WOW | Coffee Break
FLUIDITY OF IDENTITY
Text by: Pabita Dahal
wow photo file © Ram Tandukar/Gokul Shrees
Binary terms of male and female do not include other gender forms and orientations. Today when more and more people are opening up about their gender identity and sexual orientation, it is time to create a broader understanding on how we perceive and understand this right to difference. WOW, interviews four individuals to learn their perspective.
Executive Director – WHR Nepal; Co-founder – Nispakshya; Founder – Gyan Bodh Research and Development Services
Sumeera is a vibrant feminist who has worked on a range of important issues for the past 15 years. The key issues include single women, gender-based violence, sexuality, peace and conflict, social inclusion, economic empowerment and leadership in a rights-based approach. As a women’s rights advocate with academic background in development studies and economics, she is keen to accelerate the momentum of women’s movement. She has conducted research in collaboration with different universities and organisations related to gender, violence and disaster.
Deepti is an enthusiastic professional and a loving mother of two boys. She completed her MBA at Suffolk University in Boston, USA and worked at JP Morgan for three years. Before that, she worked at UBS and Merill Lynch. Currently, she advises on Marketing and PR of GrowByData and ClinicOne Kathmandu.
Faculty – Department of English RR Campus
Janak is an energetic and well-loved teacher who completed his Master’s of Philosophy in English Literature. He has been teaching at Tribhuvan University for nine years. He believes that equal participation of all genders can build a progressive society.
Neeraj is a blogger who started www.neostuffs.com in 2014 while he was abroad. He returned to Nepal in 2018 and has been working with Pepsi and the British Council. He calls himself ‘an LGBTI ally’.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the acronym: LGBTI?
Sumeera: The first thing that comes to mind when I see this acronym is that this coined term is a part of advocacy towards greater acceptance. There are different sexual orientations and gender identities and sexual characteristics which are different from each other. There are different people in this world and general notions around cis-normality are not rigid. The relationship of same-sex, different gender identities and expressions changes, there are different sexual orientations which have existed since the establishment of civilisation. But society has always seen and treated people of different gender identities and sexual orientations as different individuals who do not fit into this social frame, which is against their human rights.
Deepti: The first thing that I visualise when I hear the acronym is the word ‘perfection’. I feel that they look perfect… in terms of their clothing, style and nuances. I used to live near Boys Town, gay town in Chicago. Whenever I passed the area, I met friendly and smart people. So, to me when I hear the term LGBTI, I see ‘perfection’ and a friendly persona.
Janak: LGBTI used to mean something sexually perverted. Now, it is more of sexuality and identity of an individual.
Neeraj: Colours. I once attended the Pride Parade in Seoul, it was full of colours. It was such a lively and fun place to be, and the images come to my mind when I hear the term.
What is your definition of gender identity?
Sumeera: I define gender identity as a personal sense of own gender, which can be correlated with assigned sex at birth or can differ from it, or it can be fluid. It is something one identifies with their deeper inner self and the knowledge within. Every society has certain gender categories that form the base of the social identity of a person. So, every individual’s sense of own gender needs to be acknowledged and taken into consideration.
Deepti: The traditional definition of gender identity includes the concept of male and female, but now there are various kinds of gender identities. We cannot exactly define gender identity. However, to me, gender identity means however a person wants to address their own self.
Janak: It would be something one associates oneself with; and the social roles and inner feelings of an individual.
Neeraj: For me, it’s simply how one identifies oneself based on the way they feel inside. It might be outside of the binaries of male and female.
How would you react if your loved one wants to change his/her gender?
Sumeera: Growing up in a society where cis normality is widely accepted, it would be a bit uneasy. However, it would not be a matter of concern for me and it would not be unacceptable to me. Working closely in the field of gender for all these years I have now understood the gender dimensions from different angles of body structure, identity, social gender and expression. Therefore, if one of my loved ones wants to change his/her gender it would be absolutely acceptable for me. The person will receive support from me to the best possible extent.
Deepti: Obviously, I would be shocked at first. However, at a deep level, everyone has the choice to live their life in their own way. So, if my loved one feels happier due to my support, I will be always there for them.
Janak: I would react negatively as I believe that changing gender identity is prioritising one gender over the other which generates respect for another gender than one’s own. But if it is in the case of a transgender and they feel that this is their gender, then I will support them.
Neeraj: I would be surprised for sure and I can’t really know what I would do if that happened to me. However, I guess I would let her do what she wants to if that’s what makes her happy.
Have you ever been hit on by the same sex?
Sumeera: I have not experienced this so far.
Deepti: I have not experienced this yet. But if such a situation arises, I will show my ring and let them know that I am happily married.
Janak: Not yet.
Neeraj: I haven’t. I guess men don’t find me attractive or anything. On a serious note, if somebody approaches me, I would just tell them, “nice try dude, bad news, I am taken.”
What is your take on the changing expressions of gender and sexuality
Sumeera: I find it challenging to step out the comfort zone of using binary pronouns as we are habituated. However, it is very important to start the use of non-binary pronouns. It is important to break the stereotype that anyone can refer to another with the traditional pronouns of he and she. It might seem unnatural or feel uneasy initially but it is also about respecting the identities of every individual and understanding that gender is fluid and pronouns can change over time. We need to overcome these gender stereotypes and as human beings, we should always be ready to respect each other and encourage dignified life for all.
Deepti: Actually, I am not very clear about this. I have to explore more about these diverse concepts of genders as they are emerging issues. Somehow these things might surprise many of us. But, I believe that personal freedom is the source of happiness. It is the fundamental right of people. So, whatever people choose as their gender and sexual identity, I would support them.
Janak: It contributes to promoting positive views and gender-neutral expression.
Neeraj: In this age, I would never discriminate between gender and sexual preferences. That would also include ways of expression. As long as nobody’s getting hurt, I am okay with the different methods of expression because they are harmless and are actually a means of identification and belongingness, and bring a sense of community.