Born and raised in Kathmandu, Samaira Shrestha, 22, is a student of Social Work at Kadambari Memorial College. Growing up, Samaira was subjected to bullying by her schoolmates and at times, even by teachers for being a trans gender. She feels that sexual orientation and gender identity are little understood in society and wants to continue with her activism about the LGBTQI+ community in Nepal. Her various initiatives include the Indreni cell. In conversation with WOW, Samaira talks about her challenges, the things that bring her joy, and her dream of bringing the Miss Universe crown home someday. Excerpts:
You are a young champion of the LGBTQI+ community, what were your challenges before you came out?
Few people are aware of the LGBTQI+ community in Nepal or even in other countries of South Asia and a majority of the time, we are stigmatised. It was extremely challenging for me to come out to my family, friends and the rest of the world. It was the most difficult decision I had ever had to make, and yet it was the best one.
In your childhood, you were a victim of bullying and this is something many of the LGBTQI+ community face. How does this affect your mental health and how do you overcome it?
During my growing up years, I was discovering and exploring a lot about myself. I was lost, and people were making it harder for me to know and accept myself and my identity. Furthermore, people’s ignorance of the topic made it impossible for me to do anything about my gender identity. The most heartbreaking aspect, however, is that the majority of the bullying came from the least expected sources, namely my teachers. My classmates would call me names that still agitates me. And this is something, I believe, most people in the community go through. Personally, it still haunts me and makes me sad. It affected me mentally, emotionally and physically causing me to lose confidence, become more introverted, and shut out everyone. It is also the reason I find it difficult to interact with others. It hampered my social skills, my studies, my personal life.
You lead Indreni, a cell specially dedicated for LGBTQI+ community. What led to its formation and what is your goal as an activist?
Indreni mainly focuses on the LGBTQI+ community rights. It focuses on law making, policy making, marriage equality and citizenship provisions.
I started my activist career just after I came out as a transwoman. The Enough Is Enough campaign was one of my first movements. I have been getting positive feedback for my work and this encourages me to do more.
Tell us more…
The Enough Is Enough campaign was a life changing experience. I was demanding better PCR testing and quarantine facilities along with a 14-point demand for a better Covid response from the authorities. I spent ten days without food and water with a group of other protestors. This brought about a profound shift in me as I had never considered my role as an individual to be powerful in bringing attention to a cause. I got to experience and see the misery of the less fortunate and all the hardships they go through. Even though it was a very tough thing to do, it is probably the most beautiful experience in my life.
You have also worked as a model and theatre artist…
I started off my modelling career as a 16-year-old in 2016. I have been working with various national fashion shows, and have been taking part in different international photo shoots and brands. I have also been working with Namuna College of Fashion and Designing as a top 10 model. As for my career as an actor, I recently signed a contract for a movie.
What in your life journey has been the most challenging thing you have overcome?
Coming out was the most challenging thing I have ever done and it was worthy because the outcome was much different from what I thought it would be. My family wholeheartedly accepted me and that filled me with a deep sense of belonging. However, I still had to deal with gossip, staring and judging which makes me uncomfortable, and the worst of all is people approaching me for sex.
What helps you?
My biggest motivation to keep going is my family. Additionally, yoga has helped me a lot too.
You were recently part of a dance reality show. What was the experience?
Ever since I was a kid, I was very enthusiastic towards dancing but I always held back because of the fear of being judged. One day it all changed when the Director of ‘Dancing With The Stars’, Lakshman Poudel contacted me and requested me to participate as a celebrity contestant. The platform gave me an opportunity to connect with the masses and opened various doors.
What are your future plans?
I am someone who likes to go with the flow. I however make a checklist and monthly schedule for the things I have to get done. I really don’t have any particular plans for the future. However, I have always had an eye on the Miss Universe crown. It is always in the back of my mind. So maybe in the future I might work on it.