The sun began casting long shadows across the floors of the modest home in Kirtipur as Tirtha Shakya and his family began their morning routine.
After waking his six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son Shakya, 38, helped his wife prepare breakfast. Two sleepy-eyed children ascended the narrow stairs to the kitchen. Shakya flipped the last two pieces of roti in the pan as his wife, Uma, braided their daughter’s hair. Their son rode a small tricycle through the kitchen, onto the patio and back, babbling in simple Nepali. Shakya wiped his hands and sat cross-legged at the low table, calling for his children to join him. Uma served her family warm roti and smiled as her husband acquiesced his children’s requests for extra condensed milk to drizzle on top. Shakya seemed like an idyllic Nepali family man. He has always kept his family in the dark about who he really is.
Shakya’s preferred identity is actually Sweety.
“I’ve been a sex worker for 13 years,” Sweety said, via an interpreter. “When I was younger I used to get ready every day, and go out every night, but now I have more responsibilities because I have a family."
"I used to have as many as 10 clients in one day. Now I prefer only having one or two in a day."
Sweety’s day job is administrative assistant for the Blue Diamond Society, an organization dedicated to advocating for the LGBTI community in Nepal. Fielding phone calls at her desk she shares with an intersex man, and gathering at the water cooler alongside fellow transgender sex workers, Sweety feels at home at the Blue Diamond Society.
"My wife knows I work for Blue Diamond Society, but she hasn’t asked anything about my job,” Sweety said. "She doesn’t know what the Blue Diamond Society is. She is not educated—she doesn’t ask questions."
Eight years ago, Shakya and Uma had an arranged marriage at the demand of their parents, a common practice in Nepali culture. "I did not want to get married,” Sweety said. “But all the time my mother was crying, and I could not tolerate that. Every day she would cry because I would not get married.”
"I did not have another option—I was not educated. I did not want to run away and stay in the street. I couldn’t go anywhere, so I had to get married."
“(On my wedding day) I felt so sad and I cried. I cried, and cried. I cried so many times."
Sweety said the marriage was difficult in the beginning. Neither Shakya nor Uma were happy, and they didn’t speak much. It wasn’t until they had children that they developed a bond and became a family.
Still, Sweety is happiest being Sweety. "If I was not forced married, I would have surgery for breast implants and have long hair and live a lady life," she said.