Friday 20 August 2021

Interview with Rukshana Kapali

Monika: Today We are going to the beautiful country of Nepal where my guest comes from. Rukshana Kapali is a transgender activist, blogger, and writer. Hello Rukshana!
Rukshana: Hello Monika. Thank you for having me in your blog.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Rukshana: I am Rukshana Kapali. I am 22 years old. I am a trans woman. I come from the Newa ethnic nation of Nepal. I am currently doing my Bachelor’s degree in Law at Purbanchal University and Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics at Tribhuvan University. I aspire to be both a lawyer and linguist. I am also the Executive Director at Queer Youth Group, a not-for-profit working for SOGIESC rights.
My work involves policy advocacy and the advancement of SOGIESC rights in Nepal. I also work to create resources about SOGIESC issues, mostly in Nepal Bhasa and Nepali, and also in English. I am a part of the Nepal Bhasa movement and advocate for reinstating Nepal Bhasa as an official language in Nepal. I am also involved and enthusiastic about the upliftment of my native language Nepal Bhasa. I am a language nerd and I love learning new languages. However, I haven't been able to actively engage in language learning.
Monika: You started your blog when you were 15. What inspired you to start it at such a young age?
Rukshana: At the age of 15, I didn't think that I would be involved in writing and blogging. I started by posting content about LGBTIQ+ rights in my native language. I used to scroll around LGBTIQ+ themed news portals in English and Nepali, and I summarized the content in my native language Nepal Bhasa. I just did that out of my interest and I didn't have any long-term vision or intention.

"For me, coming out itself was the hardest decision.
I grew up in a very cisheteronormative society."

At the age of 16, I graduated from my school, which in our times was a Grade 10 board examination in Nepal. That was also the time I came out and started living as a girl. I wanted to share my own story and my own experiences of what I'd faced till today. Because I had to go through a lot of negative attitudes from people, I wanted people to understand life from my perspective and what it felt like to go through all of it. I used a WordPress blog and the blog article was widely shared. This is what hooked me up with starting to write and blog.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about coming out?
Rukshana: For me, coming out itself was the hardest decision. I grew up in a very cisheteronormative society. As a 14-year-old child, my imagination of a 'future' or an 'ideal life' was within the boundaries of cisheteronormative normativity. I came out at different steps to different groups of people in my life, and finally, at the age of 16, I just did it. It was a very turbulent journey. It has been six years now. I don't want to recall all the bitter moments of my initial days of coming out. There are many people who have come from that life to this life, and there are many who left. I didn't lose my family. I had bitter moments with my parents too, but today they have not just accepted and embraced me, they also stand up and speak for me.
In Nepal, we have very complex social structures. I have had very toxic relatives, who presented all forms of abusive and hateful behavior. But for me, the problem was that despite anything I still had to intermingle with them 'socially'. For instance, we have festivals, we have celebrations called jatra, guthi, etc. I was still in situations where I had to be in a social space with them, and be subjected to their distasteful treatment.
Past few years, I have withdrawn from participating in such social spaces at all. I more actively engage in social spaces with my maternal relatives, because of course I do like being part of festivals and engaging with people, and they have not treated me badly. It is very complicated for me in the social system and structure. There are situations when I cannot selectively just engage with relatives who are accepting, and I have altogether avoided being part of such a social gathering.

"I started hormones at the age of 15. I walked in with
my Mom, talked with the doctor about what I
wanted, got some blood work done, and I got the pills.
I am amazed when I see people in the Western world
literally making this a subject of debate."

