Rukshana Kapali is a twenty-two years old trans woman. She works for the advancement of SOGIESC rights in Nepal. She is also an activist in the Nepal Bhasa movement. Rukshana has authored several books around SOGIESC and language in English, Nepali and Nepal Bhasa. She is currently pursuing a law degree as well as linguistics.
She started her journey as an activist and blogging at the age of 15. Her first blog was about her personal experience as a transgender person – wrote in the very initial period of her coming out. She started writing mostly about transgender and broader PoMSOGIESC (People of Marginalised Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics) issue, as well as issues of language, ethnicity and Newa people/heritage. She has faced a lot of struggles when it comes to accessing education and employment just because of her gender identity. Still, she has succeeded in being the voice for so many people of the LGBTQ+ community. Her advocacy is commendable and influential.
And, on the occasion of the pride month, the Rolling Nexus content writer team approached Rukshana Kapali for an interview blog with an attempt to understand her lived experience as a trans woman, her perspectives on employment, empowerment, entrepreneurship and engagement, her activism and her definition of allyship and more in a pervasively cisgendered heteronormative society that we currently are operating in.
Here’s the conversation that follows with Miss Kapali. Happy Pride!
What does empowerment mean to you?
What do you do for a living? What sort of challenges have you come across while looking for employment opportunities? And, what are your plans for the future when it comes to employment?
I am also in law school now, so having a full day class means I can’t do a full-time job. Freelancing work does not bring much. A lot of work especially around LGBTQ+ rights that I do is volunteering. Due to a lack of funding or investment in the sector, the work I love to do does not feed me. Another big challenge is being transgender. I remember that in my initial days of looking for a source of income, people refused to hire me because of my gender identity. The work didn’t require an academic qualification, but just skills such as in a cloth shop or curio shop. Then I got into the NGO sector, where things may be relatively easier because people working in social justice may be relatively not transphobic. However, most posts that give a good income needs Bachelors or at least a Master’s degree. I should have graduated with my bachelor’s degree this year, but I was denied university registration due to a lack of legal and policy mechanisms for transgender people to enrol on the university and gender recognition. This has created adverse impacts on my employment too. Currently, I prefer the self-lead kind of works, because then I could get to do what I am interested in, and don’t have to worry about being discriminated against. But it is not as easy as said.
In future, I want to be publishing more books. I have taken up law school, so of course, I will want to be employed as a lawyer. I also want to pursue being a linguist, and contribute to my native language Nepal Bhasa. I will probably be working in between these various, switching around and in the intersections of fieldworks.
What myths about trans individuals are you tired of debunking?
What is the significance of allyship? How do we differentiate genuine allyship from performative one?
The representation of trans individuals in entrepreneurship is very little and oftentimes they do not get the support and appreciation they deserve. How can the government and responsible figures help LGBTQ+ individuals such as yourself for better entrepreneurial and employment opportunities?
The next thing is to offer scholarship and reservation for transgender people. Many transgender people are struggling to meet basic livelihood because of the complex social realities we face. Many of us are forced to leave our homes or get disowned by our parents. Many of us are forced to drop schools due to the stigma we endure. There are many transgender people, who don’t even have an SLC qualification which is seen as a bare minimum in the context of Nepal. Government can encourage those who’ve dropped out, to re-join school and continue their studies if the government can ensure a safe learning environment. Many transgender people who’ve at least graduated school, won’t join college because their paperwork still shows their deadname and gender assigned at birth. Many of those who’ve left their homes, lacking educational qualification or vocational skills, are living a tough life. If government allocates a certain per cent of scholarship to transgender people, this will increase transgender students in various fields and areas. Once we have qualification or skill, we will be able to navigate our ways to earn money.
Many transgender people are denied employment despite their educational qualifications. The government may not be able to change everyone’s mind but can ensure legal protection so we don’t get discriminated against just because of our gender. Government jobs should reserve a quota for transgender people, including intersex and gender diverse people. This will ensure participation and inclusion of people in the state mechanism, which will then have a snowball effect on government policies and decisions to address concerns of transgender people without an external effort or pressure.
There is this mindset that LGBTQ+ individuals have to be successful and in most cases upper caste and upper class too, to get respect from society. Does this make you anxiously ambitious? Or do you not give in to that pressure?
Even within the queer community, there are intersectional experiences. People of certain backgrounds which provides them privilege become the fastest to climb the ladder of success. So many people give this example of Brahmin cisgender gay men from privileged backgrounds and tell the rest of the queer community to see them as an example. But as a cis gay man, he will never have to face a basic barrier about his documents not being correct, like a transgender person would face. Or basically for someone from a family who has to think about what to eat the next day, even going to school means a luxury they have to trade-off for working to get food on the table.
I don’t think much about this notion, for me and my goals. Because it hasn’t affected who I am today. I am not doing what I am doing today because I face discrimination and prejudice and that I want to prove the society that whatever they think about me as a trans person is wrong. I’m just following my passion, and it is consequently breaking those stereotypical notions too.
Would you like to suggest policies in companies that will help empower more LGBTQ+ people at work?
Financial Independence is one of the most empowering things for any individual. How can people from the LGBTQ+ community be financially independent in Nepal?
What does “discrimination in the workplace” mean to you? And how can one become an ally in the workplace?
What new changes do you think are required for explicit inclusive development and empowerment in the country regarding the LGBTQ+ community?