Author Rukshana Kapali
It was the chilly morning of Yamari Punhi. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiii as I stretched my arms and feet outright, the freezing air kissed my skin, Aaaachhoooooooo, I pulled them in my fāngā. As I squeeze in my body, gently massage my eyes and try to get the first touch of my phone, I pop my head out of the fāngā with my messy hair, Annnnnnnnnnnnnhaaaaaaaaaaannnhaaaaa, I check the time. This Saturday, unlike any other Saturdays, I don’t have meetings to attend, conferences to speak, or protests to scream. Ahh! It is already 10 am.
Still nudging the laasaa, ‘Oh! The gwaramari shops have been closed now.’ Yet unwilling to leave the warmth of my bed, I turn towards the dhyako as hear a notification pop up.
“Maka Bhaaju sent you a new message….”
Surfing across the pattern, clicked the notification. “Wanna hangout to noon?”
Oh! The same man that was asking me my favorite chocolates. It’s just been a week that we both swiped right. Is this just another chaser man transphobic ‘trans-lover’, who likes chicks with dicks, and that same typical toxic behavior?
Ummmm… Well, Lemme just check him out. As we fix things up, it has already been 10 now. I decided to forsake the warm comfort of the lasa, putting the phone aside, I chuck my fāngā to the likwo. I stretch my body, holding my chhaaswaa lan, put on the chappal to walk downstairs. I bow my head to walk out of the room, down the creaking swaane, I do my stuff, then climb a floor up to the old basin to wash my hands. Holding the shabby toothbrush, I pour on Dabur Danta Manjam to let on my teeth scrub. I rub my cheeks and my chin and my forehead and whatever on the face with that mewa saboon, the unnamed papaya soap I got from the street side sale. As I splash the chilling water fetched from Manga Hiti, I take a look inside my dress.
“Do I need to bath today? Does my body look good?”
I walk into my room and smooch my face with the swaan butta towel. I start to knead my face with Joy skin fruit moisturizer, looking at the thapaay paau nhaaykan, I realize that some hair has grown on my legs. “Oh! It is time for waxing”, I apprise myself.
Pouring the hakoo chya from the tharmas, I start to chat with Maka Bhaju.
“Umm, you tell me”
“I don’t know! Thamel?”
“What about Bhaktapur? I know some quiet space there.”
“Not a regular space I go. Why seek a quiet one hehe”
“Well maybe something else too, but I don’t want other people around me as much as possible.”
“Makes sense. Time?”
“Ummmm…. For lunch?”
I put down the mug, turn the pages of by Bhaav Daily Planner to scan over my plans. Lifting, sipping and resting the mug of morning nutriment, I go through my dailies. I pull my rectangle coarse sack to take out my essential gadget. The laptop I bought a few years ago serves the most important role in my life now, from work to almost everything — I spend most of my time with it. My laptop is my memory — From my first piece of writings, the baby steps I took, to the books that I have published, to the research papers I’ve written. My laptop is my source of income — I am almost dependent on this device for most of what I’ve been earning since past five years now. My laptop is my pleasure — It knots the ones I want to explore and the ones who want to explore me. The other half is my smart phone. Some things are easy on the desk and some things are easy with two fingers. Such as this thing called Tinder. It has been three years I am on it. As my teenage was coming to an end, my urge to expand the boundaries of my life took me there. I only swiped people who came from other countries to visit Nepal. I met so many amazing folks from Tinder.
As a trans woman, relationships, dating and sex hasn’t worked for me like my cis-het folks. Was there no technology, I don’t know how would I seek for the romance.
As I screen through the files of my upcoming publication, clicking the keypads sipping the mug, ting I get notifications from Maka Bhaaju.
“What is your number?”
“Ummm… Just text me here.”
“Number dina hudaina ra”
“I don’t want people ringing me at odd times and asking if I have eaten or have I pooped yet”
“Haha, I won’t. Will send you locations on Whatsapp”
“Okay. Here you go 98########”
My room starts and ends in a sight. Its length is as long as my height and I can hold its both breadth ends with my arms spread. We don’t have cupboards. Mostly wore clothes go into the ayegooncha, the long rope tied on the dhun-sin roof wood. The least wore gets into big bora sacks.
While I look around to decide what to wear, tung I get his text on Whatsapp.
“This is me”
“Okay. See you”
What am I gonna wear today? Ummm, I have never been dressy. When I was assumed as a “boy”, I never felt connected with the clothes I was wearing, so I never bothered to deliberately buy them. My dad would bring them from street side shops. The street side vendors from Hauga to Lagankhya, my parents window shop for me. When I finally started wearing what I wanted to, I always struggled with how society wanted to see my appearance to be an “acceptable human being” and how I felt comfortable. Occasionally I get to travel Bangkok in scholarships of conferences. I don’t miss a chance to fill my luggage with clothes, cheaper, nice and too many choices. But back in Nepal, either I am just too lazy, or maybe I don’t want the gaze of people — I ask my parents buy for me.
