Pressure from Everywhere

I could tell he liked me as well. We always sat on the bench together at school in 7th grade. I knew he was a girl, yet I liked his masculine voice, eyes, and actions. We couldn’t say anything about these feelings. We lived in houses very close to one another. Our village was called Itahari, a very pleasant place in the jungles East of Kathmandu. There is only one shopping mall there, called the Gorkha Department, and many rickshaws fill the streets. It’s always hot there, and it’s near the tea plantations on the foothills of the Himalaya. Ram and I always saw each other at our school in Itahari. At first we were friends. I couldn’t believe I was a girl attracted to another girl!1Although in most of the story he is seen by others as a girl, Sita refers to Ram with masculine pronouns throughout. Ram was born a woman but identifies as a transgender man.

Each of us had told our friend Sangita separately that we had crushes on each other. Sangita was a little bit shocked. She didn’t say anything, but she remained faithful and supportive. She gave hints that she was okay with it. Sangita is friendly with everyone, a very popular girl. She was Ram’s best friend, and this is why I trusted her. So I gave the letter to my friend Sangita, and she delivered it to Ram’s house. I deeply feared that he would reject me, but I hoped he would tell me he loved me back.

After school the next day, Sangita and I were walking through a peaceful place near the bushes by my house. That’s where she gave me a letter from Ram. I was so excited to read what he wrote. Even though the letter was positive, I was still very afraid. The next day in school, when I first saw Ram, I was biting my nails and fingers, feeling so shy. But from then on, he and I stayed at each others’ houses and slept over a lot. Our parents didn’t know we were dating. Our relationship lived in secrecy for five years.

In Nepali society, the radishes—sinki—are cut into many thin slices and dried. Because I’m very slim, Ram’s father always asked him, “Why are you after this Sinki?”2Sinki is a common nickname for someone who is skinny. His father suggested that he go to Kathmandu, where there are good universities and colleges; it wasn’t a good thing to spend so much time with another girl. Meanwhile, both our parents were always asking us, “Why are you both sleeping in the same room? Why are you spending so much time together?” Five years is a long time.

At that time, Ram had earrings and long hair, but he was allowed to wear shorts and sometimes went jacketless—half a man, half a woman. If there were family members around, we never had private time. There was so much societal pressure. We always had to wait until one of our families went away on a trip. Ram was so masculine: cutting crops in the field and lifting heavy things. His cousin nicknamed him dhode, which is slang for tomboy. We still loved each other but we fought a lot. Sometimes Ram bit me, teased me, scolded me; he was as dominating as a man. That’s one of his forms of love. I think he was imitating male behaviors because that’s what he wanted to represent. Always, indirectly, people would think I was flawed or broken because of Ram, because we spent all our time together.

One day my father chose a husband for me. I didn’t have the language for it yet, but I told him that I’m not like that. My father accused Ram of turning me into a lesbian. Of course that wasn’t the case, but he wanted to beat Ram. I argued with my father that it’s not from Ram—that it’s from inside me. I was quite depressed that someone would be blaming my nature on innocent Ram. After some days, my family wanted to beat me too.

Eventually Ram and I no longer wanted to live in our village’s community. One day, while returning from school, we stopped at the chemical shop and bought pesticide tablets that looked like little sugar cubes. We were just teenagers. We hiked into the jungle together. The chemical was used in rice paddies to kill bugs. We knew they were very deadly. Ram fed me my poison in a handful of rice, and I fed him in the same way.3Spouses feed each other as part of traditional Hindu wedding ceremonies in Nepal. We were not very familiar with the world. We felt pressure from everywhere. We had no idea about how to run away. Out in that jungle, we thought, If we love each other, let’s live together and die together.

While we waited for it, we were crying and scared, but nothing seemed to happen, so we left the jungle for our village. By the time we reached our homes, we were both vomiting. Ram’s family took him to the hospital. After three days, the doctor pronounced him dead. I cried a lot that I had lost my soul mate, my lover, forever. I also received threats from Ram’s family that if Ram really died they would come and kill me too. As is the custom in Hinduism, his family prepared to cremate him by the river.

At the bank of the river, people gather around the body and the family wears white. They made all these arrangements, and the body was delivered from the hospital by ambulance. In Hinduism, we cremate dead bodies by the river and then push the ashes into the river. This was all going on, and it brought back memories of when Ram was taken to the hospital in the ambulance. I saw everything. I was terrified. But just when the ambulance arrived back at his house with his body, Ram woke up.

I was so excited it was like the sky was falling, and I was dancing and everything had no boundaries. I knocked on Ram’s door and ran and hugged him while he was in bed. I didn’t care about Ram’s family. I ran right by them. It was the blessing of the Gods. It proved that our love was okay. But the situation was not: from then on, I could only hear about Ram, of course, since my family still kept me locked in one room of our house. My uncles, fathers, and brothers would beat me there. They took my phone away. For a week things went on like this.

Luckily, Ram had two mobile phones. Our friend Sangita visited Ram and retrieved one of the phones for me. One day, I escaped to the jungle by pretending to go cut some grass and called Ram. We met right there and decided to sneak away to Kathmandu.

Ram’s sister lived in Kathmandu at a hostel for disabled people. She said she knew that there was an organization that had something to do with boys who act like girls or girls who act like boys. I think she suspected this about Ram. Maybe she already knew some transgender people. We had only 2,000 rupees4Roughly $20 USD; we paid 1,000 for the bus. When we came to Blue Diamond Society we met all different kinds of friends. We stayed in the Blue Diamond Society’s crisis room for nine months. They helped us open a stationary store on loan in a nearby neighborhood. Then I got an opportunity to intern at a Family Health International (FHI) project for USAID. I did the internship, and it was very fruitful for me.

Ram was finally able to cut his hair. He took the earrings out and dressed like a boy. I used to see Ram as a girl, and I was kind of surprised by these changes. I liked his long hair, but now short hair is his habit; it’s alright.

I am working a very small job for Blue Diamond Society, but I want to learn more about different languages, dancing, and singing. I’m sad on the one hand that I left my family, but I want to groom myself and prove myself. Here I’m an office assistant, but I also help with counseling and reporting. I’m learning a lot about advocacy and am very eager to learn. I’m making many friends and people seem to like my sense of humor. I’m never bored by work either. I cook lots of food for the office too, and I always welcome people here. I’m hoping to start my studies again. I’m only twenty years old, so it’s still very sad to live without my family. Sometimes they still call me, but they aren’t happy calls. We lost our relatives. Now it’s only us in Kathmandu.

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

Available in Nepali

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Although in most of the story he is seen by others as a girl, Sita refers to Ram with masculine pronouns throughout. Ram was born a woman but identifies as a transgender man.
2. Sinki is a common nickname for someone who is skinny.
3. Spouses feed each other as part of traditional Hindu wedding ceremonies in Nepal.
4. Roughly $20 USD