An identity

An Identity I Couldn’t Hide

I belong to the Tharu1The Tharu are another of Nepal’s ethnic groups that live in the Southern belt of Nepal that used to be largely jungle forests. The Tharu have multiple languages and their own cultural traditions and religion. ethnic group, from Kusheha, Nepal, and in my community people love their cultural traditions. We like to dance and celebrate, and we always follow tradition, from festivals to customs. We have our unique type of houses made of straw bamboo and mud, and they are always kept clean. We eat lots of fish, seafood, and snails from the river. We respect people and love receiving guests. We always trust strangers. But at the same time, we are so strict about our culture. In our community, when people get married they always marry within the same caste. Inter-caste marriage is not allowed. It’s very hard for this society to accept anything different from regular culture. Work is divided by gender. The household chores are done by women who wear saris and blouses, and if they have extra time they help their husbands on the farm. Men work in the fields; sometimes they go to India, other parts of Nepal, or abroad for work.

In Kusheha, our most famous dance is called the dhumbra, where the man performs the dance while wearing a woman’s big skirt. Through his song, he tells stories that are always about falling in love. Everyone knows the dancer and singer is a man, but they pretend it’s a girl. In our community, because the people who perform this dance are called natuwa, gay or transgender people are also usually known as natuwa.  The performance celebrates happiness, and when people are happy they ask for a natuwa. People pay and ask for traditional stories about kings and daughters. The performances can get very emotional. Sometimes people even cry.

So in some ways, in my culture, parts of LGBTI culture have been apparent since ancient times, but it’s complicated. If I want to tell my family that I’m gay, they won’t understand. Only a natuwa can be visible, and if the boys are acting in a certain way, like a girl, they will become a natuwa. Natuwa is a very respectful word. In a way, it defines and tells us something about gay and transgender people. The sad story about the natuwa is that they are forced to get married, and gay people who are not natuwa are called chakka.2Chakka is a derogatory word that is directed at many sexual and gender minorities, particularly transgender women and gay or bisexual men who don’t conform to traditional codes of masculinity. People only accept gayness in performance, not in real life.

I’m 26 years old, and from the beginning of my childhood, I used to help clean and do household chores. I didn’t have to, but I wanted to do this typical women’s work. I also wanted to work in the field. I wanted to do it all. When I was 13 years old, I realized that I had begun to act and speak a little bit femininely. When I used to work in the household, my neighbors, aunts, and uncles would always ask why I’m doing women’s work. People would call me bad names like maugiya,  a slur against gays, which is similar to chakka.

Very close to my village, there was a famous teacher. I went for tutoring and classes there. I was especially looked after by that teacher. I only went home for food, and the rest of the time the teacher looked after me. At this boarding school where I spent my time with lots of boys, I knew I was gay; I discovered myself, my attitude, and my attractions. At the same time, my friends would call me a maugiya, and I would feel so embarrassed and guilty. People I was very close to would call me these terrible things. They could sense that I was a little different.

Maybe in the city area young men go on dates with girls and whatever. But in the village, there is no place to take your girlfriend. You have to share your bedroom with siblings or parents in your home. You can barely masturbate. But we were at boarding school. When I started to emerge as a gay man, most of the boys also wanted to sleep near to me to try to have sex with me—maybe because I seemed girly. This one guy’s name was Umesh, and we shared a bed. He tried to touch me and approached me this way, so this is how the first thing started. I agreed to it. He tried to touch all my parts like a girl, kissing me.

The other boys knew what was happening in my bed. It was one big bunk room, so everyone wanted to try too. These nightly sexual encounters didn’t stop. They happened at night. I was quite excited to have sex for the first time in my life. But at the same time, I was unsure and scared that the teachers might find out. I wondered, What if they will tell other people? Will my parents find out? I would always desperately wait for the night to arrive so that I could be in someone’s arms. When I left school I was no longer a virgin.

There was a guy, Ram, who fell in love with me. He used to help me in many ways with schoolwork, and we spent time together as friends. Ram suspected I was either gay or transgender. He expected me to sleep with him, but he would also get angry with me for talking to other guys, which was annoying. Then we had to go to college, which was far away from where our village was. Everyone was very grown-up in college, and it was a very important time of life. Ram followed me there, and again he wanted to continue our relationship, whatever it was. He became crazy with love. I didn’t like him at all. Now that I was 16 and 17 I wanted to be with older people. For me, it was just a childhood fling.

By age 18, people would still call me bad names. There was nothing wrong with me—I was always doing everything right, helping people, and doing well in college, and I always felt inspired by public figures. The people who called me these slurs just didn’t care. They didn’t care about their parents or families. Look at me, I thought. I’m doing good work and going home to help farm. Compared character-wise, I felt like the good son, the good person. Yet why was society still pointing its finger at me?

I am my parents’ only son. I have four sisters. My parents knew me as a maugiya but because of our culture, they still expected me to get married. The gay thing is always there: natuwa, maugiya, or chakka. It is definitely a part of Hindu culture and society. Apparently, my parents didn’t care whatever I was, they still wanted me to get married to a woman. Now my turn is coming, as I’m 26 years old the pressure to marry is greater. I feel suffocated by this.

My cousin’s wedding last year was the last time I saw a natuwa dancing in the old cultural way. While wearing a langa choli, a long gown that begins at the waist and flows far down, the natuwa blessed my cousin’s relationship with his wife. At this occasion, I felt a desire to perform like a natuwa too. I spoke with her very openly. I really supported her and treated her like a human being. The natuwa is a major figure of society, but their lives should be more open. They should be what they want all the time.

For some reason, no one ever tried to turn me into a natuwa. Sometimes I disguise myself as a drag queen here in Kathmandu, but I identify as a gay man, not transgender. In the beginning, we only used the words natuwa, maugiya, chakka, so that’s how I identified. I didn’t ever really want to be an actual natuwa because I wanted to do something in an academic field or work in an office. I’m not an entertainer. Other kinds of gay people should be more respected as well as natuwa. I hope that my society can accept more different and positive versions of gay people. Gay people have many different identities, and they should all receive equal respect.

By Yubraj Chaudhary. Yubraj Chaudhary identifies as a gay man and is from Siraha, Lahan. He attended J.S. Muraka Multiple College Lahan and wanted to complete bachelor degree in hotel management but due to financial reasons he could not complete the degree. He worked at Blue Diamond Society in 2012 as a Peer Educator and was promoted to Outreach Worker. He participated in the first South Asian LGBT Olympic Games in 2012.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The Tharu are another of Nepal’s ethnic groups that live in the Southern belt of Nepal that used to be largely jungle forests. The Tharu have multiple languages and their own cultural traditions and religion.
2. Chakka is a derogatory word that is directed at many sexual and gender minorities, particularly transgender women and gay or bisexual men who don’t conform to traditional codes of masculinity.