Kathmandu/Pahichan – Suman Panta is a lesbian woman from far west of Nepal who went to US for studies and found a partner there. She got married with an American woman a year ago and has come to Nepal. She can stay here as long as she wants but her wife cannot. Because her wife has a tourist visa that expires in 3 months and they both want to stay here for a long time in dependent visa. Since Nepal has no such system for same sex spouses, she is fighting for her rights with the authorities. Madhav Dulal spoke with Panta on the wide-range of including the visa problems she is facing and other outstanding issues of LGBTI.
Welcome to Pahichan
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Suman Panta. I went to US in 2010 for studies. I completed my masters and PhD there and came back to Nepal. When I came back, I came with my spouse. And then she cannot stay in Nepal for a long time with a tourist visa, that’s why we gave application in immigration office. It had got approved by the office, but now gone to Ministry because there is no laws and order for this. That’s why in order to make it participatory and more proper, it has been sent to ministry
That means your identity is a Homosexual woman?
Immigration office gives you 3 months visa. But rumors have come that in order to stay for a year, you guys got married.
One year ago we got married in US, California. And I had plans to come back Nepal after completing mu studies. I can stay in Nepal. But my wife cannot. Therefore, I applied this process so that she also can stay here for long time legally.
Just for a year or longer?
We have plans to stay here for long term. If she chooses to stay here being a Nepali citizen then it is okay as well. But we want to stay here as longer as possible.
You were in Nepal till 2010. How did you feel about your sexuality at that time?
Yes of course
Did you tell your friends about your sexuality with people that time?
Friends who were close with me did know.
Did your parents knew about it?
My parents did not know, but my siblings know.
How did you realize that you are a lesbian?
It is very interesting question. Well, I did not know it very openly earlier. It was my adolescence period when I came to know that I was attracted to women. For few times, I thought that it was just a phase, nothing more. It was difficult to think. But while I was in Nepal, and I worked for a British charity. There I had some openly gay colleagues. Staying with them, I came to know about homosexuality. I did not know that I was taking my sexuality further. But working with them, I got the courage that I will take stand for myself.
Do you remember at what age did you feel attraction to women?
At the age of 13
Where did you live?
I was in Far West during my childhood. Then I came to Kathmandu to enrol in college.
That means after completing your school studies you came to Kathmandu ?
So you knew about yourself when you were in Far West, right?
Yes I did. I felt attracted to women, unlike heterosexuals. But I had no knowledge about what it was.
So how did you gain knowledge on this?
It’s not like how you gained knowledge. But after you get to a certain age, you seem to question about yourself. And also it is about exposure. I was exposed to existence of homosexuality since small, but did not realize I was one of them. But until you are clear about yourself you can just do is question. In that process of questioning you come to know many other things.
If society had accepted you, it would have been easier for you in 2010 in Nepal ?
Yes of course.
But you got to reach California to get married.
I did not go to California in order to get married. Lets not see this that way. Yes I was attracted. but it is not necessary that we will have partner just because we are attracted. Just like if someone is straight does not mean they have a partner just because they are straight. Partner should be seeked. It is that I met a good partner in California. If I had met in Nepal then situations would have been different. Difference would be I could not be able to legally marry in Nepal. Because I stayed in US, it was easy to get legally married.
Did you search partner in Nepal?
I won’t say partner exactly. Because partner is a big thing. Just because you have a crush or you go two three dates, they don’t become a partner. It is a long process.
Was it easy to figure out whether other people are also like you? Maybe you have some open lesbian friends. These days a lot of them have come to Blue Diamond Society. Maybe in you college you studied and in the society you live, there are people like you. Could you recognize them?
No I could not.
Without their own confession, you could not?
Exactly! And people even don’t openly talk about these things.
How was it in California? What kind of behavior did you get there?
Actually I did not stay in California. I stayed in Oregon. My partner used to work in California. I used to live in Corvallis or Orgeon. The place is known as the best for LGBTI and most LGBTI friendly. It is the most LGBTI friendly city of US. My partner also organized gay parties. Mostly they organized grand party with LGBTI allies once in two months. I studied in Oregon state university and it is also LGBTI friendly university. That’s why in that society, everything was too open. No one was scared about their identity. So this was one significance of living in US.
How did you feel when you had to hide your identity here but could live so openly there?
It is a bit difficult for me to find differences in that one. Because even in Nepal, I did not have to hide much as my siblings and my friends knew it. I was not too closet. In Nepal, even straight couples don’t date openly.
Do you think there is a difference between love between opposite sex and same sex?
Most of the people show eagerness in terms of sex because of a society with pro-creative mindset. But except the reproduction, I don’t see any difference.
How long after your relationship, did you get married?
We are now together for 3 years. After 2 years of relationship, we got married.
How did you come to know about your partner’s sexuality? Did you study the same university?
No actually, we met in a get together organized by friends. So I came to know at that time when we both had short conversation.
Maybe there were also other women who liked you. But why was it she whom you chose?
Yes, other women also did. But relationship grows slowly when your vision, ideology and hearts start to meet up.
What kind of cultural environment is there for LGBTI?
In Nepal there is a short of resistance. But it is not that in US everyone is accepting. There are also homophobes in US. But difference is a large number of people there are accepting. Also LGBTI activism has been there since a long time, but in Nepal it has been about a decade and has less exposure.
How do you feel there is more resistance in Nepal?
Lack of proper information, lack of understanding. I don’t think there is total resistance in everyone. Also, due to social taboo if you are something a bit different from social expectation, people tend to be resistant. I think although at least in cities, younger generation are better informed.