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Why Is There Pressure To’Come Out’ Before You Can Contribute to The Queer Movement?

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Every year at the Delhi Queer Pride march in India, amid all the streamers and coloured balloons and dancing and photo-taking, I have to remind myself of everybody who’s not here walking with us. At the march, the numbers there run into a thousand or more, but we know that in a country of a billion, queer people account for more than the capacity of a corner of Jantar Mantar Road. While that’s encouraging in the face of people calling us a “miniscule minority,” it’s also necessary to understand that some amount of privilege operates at Pride events, privilege that allows certain individuals, and not others, to don their ‘gay apparel’ (sorry, I had to) and proudly declare their sexuality. What this means is that a whole bunch of people missing from Pride aren’t missing because they had a flat tyre. For whatever reason, a whole bunch of people are still sealed firmly behind those dreaded closet doors.

‘Queer Fundamentalism’

‘Queer Fundamentalism’ is a phrase I first came across when writer R. Raja Rao was interviewed by Sridhar Rangayan for Project Bolo. Rao describes how some openly queer folk emphasise ‘coming out’ even at the expense of individual comfort. It’s the idea that if you’re queer and you don’t ‘come out’, you’re of no use to the movement. You don’t count.

The idea that queer politics can be fundamentalist and even problematic should not be surprising, since cohesive, marginalized communities can reproduce the same exclusionary hierarchies they want to escape. In this case, it’s the belief that one has to ‘out’ themselves in order to sincerely participate in queer politics. To be fair, this sense of urgency, this ‘all-or-nothing’ approach is not misguided. Queer erasure is a very real challenge; it should be evident from both mainstream media and our everyday conversations how we assume the ‘default setting’ on everyone we meet is ‘heterosexual-heteroromantic.’ This ‘mythical norm,’ to borrow Audre Lorde’s term, is ever present in unsolicited questions about our partnerships, having children, the reprimands about the way we dress and talk, and even the careers we choose (what’s man’s work, and what’s women’s work?). Coming out has always been a strong political tool, resisting this mythical norm, but it’s not every queer person’s preferred tool.

Coming Out – More Stressful Than You Think

Many question the politics of these labels (given that they can be limiting), and many more face the threat of violence which prevents them from coming out. Yet, this massive pressure to do it anyway still remains.

Sometimes the pressure to come out is because of an intense and personal desire to “stop lying by omission.” Sometimes it is the collective urge to remind everyone that queer people have always existed. But often, this pressure can be externally created by other LGBTQIA+ people, as if to say “you’re either with us, or against us.” Something is telling us that we have to make our ‘debuts.’ Perhaps the heteropatriarchal-world will respect us a little more if we’re blunt about who we are?

Now, the social value of coming out is evident – it is a way of claiming space, of asserting selfhood. Without visible and openly LGBTQ writers, performers, activists, business people, academics, children, parents, and friends, our fight for universal human rights would be sorely lacking. In fact, just having role models like Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen Page, Laverne Cox, Cara DeLevigne or Troye Sivan has helped so many others ‘come out.’

But it can also be a mind-boggling exercise. What’s more, it’s never a one-off event. When I came out using Facebook as my medium, thinking so public a declaration would be the end of it, I quickly learnt that this was something I had to constantly do with every new person I met. And it doesn’t end with saying “I’m xyz.” Oh no. Now everyone suddenly starts treating you like their personal sexuality educator. God forbid you happen to get tired of it, because then you’re just being “difficult” and “unapproachable”. Sounds stressful? You’re right. It is. When you consider all of this, you start to see why ‘coming out’ isn’t everybody’s game.

Exclusion Isn’t Helping Anybody

Something we don’t talk about a lot is the high rates of mental health issues queer people have to deal with. No, I’m not saying that the ‘queer gene’ and the ‘mental disorder gene’ have welded themselves to our DNA at the embryonic stage. But hate crimes directed at queer-identified persons (and even those who are not!) have created an environment of fear. This in turn contributes to increasing cases of anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns. Why else would suicide rates among trans teens be up to 41% in the US alone? So when we discount the political identities of those who are still in the closet, this is just being counter-productive. It’s difficult reaching support services to people who are already out. Now imagine how much harder it is to identify mental health needs of closeted queers, leave alone address them!

It’s alright to be forceful about your queer politics, it’s alright to want to create safe spaces that must not be co-opted by the heteropatriarchy. It sure as hell is alright to be unapologetic about your sexual, gender or romantic identity. But somewhere some concessions ought to be made for those of us who haven’t had the luxury, or the support, or the security of coming out to the world. Even if the ‘presence’ of these persons is marked by a heavy absence from our pride marches and our roundtable conferences, we still need to be able to provide that space.

Nobody likes their closet doors, it’s true. But are we going to forget everyone who’s shut in behind them? Are we going to wear this albatross around our necks, when we know so much better?

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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.

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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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