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The FAQueer Series: 12 Things I’m Asked Because I’m A Lesbian

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By Ipshita Thakur for Cake

The L in LGBTQIA+.

Lesbian is a term used to refer to female homosexuals. You’ll be most likely to hear this word as part of the sentence, “I’m not a lesbian!” from straight women/allies and queer women alike.

I often hear from lesbians I know that they don’t like the word lesbian. But just like women who say they don’t like the word “feminist,” it has more to do with what they think those phrases mean to the world, and they are seeing them with the negative connotations that they (and we all) could be working to dispel every day.

The above quote by Trish Bendix made me rethink my own tendency to flip flop between identifying as queer and lesbian at other times. Needless to say, we inhabit a predominantly patriarchal society and being a lesbian is the furthest you can get from what is the idealized (also idiotic) version of a woman in such a system. Lesbophobia, it’s a thing – look it up. Either way, these are some of the most common questions that I have been asked multiple times over since I have been out. It’s a wonder my eyes aren’t permanently rolling backwards in exasperation.

1. Do you think this might be a phase? This is a phase, no?

Listen up, it’s hard enough as it is to come out and open oneself up to the looming possibility of discrimination and homophobia. So, would you please stop downplaying my sexual identity as something frivolous because it might be making you rethink the boxes that you neatly categorize people in.

2. Did you go to a girls’ school? Is that why?

If I were to follow that logic, there’d be a whole lot more of us. I was probably the only one in my batch. Sorry to disappoint you and your lurid myths about girls’ schools.

3. Do you own flannel shirts? Do you only wear boy clothes?

There is no one way of being a lesbian. You can be one in a dress or a saree or overalls or a suit or a potato sack or anything you very well happen to wear that day or every day. And yes, I do own some flannel and I love unisex clothing. Speaking of lesbian stereotypes – you forgot comfortable shoes!

4. Aha, but you have short hair. Do all gay – I’m sorry lesbians have short hair?

You got me there. It’s like this, not all short haired women are lesbians and not all lesbians have short hair. It’s hair! Women like most people like to wear their hair in a number of ways.

5. How exactly is it possible for two women to even have sex?

Thank you for taking an active and unhealthy interest in my sex life. We have sex more or less like everyone else. But since you’re asking me this question, I’m guessing we might just be more imaginative.

6. So you’re technically still a virgin, since you haven’t been penetrated?

Whoa. What a limited and boring way to think of sex. I can’t help you there. Sex is far too complex and varied to explain with a simplistic fixation on the in and out motion. That is one of the ways to have sex, yes. /jazz hands/

7. Which one of you is the man in the relationship? Which one of you wears the lipstick?

No one is, that is kind of the point. Do you always think in binary? Let me try to answer this in an unpredictable way: sometimes we both are and sometimes we both aren’t. We both like wearing lipstick now and then too. Basically, we get to do whatever we want without adhering to outdated and predetermined gender roles.

8. Have you ever been with a man? How would you know for sure if you haven’t?

Have you ever been with a person belonging to genders that you’re not attracted to? No? That’s because it doesn’t work that way, romantic or sexual attraction is something which is innate and eventually discovered or explored further by the individual in question. What I was sure of even as a young person without the vocabulary to define myself – was that I was different from the people around me; the difference being I wasn’t straight.

9. Why do you sound so angry? Are you one of those, one of those man-hating angry feminists – I mean lesbians!

My orientation has little to do with hating the alternatives. It is a beautiful, complex, realised truth all on its own. The same way you figured out your innate sexuality. Now that we’ve established that, let’s move on to angry. I am, yes. You’d be too, if I took away some of your rights and denounced your personal choices and ways of expressing that as illegal, immoral and unnatural. Repeatedly. I don’t mind being angry about that at all. I laugh easy too. Call me a loud, book loving, stationery hoarding lesbian next!

10. What kind of porn do you watch?

There’s more to us than just sex you know, but then again I have to entertain the possibility that all you know about lesbians comes from your favourite porn website. No? Phew. But since we are on the topic, women in mainstream porn perform in movies made by men for the male gaze and so lesbian porn appears somewhat ridiculous to actual lesbians. Porn is a matter of preference; personally I like watching guy on guy.

11. Does being a lesbian mean you’re attracted to all women around you, even straight ones!? Do you like me?

Nah ah. Adhering to a different sexual orientation from the norm isn’t the same as hyper-sexuality. I’ve liked a variety of people over the years but for vastly different reasons not because they identified as women and happened to be in the same room as me. I think reading is sexy though, don’t you think? Do you read?

12. So, when are you getting married?

See answer to the first question. This is addressed to the somewhat well-meaning but ultimately conservative people in my life who are in severe denial about all kinds of relationships that do not adhere to heteropatriarchal norms and treat mine as not legitimate or serious in any way. I’m not so sure about marriage, for me it has always appeared as an institution that excludes and discriminates against people like me. Coming back to reality, the country I happen to live in is decades behind on all kinds of human rights let alone rights for its LGBTQIA+ citizens. On the off chance that was a genuinely well-meaning question, I’d like to say – someday.

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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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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