KATHMANDU, NEPAL – Kathmandu is abuzz at 6:30 p.m. with people returning home after the day’s work. But one 28-year-old says that her job as a commercial sex worker in Nepal’s capital starts only after it gets dark.
Although born male, she identifies as third gender, which describes people who categorize themselves as neither man nor woman. There is not yet a pronoun for people of the third gender, so the 28-year-old prefers “she.”
Because of the stigma against people of the third gender in Nepal, she requested anonymity. She even hides her real identity from the landlord of the room she rents in Kathmandu, telling him that she is a female who works in a dance bar.
“If they find out that I am a third gender, they will force me out of this house,” she says. “I have been living in this house for over six years. But no one knows my identity.”
She looks like a fashion model with her slim figure, carefully madeup face and large eyes accentuated by mascara.
“I have to attract my customers,” she says. “Every day, I have to worry which dress to wear and how to look beautiful.”
Her other third-gender friends also gather every night in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu, for the same work. They negotiate a rate with their customers, who either take them to a hotel or insist on having sex on street corners.
“Whatever the place, we have to agree to the customer,” she says. “Otherwise, we will have to return home empty-handed.”
Her nightly routine pits her against cold winter nights, dusty and dirty streets, and the risks of being caught by the police or obtaining a sexually transmitted disease.
“I have been living on sex work since more than a decade,” she says.
Growing up in Kathmandu, she says she always had feminine habits. At age 14, she realized she had a male’s body but the inner desire of a female when she became attracted to one of her male school friends.
“I used to cry the whole night worrying if I was the only one with such feelings,” she says.
Her family pressured her to change her behavior and even hit her. The night before her grade-10 exams, she was studying in her room when one of her brothers attacked her. He called her “hijra” – a derogatory term commonly used for the third gender – and beat her.
She left her house and walked six miles to the rented room where her transgender friend Roshani lived. She missed the exam to obtain her School Leaving Certificate the next day. Instead, Roshani, who worked as a bar dancer, offered to find her similar work.
After putting on makeup and gowns, they went to a dance bar in Kathmandu’s business center. There, Roshani introduced her to an attractive man, who took her to a nice hotel.
“He did not ask if I was a man or a woman, and