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Let’s Get One Thing ‘Straight’, These Kickass Literary Characters Aren’t

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LGBT literature is on its way out of the closet. Over the years, as the plots have become bolder, so has the representation of the characters. India too has come a long way, from the publication of Ismat Chugtai’s “Lihaaf” that led to charges of obscenity to the opening up of a publication house, Queer Ink, exclusively for LGBT literature. While mainstream books like ‘Harry Potter‘ and ‘Game of Thrones‘ series has given us subtly gay characters like Dumbledore and Loras Tyrell, they contained only a hint in the book and their sexuality had to be often confirmed later by the author. However, alongside there has been a parallel stream of openly gay, lesbian and transgender characters. Here’s listing some of them.

Cameron Post, in “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” by Emily Danforth

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Set in rural Montana in the early 1990s, this novel revolves around Cameron who loses her parents in a car accident. Orphaned she goes to live with her old fashioned grandmother and ultraconservative aunt Ruth. There she falls in love with her best friend, a beautiful country girl. As the news comes out, her aunt sends her to a religious conversion camp to help “cure” her homosexuality. What follows is confusion and the long road to self discovery.

Kickass quote: “How could I pretend to be a victim when I was so willing to sin?”

Yudi, in “The Boyfriend” by R. Raja Rao

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The novel has explored Mumbai’s gay sub-culture like never before. The protagonist is Yudi, a freelance journalist in his 40s who’s an “out” gay man. Using the objects of Yudi’s obsession, Milind Mahadik (a semi-literate office peon) and a Dalit boy half his age, Rao tries to understand the equations of caste, class, religion and masculinity that define love and sexuality in the city.

Kickass quote: “I’m a homosexual. Gay by caste. Gay by religion.

Angela Katz McNair in “Parrotfish” by Ellen Wittlinger

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Angela who has never felt quite right as a girl shocks everyone one day as she cuts her hair short, buys men’s clothing and changes her name to Grady. Her family and friend have a hard time adjusting the changes. Moreover, the other practical problems are highlighted such as which washroom should he use. He becomes the victim of bullying and cruel jokes in school, before finding unexpected allies and learning to cope.

Kickass quote: “People changed lots of other personal things all the time. They dyed their hair and dieted themselves to near death. They took steroids to build muscles and got breast implants and nose jobs so they’d resemble their favorite movie stars. They changed names and majors and jobs and husbands and wives. They changed religions and political parties. They moved across the country or the world — even changed nationalities. Why was gender the one sacred thing we weren’t supposed to change? Who made that rule?

Rafe, in “Openly Straight” by Bill Konigsberg

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Rafe is just a regular guy who loves to play soccer and ski. Except he has been out as a gay since 8th grade. He isn’t subjected to bullying and goes to other high schools to talk about tolerance. However, his character is marked by a conflict as he wishes to be a regular guy, not the “gay guy”. He shifts to an all boys boarding school and decides to keep his sexual orientation a secret. However, things become difficult as he falls in love with a boy. The character highlights that while sexuality is important, it isn’t and shouldn’t be the only criteria to typecast a person.

Kickass quote: “There are so many different kinds of relationships out there, sweetie. The thing that makes one okay and another not is whether it comes from a place of love. Nothing that comes from love could ever be wrong.

Lisbeth Salander,  in “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” by Steig Larsson

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The 20 something protagonist with her body piercings andtattoos, along with black dyed hair redefined feminity and sexuality in more ways than one. Sleeping with both men and women, she didn’t make a big deal out of her bisexuality. With a violent and tortured past marked by rape, she literally kicks some serious ass in the novel leading to its immense popularity. Larrson aptly describes her in this quote – “Don’t ever fight with Lisbeth Salander. Her attitude towards the rest of the world is that if someone threatens her with a gun, she’ll get a bigger gun.”

Kickass quote: “I’m not going to apologize for the way I’ve led my life.

“Orlando” by Virginia Woolf

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In the book playfully constructs the figure of Orlando as the fictional embodiment of Woolf’s close friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West. Orlando starts out as a young nobleman in Elizabeth’s England and traces his experience with first love. In the midpoint of the novel, Orlando, now an ambassador in Costantinople, wakes up to find that he is a woman. Virginia treated the sex change lightly, as if the sexually defined roles were no more than fantasies that could easily be stripped off for the benefit of another that better suited the individual. It further traced the role of women in 18th and 19th centuries, ending with the granting of suffrage in 1928.

Kickass quote: “Different though the sexes are, they intermix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male and female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above. Of the complications and confusions which thus result every one has had experience; but here we leave the general question and note only the odd effect it had in the particular case of Orlando herself.

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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 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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