhara Higher Secondary School in a town in central Nepal called Pokhara. This was a new environment with new teachers and new friends, so it was already somewhat difficult to fit in there. It was also difficult wearing a dress because I wanted to wear the pants and shirt. The college rule was that girls always had to wear a ladies’ half skirt, a shirt, and a tie, and boys had to wear pants and a shirt. Teachers kept asking me, “Where is your hair?” I always cut my hair short. I tried to wear long hair, and by eighth grade my body began to change. My teachers were confused because my body was developing like a girl’s but all my desires were that of a boy’s. What was I supposed to do?

I felt too depressed and tense with the teachers. I had to care for the buffalos and cows, but I didn’t like this work, so I copied and learned the work that my brothers did. Brothers practice and support their fathers. Sisters practice and support their mothers. My father said, “You are a daughter, so you have to support your mother and not go with your brothers.” He just kept on saying, “Go with your mother.”

In high school, I had a crush on one of the girls in school. I liked her eyes, her hair, her legs, and I wanted to sit near her. Every day I looked at her and was very impressed. We talked about everything. At first, we met only in the daytime. I was so afraid to expose my feelings to her. She was from the lowest caste, the Dalit,1Dalits are historically the “untouchable” caste in Nepal’s caste system. Dalits are not allowed to enter the homes of higher castes, use communal water wells, and are still isolated from many social functions to this day even though caste discrimination is prohibited by law. the lowest, actually, and I was from the highest caste, the Brahmin,  so I was not even supposed to be entering her home. When everyone in Pokhara fell asleep, I would travel to her house through the dark of night.

I would tell her that we need to change society, that there should be no caste and no caste discrimination like this. I told her I was a different person. Whatever society’s rules were, we didn’t need to care about them. We had the right to love each other. At first, she was nervous and shocked. She hesitated to accept my love and my feelings toward her, so I had to give her many examples about how society is always barring this type of love. Just like the caste differences, I was different too. As she was a Dalit, this insight opened her feelings and she liked me.

Exams were coming. My family wanted me to study for exams away from home, and they decided to send me to a hostel in another town so I wasn’t distracted by household affairs. My girlfriend and I decided to move in together at the hostel for about two months. We stayed in the market area, where there was nobody I knew. That’s when I cut my hair. I bought men’s pants and shirts. These changes impressed my girlfriend. She believed I was a boy at that point, and kept on telling me that I was so handsome.  Our parents weren’t there; those two months were a safe place for me. Each night my girlfriend would cuddle me and hug me while playing with my hair. I felt so much more like myself.

After two months, we returned to our village houses. I felt so bored with my parents and with conservative society. It was very stressful, and it was difficult to visit my girlfriend because I, coming from a Brahmin family, was not allowed to go into a Dalit’s home or even touch anything in a Dalit’s home. At midnight I would go visit my girlfriend and then at 4 a.m. I would make the one hour walk back to my home so that my family, who woke up at 5 a.m. like many Nepalis, couldn’t catch me. During those late nights, my girlfriend and I shared our love. We had little time to talk about life, though, so we just enjoyed it.

Meanwhile, my parents couldn’t accept my new personality: “You’ll cut our nose off in front of society. What have you done?” My father and brothers beat me. My mother always cried and said, “You are our daughter, what have you done?” I was always doing male work and playing male games. My mother cried. “Why are you doing these activities? Fix your behavior.”

After two years of this situation, somebody else proposed to my girlfriend. I told her that we should get married instead, that we could share lots of happiness, but she said her family would not accept me. She had an arranged marriage to a Dalit, a same-caste male. I was crushed. Meanwhile, my family was crying about my sexuality and my gender identity. I couldn’t change back to a woman because my mind and my behavior were just not like that. Sitting near boys, I didn’t feel anything. But sitting near girls, I felt love, an emotion. I could not change my gender identity just as I could not change my sexuality. My father beat me too much, and finally he said, “We won’t give you any more money or any more help. Just get out of here and away from our community. You’re not my baby. If you are my daughter, stay here. If not, get out.”

