How to be bold

My father was in the Royal Nepal Army. As I was growing up, my uncle, brother and father would always talk about wartime activities. My home was also near to the barracks. I frequently saw army personnel roaming through the fields of my village. I was much impressed by their uniform, personality and discipline. Working for the government seemed a prestigious profession. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to feel more bold.

Growing up, I never felt attracted to girls. I agreed with my father when he wanted to search for boys to for me to marry. 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 young, I didn't feel like my real self.

When the army finally started admitting 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. Then 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. I had never been punished before.

After the incident, people in my village were gossiping about my character. From my room, I could hear them. There were rumours that I was pregnant out of wedlock. Not only that, when I went out of the house, they would confront me publicly. I was always completely speechless, completely blank. I stopped coming out of my room. I watched TV, played with my mobile and cried.

Later, 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 phone calls over the weekends, they blamed me. After two or three months, I got another phone call. My niece picked it up – 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 organisation that wants to help us. If you want, you can come and see."

For the first time, I went 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 organisation 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 younger 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 depressed and unable to stay with my parents at home and in my gossiping village, Bhakti offered to let me live with him, closer to the centre 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 when my parents come to learn about our relationship. When I started living with Bhakti, I stopped going back home. Through phone calls, my family realised that I seemed happier. Once my elder brother called me and said he was on the street outside my room. Over tea, he said that I shouldn't have to worry about my situation and that everything would be fine soon. 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 close, 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 gave an interview to a news station. They wanted to know whether lesbian couples wanted 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 did not want 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 television station had not blurred my face! I thought of killing myself because I had never wanted to hurt my parents, and even today I don't want to hurt them. At the time, I went to the TV station and told them it troubled me deeply. "Please do not repeat that interview again," I said. I asked them to erase it from the programme, and they did.

I later learned that the television station had called Bhakti to ask if they should really blur my face. Bhakti thought this would give me a platform to talk with my parents directly, 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 women have very little privilege and rarely get a chance to leave the house or decide a future for themselves. Women are not often economically independent or able to raise their voices against what we're facing in our families. It's a taboo for women to talk about their 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 was attracted to girls and that I was in love with a transgender man. How confusing!

When I came to know it was Bhakti's fault, I was furious with him. My brother came to our office and talked with our senior officials. 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 to him, so I had to come back. I couldn't forget about my love and relationship, which went deeper than that incident. He didn't want to hurt me, I realised. That incident did give 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 an interview to any newspaper or television with my real name that would reveal that I was a lesbian. If I'm thinking about my happiness and my rights, I should also 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 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 lucky, I could have easily killed myself. 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, and 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 that I go to the human-rights programme in the army and try to start sexual and gender sensitisation 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 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."

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Himal Southasian