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Identifying As Queer: What Could Have Saved Me From Bullying And Abuse 10 Years Ago

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By Dhrubo Jyoti:

I remember I was about eight when I first embarrassed my parents by wearing a full-length nightie of my mother’s, in front of the help – “He’s a big boy, what will people say,” was said in hushed tones as I was shuffled out of the room. This was the first in a string of gender ‘mistakes’ I would make in the years to come, which made it difficult to reconcile to the sex I had been assigned at birth, but also facilitated my search for an alternative expression beyond male and female boxes.

Image source: flickr.com
Image source: flickr.com

I was brought up by two strong and courageous women – my mother and grandmother – who taught me many things but questions about the absent father were always followed by shuffling feet and uncomfortable answers. The absence also meant, for me, an absence of lessons in masculine performance that my peers thought commonplace – shaving, walking in a certain way, even the kind of underwear one wears – all key pieces of performing one’s gender role and taught by people more adept in the game – brothers, fathers.

I think I always knew maleness was an act for me, I just went along with what I thought was popular – quite like my taste in films. I still pepper my language with expletives when I think I need to act more manly, a throwback to the school years when a friend had told me I would need to be brought upto speed in the gaali department as a part of being a mard. I thought it was quite reasonable and was possibly an extension of the changes that were happening to my body. I simply attributed my lack of interest in tailing women or making sexist jokes to the absence of a functional father or brother.

Sex and sexuality hit my friends and I pretty late, by 21st century standards. In addition to not knowing about my own body, I also didn’t know why I was not interested in ogling at women or sneaking up on them, or why the boys bathroom became strangely sexual. This lack of interest was separating me from my male peers – and I knew I was a man – so I tried my best to cover it up and play along. All information we had about sex was advise from brothers and seniors – who were relying on hand-me-down suggestions themselves – and pornography, which was great entertainment at best but a poor educator.

I remember cycling home after meeting friends, where I had spent hours enjoying myself but also constantly trying to align myself with gender roles expected of me. I had no information, neither did my peers, and we were all hurtling down the gender role tunnel with only scraps of biased and prejudiced advice handed down to us by an older generation.

It became doubly difficult to reconcile my sexuality in the closing stages of school, so much so that I withdrew from a very vibrant and welcoming homosexual society around me, when I moved to Kolkata for my undergraduate studies. Sure, I liked watching men in porn, even in real life sometimes, but that didn’t make me gay, right? What is gay? Are they the same as the hijras I saw on the roads? There was no one you could talk to or ask. It was suffocating at times. Even the few men I chanced to sleep with seemed to be struggling more than I was, or were in complete denial about their sexuality.

In the small town I grew up, whispers is all that you got by way of sexuality related talk and the whispers were stifling, telling you to conform, be a certain kind of body, toe a certain kind of gender role. These included instructions to sit with your legs apart, walk straight, don’t move your hands, undo a few of your shirt buttons, do your hair a certain way, don’t listen to your mother, get a bike, talk about women but don’t talk to them.

It was years before I stumbled upon information that told me identifying as a man was a choice that you could opt out of. That gender needn’t be a binary. That you could choose your own gender. Painstaking exploration of my gender and sexual needs over almost a decade made me realize I was not straight or a man. I was introduced to the wonderfully ambiguous term queer, which saved me and which I now use to define my gender, sex and sexuality.

I just wish my friends and I had access to information related to sexuality education that would have saved all of us years of misinformation and prejudices packaged as helpful advice. It would have likely helped me avoid the emotional trauma, bullying and abuse that is still so vivid, that I’d rather fill this page with small town details than talk about how identifying as a non-man and queer could cost one their family and career. Ask me, I have been stalked and attacked on the streets, I know.

Sexuality education is about creating an environment where that bullying and abuse do not thrive because the misinformation and bias that nurtures violence is dispelled. People, when they talk openly about sex and sexuality in a comprehensive manner, that takes into account their diverse backgrounds, shun handed-down gender roles and sexuality mores. This information comes in a way that is scientifically accurate and from trusted sources and affirms people’s inherent right to determine their own gender, sex and sexuality.

Such a conversation is urgently needed in schools and colleges today, if we are to create an environment that is rights-positive and violence-free for young people to explore their bodies, choices, desires and lives. If I had access to comprehensive sexuality education 10 years ago, I know it would have changed my life.

Author bio: Studied Physics till 23 only to abandon it and become a journalist. Too many identities to wear on sleeve, disoriented, unfocused and queer. Deliciously queer. Talk caste, gender, sexuality, politics for orgasm cue.

You must be to comment.
  1. Deepika Virdi

    I totally agree! Sexuality information should be shared with everyone from the puberty age itself. It would make them view their life in a totally different way.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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