Monika: Did you have to wait until 18 before you were allowed to undergo hormone treatment or take puberty blockers? How liberal is the Nepalese law in this respect? 
Rukshana: I started hormones at the age of 15. I walked in with my Mom, talked with the doctor about what I wanted, got some blood work done, and I got the pills. I am amazed when I see people in the Western world literally making this a subject of debate. The context here is quite different. As far as I am aware, there are no legal provisions concerning gender-affirming health care in Nepal.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Rukshana: Seven years in it and yes.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Rukshana: I don't have a definitive answer. I don't let people get me. It is not easy every time. I just don't think much about it. There is a lot I need to do in my life rather than wasting my time thinking about what some people say or would say.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Rukshana: Bollywood is very famous in Nepal, and I grew up mostly seeing Bollywood, along with my family, friends, and relatives. Nepali movies (aka Parbate language movies) were not really popular in our household, or not preferred. We also watched some Nepal Bhasa movies.
Bollywood movies always had portrayals of non-cisnormative characters which I can clearly divide in two ways. One effeminate man is always making double-meaning jokes and is sexually suggestive. Another is trans women wearing a sari, mostly in groups doing peculiar claps, begging for money on the train, assaulting people for not giving money. I didn't grow up seeing any positive connotation of non-cisnormative people.
There was very limited Nepali content regarding trans people. And the limited presentation would be mostly cis people playing the roles and in always a negative manner. We didn't consume Nepali (Parbate language) movies in our household, so I can't say much of how it was back then. There were no trans or non-cisnormative roles in Nepal Bhasa movies at all.

"Trans women are not even considered as human beings,
be it far from anything else. We are seen as some sort of
peculiar living creatures, by people in society."

I remember that I was 13 years old and for the first time I got a contact from an organization that works for LGBTIQ+ rights. I telephoned them and I asked the receptionist if I could visit their office. It was my first time to ever see a no-cisheteronormative world. I was super nervous and excited. I went to the organization and met the receptionist and she was the first trans woman I ever met in my life. I was so fascinated by the way she looked. I hadn't transitioned at that time, and probably I didn't think that transition was possible for me. So to see someone else who has reached there, I cannot explain that feeling in words.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Rukshana: Trans women are not even considered as human beings, be it far from anything else. We are seen as some sort of peculiar living creatures, by people in society. Many, including me, have been able to break these stereotypes and myths, however, it is still challenging to access any sector as a trans woman. Both legal and social situations are discriminatory against trans women.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Rukshana: I sort of do like dressing up at times, but I am not into fashion. I don't think the work I do and I like doing allows me to think about fashion, or just that it isn't my cup of tea. Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Rukshana: Of course, like everyone I do.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Rukshana: I came out at the age of 16, so of course every interview for me was as a woman haha. I actually don't remember my first interview to be honest. I'm mostly engaged in self-led works and self-initiation, so I don't talk much about it.
Monika: What would you advise all trans women looking for employment?
Rukshana: I think this is a difficult question, given that trans women including all trans people are denied or face numerous barriers in accessing most facilities cis people can easily access. Given that the workplace discrimination and lack of proper legal measures to address such issues, and the fact that laws cannot address each and every issue of the society, it is difficult. But I'd like to encourage everyone that if you're pursuing a dream of achieving something or becoming someone, don't give up, you can do it. Many trans women despite facing difficult situations have been able to achieve to so much extent, and of course, you're capable as well.

"I also see myself as an author and researcher. Also, someday I
want to be Dr. Rukshana. This is how I see my future. Not
everything might go as planned, but I hope for the best for myself."

Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Rukshana: Yes I am. I am also involved with LGBTIQ+ rights activism.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Rukshana: I am not sure. I haven't really focused on love and relationships. I see my education and employment and the work I do as important things in my life. It leaves me little time to think about love and relationships.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Rukshana: Yes. Back in 2018, I was with this feminist writing group called Breaking the Brackets. We were together to brainstorm and prepare our own piece of writing. I was trying to prepare a book called Nine Chapters of Nineteen Years and release it on my nineteenth birthday. I am 22 now, haha. My circumstances just didn't allow me to make time to deeply dedicate myself to such a book. I do see it as something I might do later in my life.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Rukshana: Currently I am pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics and Law as majors. I want to pursue my education. I at least want to complete my Master's before my 30s. I want to become a lawyer and work to advance SOGIESC rights in Nepal. I also want to be involved in work around language and linguistics. I also see myself as an author and researcher. Also, someday I want to be Dr. Rukshana. This is how I see my future. Not everything might go as planned, but I hope for the best for myself.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Rukshana: I am not sure if I can give a catch-all recommendation. I would say you know your life and circumstances the best, so I recommend you make an informed decision based on that.
Monika: Rukshana, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Rukshana: Thank you Monika for having me here.

All the photos: courtesy of Rukshana Kapali.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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