Wangmo

“From a young age, I realized that I was a girl born in a boy’s body. I would wrap my head with a cloth piece and pretend to have long hair. Somehow, my parents were always accepting of my identity. I’d dance and entertain everyone, so people around also got used to me quickly. My father taught me to cook at an early age–he said in life, we need to be independent. Hardly anyone called me names, but at school, some kids did alter my name to call me ‘Wangmo’; I took that as a compliment since I was comfortable being feminine.
I studied till 9th grade before my parents asked me to become a police officer. I didn’t agree at first, but ultimately I respected their wishes and obliged. I enrolled in a police training academy and underwent training for 12 months. I wasn’t scared or anxious but whenever we had to shave our heads, I hesitated a lot. In the course of the training, I shaved my head 9 times.
Our batch in 2004 had 94 trainees–in the final assessment, I stood in the fifth position. We were assessed and graded on weaponry, physicals, drill, and written exams on the law.
I wasn’t discriminated against, and no one insulted or called me names. However, at night in the dorms, some guys would try to climb into my bed and get physical. I’d be bold and warn them that I’d complain to the instructor. They would back off then.
During the graduation, when we walked to the stage for the award ceremony, I remember getting chills. We took our oaths and we were sent to different places for our duties.

I was in Punakha, Thimphu and Gasa. All those times, I served as a servant for officers at their houses. I liked to think that it was due to my domestic skills but after a while, I felt stuck. Over the years, I was getting training in CCTV, accounts, and other security measures, but my responsibilities were always in the kitchens of the officers. I thought my hands and feet were suffering due to the nature of the work, but I never took that as oppression or discrimination. I remained positive and continued working. Sometimes, I would be sent for three months of assignment as the servant in the officer’s quarters, and it would stretch to three years.

During all 13 years as police personnel, I was always myself. Apart from the short hair which was a norm, I’d dress up and be a woman. I didn’t see many objections as long as I did my duties with diligence.
In 2011, I was contacted by Dechen Selden, a transgender advocate; I was told about the growing movement of the LGBTQIA+ community and the group that was formed under Lhak-Sam. This helped me make the big decision of resigning from the police force. However, the process was not easy. There were many others in that year who had put up letters of resignation, and I knew I’d need a good reason. I blamed it on my alcoholism which could lead to negligence at duty, and a voluntary resignation could help avert it. My request was accepted and I got my pension. I used the money to travel to Nepal for pilgrimage and even helped my parents.

Then I started working in a Drayang in Thimphu as a dancer. I first came to Bumthang when some people came looking for dancers in Thimphu. There were a few transgender women already in Bumthang and I saw an opportunity to start a new life here. I was always a dancer, since my childhood. Even as a police personnel, I’d take part in police day celebrations to live my love for dancing.
The earnings in this line of work were not bad either. As a transgender person, people were always intrigued by us and I saw customers who asked to see our dances.
For the first time, I could wear Kira and keep my hair long. When I was in the police, I had restrictions in terms of clothing, but not in Drayang.

It’s almost been 5 years in Bumthang now. All my other transgender friends left, but I feel like this is my home. Over the years, the people here accepted me as part of their community. Most of them treated me nicely, and I also tried my best to be of some help to them. I’d simply visit an acquaintance’s shop and clean it, and in gratitude, some would offer me free cosmetics and even accessories. When I go grocery shopping, I’d be given free fruits. I also use my knowledge of laws to advise people and help them refrain from actions leading to legal consequences.

When the Drayang remained closed during COVID and later, when it was banned, I was not affected a lot. As a former law enforcer, I knew the intention of the government and respected that. However, I had some debts to the owner of the Drayangs and my only worry was to clear them. I’m currently working an extra job at a club to repay my debt.
I feel that minorities like us are not necessarily treated badly. Often, it’s how you deal with people and manage to convince them that you mean more help than harm, that they allow you to become part of the society based on your good character.”

The story is funded by the Journalists’ Association of Bhutan for Rural Reporting Grant supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiative.
#HumanStory #HumansofThimphu #Queerstory

 

 

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