All night, I smoked and smoked. I was full of cigarettes. I was so depressed. I decided at midnight, in a room full of cigarette smoke, that I would leave my home, my village, and my society. I had no money. I put all my clothes in a suitcase and fled. If I went to the market so late at night, somebody might find me and bring me back home, so I traveled through the jungle. I got worried about snakes, ghosts, and zombies. I walked one hour through the jungle before I reached the bus stop. There were no buses leaving at night, and I was so afraid that somebody might rape me.

Eventually, a bus came. I climbed the ladder to sit on top of it. I didn’t have money to go inside the bus anyway. From Pokhara to Kathmandu, I rode on the top of the bus through the winding roads that careen over the edges of the steep foothills of the Himalayas. I was crying the whole time, wondering how my parents could not love and support me. I thought on the bus, If my parents are the one group that’s supposed to love me but cannot do this and reject me, how is it possible for a new community to accept me in Kathmandu?  I had no idea what was going to happen.

I went to Sundhara, a neighborhood with a large white tower in the center of Kathmandu, and I found a job as a cleaner in a hotel. The hotel owner gave me new clothes—boy’s clothes—I felt so good about this. Then some people from an organization called the Blue Diamond Society came to my hotel. They found me and asked me if I like being a boy and not a girl. Blue Diamond Society has mobilized lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people to search for more people in the community. They said to me, “You are a lesbian, so you should come to our office.” I didn’t know, What is a lesbian?

That Saturday, I was finally allowed to share my life story. I was crying a lot and speaking with all these people who supported me. For so long I thought there was nobody like me, and as it turned out there were many, with many pains and many stories. I learned that there is a lot of discrimination in families, and I wondered how we could accomplish anything together in order to change our condition. I convinced myself, Okay, I’m good, I’m natural, and I have a backup here. I walked away from that meeting so proud and with maybe even too much energy. This was 2005. Then I went back to Pokhara, not to contact my family, but just to visit the city. I linked up with media people and human rights people on a mission for Blue Diamond Society.

First, I began searching for more LGBTI people through my friends and community. I would visit the parks and lakeside at night-time. I would go to the dance clubs or other venues where they would play local folk songs called dohori, where lots of LGBT people could be found dancing and singing. I would find one person and then they would give me another person’s name and address. Slowly I met 30 to 50 people like that. In this way, I started the Blue Diamond Society branch in Pokhara, Pariwartan Nepal, which means “Change Nepal.” When we started the branch in 2007 we went to the media to share our stories of discrimination. The newspaper, radio, and television—we went everywhere. Because this was such a new story, the media loved it. They’re used to covering minority issues, but this was a new minority to them.

I was especially interested in bringing the stories to radio stations. Most Nepali people have no access to newspaper, internet, or television. They live in remote mountainous, hilly, or jungle areas, so all people listen to the radio. While people can conveniently do their work as they listen to the radio, the newspaper takes up too much of your work time. Many Nepali people are also illiterate, so the radio has farther reach in our country. Through radio programs, many people had a chance to learn, Oh, these people also exist. After the media coverage, we started overlapping with, partnering with and coordinating with women’s rights groups, disability rights groups, Dalit ethnic minority groups, and human rights groups; they helped us improve our awareness and sensitization programs. At that time, I couldn’t even put my feelings in words. It felt like a lifetime achievement.

As for my family who saw me on the television and heard me on the radio, they thought, Oh, Vishnu is in the news? Vishnu is doing this in Pokhara? Vishnu is going to the development center? They thought, Oh, but now she’s doing such good work and we feel so proud. I’m a lucky man because my name from birth was Vishnu, and both boys and girls are given this name. Vishnu is a Hindu God that sustains, that keeps things alive. Vishnu gives shakti, which is like energy and truth, to all living things, and Vishnu often appears in both genders. After my family called me to say they heard me on radio, I returned home, and my parents hugged me and cried. They kept on apologizing, admitting that they didn’t understand my desires. They told me that I have to do anything I can, that I have to seek my freedom and enjoy my life. They respected my social work, activism and attention—the connection with disabled people, Dalit people, and women’s groups definitely helped.

