The intersections between class and sexuality are being studied especially in countries where class plays a dominant role in shaping access to resources and power. In this article, based on my own experiences, interactions and understanding related to class and sexuality, I want to talk about how, as a young person, class has had an effect on my peers and me.
Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, has always been a dream city for many young people like me to get a higher education and a well-paid job. I too was on this journey after my Secondary Education.
Coming from a middle-class family and not being from the capital city, I have never been fashion conscious. So after coming to Kathmandu, I would often compare myself with others of the so-called “high class” or with “city boys” and try to learn from or copy them, especially in matters of current fashion, taste in music, conversation about global events, and many other such things. But I refrained from engaging with them, as I was not confident enough to present and express myself as I was. I felt a certain level of stress around how I should express myself, such as what to wear or my body language, if I had to present myself amongst such a group.
The company one keeps
Class is a very important factor if you want to associate with “smart” company. Your looks, your fashion sense, your taste in music, your knowledge about international issues and celebrity gossip become very important to belong to “that” bunch of people. For young people, association and acceptance is very important. Young people from a lower- or middle-class always have to be on their toes to get along with “high class” city youth. For these youth, smoking and drinking was a trend; it gave them a sense of belonging to a higher class, and also because of the “macho” feeling associated with it among young men. The influence of the media along with advertising related to smoking and drinking fosters this. I as a non-smoker always felt at a great loss while networking, communicating and associating with many “cool” youth of my age.
Pressure to appear a certain way
It is not easy to be a young leader. You are an example for many youth, a role model for many and a rival for many as well. So, it was in my life. I was President of a youth organisation and I always received unpleasant comments about my fashion sense, how I presented myself, how I looked, how I represented my organisation, and how I expressed myself. The hardest part for me was to attend “high standard” meetings and conferences of “high standard organisations”. I remember an instance where I borrowed my friend’s shoes because I had to attend a high-level meeting, and I was in slippers that day at the office. The stereotypical image of how a President should look was always in my mind and I would try to be presentable and accepted as President of an organisation. I am more comfortable at feminist conferences because I am not judged for what I wear and how I express myself.
No matter how intelligent and hardworking you are, you will always be judged on how you look in the first place. The pressure to represent youth as a youth leader is often shaped by the idea of what a young leader should look like physically rather than on their intellectual skills. I also hear many instances from my peers about young boys being judged negatively on the basis of their long hair, pierced ear and skin, and girls being judged on their short hair, pierced skin and what they wear, by family, school, workplace, and by society as a whole.
The concept of how a boy should look or girl should look, disciplinary measures for boys and girls at home and school, our family and school teachings about what a ‘good’ man and woman look like, shape our sexuality as part of the gender socialisation process. The media further emphasises what “smart men” and “smart women” look like and sets beauty standards for them. It also plays an important role in portraying stereotypical images of LGBTI people. The idea of how a person should look is associated with capitalism and class. We internalise capitalist concepts such as ideas of fashion, to access the privilege and power associated with the “upper class” of society or for a sense of belongingness.
Struggle for a better class and life
As Kabi Adhikari points out in The Kathmandu Post, the political change of 1990 in Nepal, though it brought democracy in the country, failed to create economic opportunities for a swelling population. So, many people migrated abroad in the first wave of migration. The second wave of migration came with globalization and technology. Youth wanting quick money and a lavish lifestyle as a result of globalisation and capitalism migrated and are migrating to other countries. Young people and their parents want to get away from struggling, and to move from the lower and middle classes to a higher class, and those from the higher class do not see a prosperous future in Nepal. Cultural restrictions have made young girls flee the country to live the life they want and pursue their careers. Similarly, societal pressure for men to be breadwinners and wealth accumulators has forced many youth to fulfil traditional gender roles as men. Thus, migration seems to offer an easy opportunity to move away from a struggling class to a higher class. I, myself, coming from an educated family feel a direct or indirect pressure to notice who earns more than me, and how much a person of my age from my neighbourhood has accumulated in terms of material resources. This has definitely shaped and reinforced my sexuality one way or another.
From my own experience, I have learned how youth, as a population, are vulnerable to the negative effects of class on their sexuality. Our sexuality is often shaped through our gender socialisation process and institutions like the family and school. Class as a social structure influences individuals to behave in certain ways or to acquire certain characteristics to gain access to resources and power. This exerts unwanted pressure on youth and affects their beliefs, attitudes, practices, and relationships.
To counter these negative effects, it is important to break gender stereotypes and to create safe spaces especially at home, in educational institutions, and in work places, and also to have a non-judgmental attitude towards youth and respect for the diversity in our self-expression.
Cover Image: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0