Last year, my mom bought me a chhaswaa-lan. They were so comfortable. I told my mom, I wished that I could wear them outdoors too. I remember many of my tamaa wore such dresses outdoors too. It was “acceptable” outdoor dress, at least going around the streets of your own neighborhood. ‘Thaithaay deshe la kha ni’ – It is just your own place, is what they told when asked about wearing ‘indoor clothing’ outdoors. But, not just has the locality changed in years, but also how people perceive and expect everyone to wear in public. My mom told this to my dad and without a word further he made me an outdoor version of the chhaswaa-lan.
Now I have four of such. Some of them look like an extended version of kurtha, some look like a mixture with misaa lan, some look ‘I don’t know how how’. People have appreciated the dress, me wearing the dress, and have shamed me for wearing these ‘weird things’. Whatever the impression on anyone else, the most important thing that matters to me is I love them, I feel comfortable in them.
At times, it gets difficult to choose between the notion of ‘presentable’ and the elation of comfort. The constant struggle between comfort and presentable will always be there, and who wins is always in a fluid navigation.
I don’t want to look at my files today. I want to dedicate this day for myself. I just put away my laptop, leave the mug in the basin and start scanning over my clothes.
Do I want to impress this guy? Maybe yes! Hyaa, probably no! What do I want out of this date? Ummm, do I even have to think this way? Never mind! I don’t know, I haven’t been able to decide if I want to choose between thinking about something ‘long term’ which often makes me not enjoy the moment, and getting too indulged in enjoying the moment that I won’t be able to visualize the sense of a long term.
I have a white cotton shirt and black skirt. Sexy and professional. I asked my father to make them for me, a few weeks back when I was working at this NGO in Bhaktapur. I made my way to the bus park, took the bus back and forth every day. I think when people see someone like me, they have assumptions – assumptions about everything – from what kind of people we are – to what our lives are. When I decided to ask my father to make them for me, the thought process on my mind was that I wanted to present myself as a thulo manchhe, someone who looks a professional work nerd in a higher position. I even thought I would print some random batch to hang on, that reads CEO or Director. I was probably just tired of people assuming the work I do, and the fact that everytime I appeared in public – I won’t miss a single gaze from passerbys – so why not see this ‘empowered’ tall memsaab madam kind of figure!
So, here I have that outfit today. I stretch my arms to pull out the chhaaswaa lan, standing in front of that thapaay paau nhaaykan. I don’t have special bra and underwear for occasions. I don’t know if this occasion would lead to presentation of those. These push up ones, they make me look big, but it makes my breast feel chocked. These other ones are with pads, they are nice and comfortable. Of course, wearing bra is never comfortable. It feels like being shackled. But, I don’t know if anytime apart from at home, can I ever get away with not wearing one. Not only these bras help my breasts look bigger, but they also save me from not appearing more ‘non-conforming’.
The underwears are another mess. I have some loose ones, and some tight ones. Loose ones are for home. I need to feel free. My little girl needs to feel free. Tight ones are for outdoors. They hold my little girl firmly and closely, so that when I am wearing these skirts and jeans, she does not bulge out. That is also why I mostly prefer wearing kurtha and tops that usually wear down to my knees. It allows me to wear the loose ones, and still not worry. They also save me from embarrass of my little girl trying to stand up out of nowhere and just randomly.
While I am changing, I don’t just take off what I am wearing and put on the next. I glaze at myself at the thapaay paau nhaaykan, sometimes naked or sometimes in the bra panties, and do as if I am in Nepal’s Next Top Model. I mostly like taking a glance at how my breasts look with the bra.
It took me two years to start having them. I still remember myself as a fourteen-year-old kid. My life was a struggle between how people saw me and how I saw myself. I didn’t know that at this age, a lots of different things were gonna hit me. Sex education was there, but never there. They were ascribed in the text books and curriculum – but…… I am not sure if anyone like me was prepared for puberty to hit us. My other mates could have probably heard from their seniors or just read the lines of the text books.
But, anything that resembled me and what I was going to experience – never came up anywhere until it just stroke me. I always knew that how I had to present myself in society, was not how I wanted to present myself, but know I started heeding that of my body as well.
