Published in The Nepali Man on 28 February 2015
A lot happened in 1999. I turned eighteen, finished high school and got accepted by an American college. And the Internet, which had crept into the Nepali marketplace, finally made it to my bedroom. The internet’s arrival coincided with a key moment in my life - I had recently come to terms with my sexuality and realized that I was gay.
I even mustered enough courage to come out to my best friend in high school. But apart from him, there was no one to talk to. Being gay - it was unheard of in Kathmandu. There was hardly any mention of the word in the mainstream print or visual media. Even if there were, the references were usually inaccurate or derogatory.
The internet was expensive back then, tethered to the phone-line. So I waited until my parents went to bed, usually after ten pm, and used my father’s office password to log in. Gay.com was a famous chat site, but it didn’t even have a Nepal room. So I logged into the India room, which I felt was closest to Kathmandu.
Those were the days before cell phones and Grindr, before Blue Diamond Society. When I look back and try to align my life in Nepal with what was happening in the rest of the world, I now realize that during the nineties, even the Western world, especially big cities like New York, were still recovering from the shock and devastation of the 1980s AIDS epidemic that had victimized, ostracized and demonized the gay community.
By mid-nineties, the term ‘same-sex marriage’ started trickling into the international discourse with some European countries leading the movement, modifying their laws and giving rights to domestic partnerships and civil unions. In the United States, Alaska and Hawaii became the first states that took baby steps towards same-sex equality by granting constitutional amendments in 1998. But during my teenage years, I was largely unaware of all this. Later, towards the end of 1999, when the state of Vermont declared that excluding same-sex couples from marriage violates the Vermont Constitution, I was ecstatic. Coincidentally, the college I was going to attend was located in Vermont.
But in Kathmandu, it felt like I was the only gay person. I was mostly okay though, because I found my uniqueness thrilling. I took it up as an adventure. I knew that there was a lot to explore and experience because I used to read about everything. They say that books can save lives. With regards to my sexuality, they also helped me stay sane. During the teenage years that led to my self-acceptance, I met gay characters - in small town America, rural Sri Lanka, cosmopolitan London - and learned about the ways they coped and lived in societies that had very little, if any, space for them.
Not once, not for a second, did I feel that my desires were wrong or that I was diseased. I knew that there were people out there who were like me. It was only a matter of finding the community, of reaching out, communicating and belonging. So in 1999, the Internet provided a door that I opened every night and traveled all over the world, meeting boys and men, in places as far as Bombay, Belgium and Bennington.
There was one guy in particular, an aspiring journalist from Bombay who was building a website. We waited for each other every night inside the India room and talked about topics ranging from celebrity crushes to favorite novels. During the day, he sent me short, beautiful emails that were poetic and loving. I longed to meet him in person. Fortunately, in December, an older cousin who had been studying in Bombay came to visit and I was able to convince my father to let me go with him to India for a vacation. I had never stepped out of Nepal before.
A lot was happening in 1999. An entire millenium was coming to an end. I was at the cusp of adulthood. And for the first time in my life, I crossed the Nepal border and took a train from Gorakhpur, headed to Delhi and then Bombay. I did not know then that there were many more borders to cross in life.
The meeting with the journalist was short, and, in retrospect, did not amount to much. Besides, I was blown away by Bombay, by the sheer size of buildings, by its bookstores and cafes, by the massive crowds, by how exciting and stimulating the world was. I did not know then that in the following year, I would see more cities in America, make friends from all over the world and learn so much about life and about love. In 1999, I did not know what the future had in store for me. I did not know that I would fall in love with New York City, that I would move there and start a life from scratch.
I would do everything in my power to continue living in New York, in the name of education, career and lifestyle, but I did not know that I would, in fact, put myself in exile. That those would be the years of running away and hiding, from family and society, from Kathmandu and Nepal.
In 1999, I did not know that within ten years, I would successfully chain myself to a caged life and fully succumb to Fear. I would forget about the gifts of being gay and believe all the terrible stories of the world. I did not know that my twenties, a decade that would take me to great heights would also drag me down through the deep underground.
I also did not know that a shift would come. Burnt out and hopeless, I would completely surrender and decide to face my fears. I would return to Kathmandu just to be who I truly was. I would emerge out of hiding and face the sunshine.
In 1999, I did not know that I would eventually start writing, that years would pass before I started a process of honest investigation, a process of looking back and looking forward. That I would ultimately resort to my own words to heal myself.
In 1999, I did not know any of this.
A Nepali translation of this story was first published in RecordNepal.com