The Third Gender: Uncovering The Hidden Practice Of Intersex Genital Mutilation In Nepal
There exists a third gender in the human race called intersex. This umbrella term is used to describe a variety of natural sex characteristics that is a blend between the two typical male and female sexes. And in Nepal, this is an area that has been tormented in the dark until Esan Regmi, a selected representative of the intersex community and an intersex person himself, found his calling in 2011.
Esan was born in the remote mountainous district of Bajura in the far Western Development Region of Nepal with female genitalia. His birth certificate titled the name Parvati, a traditional female name in Nepal, and his childhood was like any other girl in Nepal.
But when puberty started at the age of 13, his whole outlook on life changed.
Esan realised that he was not like the other girls his age. Where breasts were expected to grow remained an inactive pair of pecs. And as puberty progressed his jawline began to drizzle with facial hair.
“Slowly I was growing as a male. I don’t have breasts. So I realised I am different than other [girls],” he said.
At age 14 his dad tried to admit him to a hospital in India for reconstructive surgery, but the overseeing doctor declined.
“My family wanted me as a son, so my dad tried to get surgery for me.”
“My dad asked the doctor, who said, ‘it is not simple in surgery’.”
Instead the doctor advised that Esan should be given to the Hijra community in India, a place that is believed to be where intersex people belong. But Esan’s parents feared their child would be abducted and so they took him back to Nepal where he lived his teenage years as a girl.
“I was forced to act like a girl because of my documents and having a girl’s name,” he said.
“Though I wanted to have my freedom and be proud of my orientation, I was suppressed inside to hide and could not share to others”
As his teenage years progressed, Esan started to conform to the male gender he now identifies with. Then in 2007, at the age of 19, he began studying a bachelor of education, learning literature and Nepalese language.
It was here where he faced the torment from bullies. Unfortunately when growing up intersex in a conservative country, the act of bullying would arise from a lack of knowledge of what it really is.
“Whenever I used to go out, people used to look at me and would sometimes ask ‘are you male or female?’,” Esan said.
“[This] used to stress me badly and hindered my work and life. This [affected] my studies too as I often got broken down and became too weak.”
“At the final exam, when I went to appear for the exam, I was told [I was] a fake student as my look was different from my ID and had to overcome various stigma, discrimination and accusation while [doing my] exam.”
But his family encouraged him to continue his studies, and forget about those who were bullying him and asking intolerant questions. It was this family encouragement which gave Esan the empowerment to continue his studies, even though he faced constant discrimination.
“Despite such issues and problems, I did not give up my studies and thought [in a] positive direction.”
Little did Esan know that his battle to finish his studies and complete his masters in education would lead him to the very help that he himself needed. In 2011, as he started his masters, Esan discovered Nepal’s largest LGBTI support centre the Blue Diamond Society, and began working there as a volunteer.
“I studied for LGBTI, so I [could] know about myself. I am intersex. Before I did not know about me, I thought I was different, but I didn’t know about me.”
“Gradually I began reaching out and talking to the intersex community which has resulted in national and international connections.”
But even now Esan knows more needs to be done for the intersex community, and not just through educating them, but also through educating the rest of society.
In mainstream society there is a misconception that intersex is the same as transgender. This issue, as Esan explains, is not correct, since transgender people are changing their biological male or female sex to the opposite. Whereas intersex people are born with a mixed gender through their physical appearances and the chromosomes they inhabit.
In the case of Esan, who was born with female genitalia, he only noticed that he was different when puberty hit. Yet some intersex people are born with mixed genitalia and their parents are able to notice this difference at birth.
This raises the concern of intersex genital mutilation of infants and children, which is not just an issue in Nepal, but a worldwide problem. On May 18 this year Committee Against Torture chairperson and co-rapporteur for France Jens Modvig criticised French doctors who perform genital mutilation surgery on intersex children and infants.
“In France, doctors in public and private clinics regularly perform non-consensual intersex genital mutilation surgeries on intersex and infants and children despite the fact that intersex genital mutilation has been found to cause severe pain and suffering,” Jens said.
Following his criticism, Jens asked for mandatory counselling and psychological support for intersex children and their parents and mentioned his own experience as a doctor.
“I think the counselling that would be really useful to put in perspective the early surgery would involve much more neutral facilities… so that parents and treatment people to a much larger degree could see the long-term impact of treatment and actually the fact that we don’t know if it actually adds to quality of life.”
Yet in Nepal the issue of intersex genital mutilation surgeries has been an unspoken matter until May 10 this year when for the first time a UN Committee on the Rights of Child reported on this issue.
In the report it found substantiating evidence that there are “doctors and clinics openly advertising [intersex genital mutilation] as beneficent and safe and aiming to expand practice within the (positive) overall drive to allow more children access to (necessary) paediatric treatments.”
Esan Regmi further confirmed this issue and said that there are many hospitals performing genital mutilation in Nepal. His main concern surrounding the surgeries was consent.
“They need to gain consent for their surgeries, they don’t take their consent,” he said.
For Esan, the need to eradicate this issue and the intolerance in society is vital to the intersex community. And it seems for him the only way to get this done is through education and creating visibility in the community.
“When I can, in social media, and in open society, I have been raising intersex issues. Intersex in children, intersex in young people. [They don’t get] good opportunities for education, for health, for employment.”
Esan hopes to build a separate organisation for intersex people who can come and find out about themselves and who they are. But until then, and as a last statement from Esan to all intersex people in Nepal and throughout the world, he declared that they should fight for their right.
“Intersex is not a disease. Intersex is normal. Intersex people have to get their right; they have to live in society with their dignity. Intersex people should come out in society and they should fight for their right.”