Then I decided that I had to change my citizenship to reflect my gender identity. I have neither gender, so what was I going to put on my citizenship certificate? Female? I am not a female. Male? I am no male. The government at the time did not allow citizenship for Third Gender2Third Gender is a term used in Nepal that describes people who identify neither as men nor women. people to show their true identity. By 2007, as a result of Blue Diamond Society’s activism, the Supreme Court finally decided to allow this. Under sex, where normally people put male or female, I was allowed to put anya, the Nepali word for “other.” This was not just a Vishnu issue, this was a Nepal-wide issue that we resolved.

And then, finally, when I went to Kathmandu for the National Youth Summit, I met my wife, Deepa. She proposed to me, “I would like to be your friend.” She thought I was handsome, and for one year we were just friends. Deepa liked my voice, my professionalism, and my speaking style. When we hung out, we would share our life stories. Before we got married, we decided we would just live together first. She was from a village in western Nepal, 800 kilometers away from Kathmandu. She was working in the government hospital in the far west, so she left her job and came to Pokhara for me. We were not married, which is unusual in Nepal if you’re living together.

When I told my parents that I was going to marry Deepa, my father immediately agreed. My brother was also getting married to a woman, so we had a double wedding in a traditional Nepali style in 2009. There were many people coming to my house and shaking my hand. My family gave me a tika3A mark on the forehead usually made with vermillion powder as a blessing.  and offered me their blessings. This was probably one of the first times in Nepal that a third gender man and a woman were accepted by a family in marriage. People were wearing fancy clothes, girls were wearing saris and blouses, and there was so much food and so much partying. We were cutting vegetables and slaying goats in sacrifice to all of the Gods. When we get married, in Hindu Society, we have to give sacrifices to the Gods. Hindu Brahmins kill the goat at the wedding. Dalit people kill the buffalo.

My wife’s family, however, didn’t accept our marriage. They didn’t come to the wedding. Even before our marriage, I would travel all the way to Dadelthura to visit Deepa’s village. I traveled through humongous forests and difficult hills. Deepa’s brother, Sujit, was working as a journalist and media person out there. He had just started a program called Voice of Change. I don’t think he knew we were in love; it was still a secret to Sujit. But he wanted to do an interview about LGBTI people, so I came to the FM studio and gave him an interview about the LGBTI status in Nepal. After three or four months, Deepa only told him that she was going to Pokhara to get a job. He had no idea she was getting married.

But soon enough, Sujit read in a magazine that we had been married. His family was so shocked, and his father spiraled into a depression. Sujit had to read his parents lots of magazine articles about gender and sexuality so that they would eventually understand and accept our relationship. For so long, Sujit tried, but Deepa’s father could not be persuaded to accept the marriage. Many, many times Sujit had to tell him that Deepa was also his daughter so he had to accept us. Finally, after two years, Deepa’s father told Sujit, “Call them into the home. She is also my child. Okay, I will love them.”

Sujit is such a good journalist and a good advocate. He cares deeply about this issue in his journalism. He’s not a direct member of our community but he supports it very actively and sets an example. I think the LGBTI community needs more straight allies like Sujit enthusiastically supporting our issues.

Now some political parties have accepted us. They are giving us chances to run in the upcoming election.  This moment will help provide awareness to all of Nepal that LGBTI people are also human. These days I’m so busy lobbying the political leaders. This will give us the chance to be stronger in the Nepali government. There are over a dozen LGBTI people who are vying to run in this upcoming election, and I hope many of them will win.

By Vishnu Adhikari. Vishnu Adhikari identifies as a transgender man and runs a media sector through BDS office called Identity. He is the Chief Reporter for BDS and speaks to the media on behalf of Blue Diamond Society. He ran in the Communist Party Nepal-United Marxist and Leninist primaries to become a candidate for Nepal’s 2013 constituent assembly election. His wife works at the government hospital in Pokhara. 

Available in Nepali

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Dalits are historically the “untouchable” caste in Nepal’s caste system. Dalits are not allowed to enter the homes of higher castes, use communal water wells, and are still isolated from many social functions to this day even though caste discrimination is prohibited by law.
2. Third Gender is a term used in Nepal that describes people who identify neither as men nor women.
3. A mark on the forehead usually made with vermillion powder as a blessing.