It was months of rigorous Google that I decided to take steps. I still remember desperately going to the cyber café behind Bhaai Dega, most of the times waiting for my turn to be in the desktop that was private and secluded from other desktops in the room, so that no one could just walk in and see what I was surfing. Internet and cyber was the only refugee I could take, then when I had nothing and no one I could talk about myself. Today, information is just a click away for me, but in those times, computers and smart phones ‘were for’ the sahus, rich ones. Neither did I know anyone who shared the experience of what I was going through, nor was there anyone I could talk about myself.
Internet became a space where I would use anonymity not just to express myself the way I couldn’t in physical spaces, but also to learn more about myself and meet people like me.
I love my breasts. I don’t know because if it is because it took me two years of hormones to start seeing them grow, but I know for sure that because they bring me pleasure and joy.
As I get myself dressed, I look towards the old mhicha and pick up that red lipstick. Indeed, old, bought and never “really” used. That paste of red thick I don’t know made of what, gives a bright red complexion to my lips. I put it few times in bhoyee and parties. A few times on some dates. But every time I stick that paste into the surface of my lips, I feel all the moisture was stolen and someone sticked a cello tape over it. The redness many people preferred for being “beautiful” wasn’t a pleasant experience. The moment I came back home, I rushed to wipe them off.
Well, maybe I didn’t choose the ‘right’ one in the options of thousands. But, why spend all that time, effort, energy and money on something that does not even feel right and necessary. I want men to taste my lips, not that tang and odor of a chemical paste. Hahaha, it’s not even about me k!
I started to glaze through the kapoo batta, the boxes of kapoo lamps that I am using to keep my ear accessories. Everytime I go through these boxes, I can’t stop playing Jhumka gira rey in my head. I have three boxes of jhumka. I love big and heavy ones. Some people told me nhyaaypan cha-hilee chhangu (Your ears are going to tear down). I just love the way they make the sound while walking.
There is this round metal with feathers on the bottom. A guy I dated two years ago gifted me this.
Dating itself in our society is a challenge, and as a trans woman there are additional hurdles added to this. In this twenty-two years of my life, I have encountered different men. Some as a date, some as a social media mate, and some who randomly sends their dick pics.
At a certain point in my teenage, my social media blew up with random messages from men who ‘love’, ‘like’, ‘wanted to try’, ‘are into’ trans women. I never understood these men who randomly without even asking for consent, send dick picks to women. I didn’t and still cannot grasp to understand how does that action even makes someone fall or feel attracted to them! I also never understood those men who want to seek sexual pleasure with trans women, but at the same time behaved and were vile transphobic. I also went through unpleasant experiences where the guy that wanted to ‘date’ me, asked me to walk behind him and not with him because he is ‘scared’ or probably feels ‘ashamed’ of being in public with someone like me. That is why I am super careful in swiping and deciding to meet any guy.
Many of them I talked to have never interacted with trans women in their lives, or just briefly, and their knowledge about our bodies and sexuality are based on porn websites. The derogatory term porn industry uses to refer trans women, they portray very specific kinds of trans women bodies. Those porn don’t show all diverse bodies of trans women, and they don’t tell everything about our sexuality.
Well, I have met amazing men too. They’re not just respectful, but have also stood up for me, and seen me as someone beyond as vessel to fulfil their desire. The ones I can feel safe and embraced with. I think that is the kind of bonding I want to have. We may not be together forever, but someday when I turn back the pages of my life, may I be able to remember the moments spent with you as one of the best moments in my life.
Tinder has mostly been about men for me. But once few years back, I met a girl as someone who was interested in the work I do. She reached out to me on Instagram and told me that she admired the work I do with Newa and LGBTIQ stuffs. That’s how we started talking. Until then, I hadn’t really thought about dating a woman. I found it really difficult to navigate that relationship. Heteronormativity is not only dominant among the cisgender folks, but also within the transgender spaces. While I always experienced my sexuality in somewhat fluid ways, it did take time for me to unlearn my own heteronormativity. But here I am today. I saw this cute femme guy on Tik Tok, and I really like him. He’s been like my new crush.
I still struggle in visualizing relationships, and navigate between the different paradigms of relationships. I am yet to decide if I want a marriage-oriented relationship, living together relationship, just a relationship with love and affection, no-strings attached or hookups. I think I helm in between and across all of these.
Between wanting to find a soulmate but not wanting to be heartbroken, and wanting to have no strings attached but not wanting to develop an absolute numbness for any attachment – I live in the gray.
Well, I am ready for the evening. Fingers crossed! I am looking forward to what this evening brings for me. Ting, the Whatsapp notifies for another message.
“Didn’t tell me your favorite chocolate!”
“Something that melts down through in as my tongue starts to take its feel”
“What kind of chocolate is that?”
“Doesn’t have to be a chocolate though ;)”