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As A Transwoman And Lesbian, Writer Nadika Nadja Reveals The Challenges She Faces In India

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By Lipi Mehta

nadika nadja
Representation only. Source: Twitter

If you like keeping a track of conversations on feminism, gender, sexuality and related topics on Twitter, you’ve probably heard of (and already follow) @GenderlogIndia. This is a Twitter initiative spearheaded by Natasha Badhwar, Amrita Tripathi and Noopur Tiwari, all writers and feminists. The account is curated by a different person each week who tries to bring in their areas of interests to the fore and kick open a variety of conversations ranging from queer issues to empowering poetry and art, and more.

This week, journalist Dhamini is handling the account and on 4th February, she hosted a chat with transwoman Nadika Nadja who identifies as a “non-binary non-binary person”. It was insightful to say the least, with many learnings on how many trans people grow up in India and the challenges the face.

I’m quite excited to talk to @NadjaNadika, a transwoman and a lesbian. To start, I’d request Nadika to tell us a bit about her adolescence.

I wasn’t the most active person around… problem called rheumatoid arthritis. And I was quite introverted. So stuck indoors. I also had begun feeling something wasn’t right. It started a bit earlier but by the time I was 15 or so, it had solidified – the feeling that I wasn’t really exactly the boy I was supposed to be.

What/who all made you feel that you weren’t fully performing the gender role expected of you?

I don’t know if that’s how I would have put it back then. It was just the whole ‘boys got to be like this and girls like that’, that was being drilled into all of us. And my preference for not active things to do, and having some problem with how I looked. I didn’t know the term ‘dysphoria’ back then, but I think that was what it was. My school had mandatory swimming for classes up to 9th. I loved swimming but was terribly afraid of and uncomfortable with wearing the swimming trunks boys were supposed to. I couldn’t imagine going topless.

Was there anyone else in your peer group who felt like you did/understood your discomfort even if not its cause?

There may have been other kids in school who felt the same way. However, given the school environment, and possibly similar introversion, shame and stuff, people didn’t exactly seek out solace. I know I didn’t. Preferred to keep to myself, shut myself in the school library and read.

When did you first read about dysphoria?

I remember when I was about 19-20, downloading a bunch of articles and stuff from trans help forums, and going to our family physician. Asking him about transgenderism and what I could do for it. It was a difficult conversation, and basically the doctor sent me packing saying I was being stupid etc. He was a superb family physician. Quite charming. But zero exposure to gender and stuff.

Did you talk to your doctor about your sexuality as well?

Nope. Didn’t know much to ask. Also, a boy was supposed to like girls, right? Of course, by the time I’d gotten to class 12, I’d heard of homosexuals, lesbians and gays but thought that didn’t apply.

Yes. Exactly. Did you grapple with this ‘sameness’ to the assigned gender you sought to separate from?

Yup. For, well, ever. Even now. if I was a girl, I’m supposed to like boys, men. But I like girls. Have serious crushes on them. So does this mean I’m not? In @HerStoryShow, @SmartAssJen says pretty much the same thing. As a transwoman, her sleeping with/having relationships with men validates her gender. But being with women makes her unconsciously debate that.

Okay. Let’s unpack this a little bit. Why do you think this happens? And, is it necessarily a problematic thing for you?

It is problematic in a way for me to explain my choices, say, to parents when I want to come out.

What about love partners? (If this isn’t too personal a question to ask)

Well, what with one thing or the other, body image issues, dysphoria, the conditioning/upbringing I had, and whole lot more. I haven’t gotten around to love partners. I had one – um – relationshippy period which ended the minute I came out to them. I am wary of calling it a relationship, or anything else. It wasn’t the best time of my life. In a way it is a personal question and I wasn’t sure I wanted to answer.

Thank you, then. What I want to also understand from you is the ways in which you have coped with all of this. Does using language differently, help? Does creating an online/offline queer family offer sustenance?

I’d been blogging from around 2003. Later on, forums online. I’ve always had multiple identities and personas online. I had one “mainstream” blog tied to my real-world, offline, official identity and a couple of others in my “alternate” identity. Over the last 3-4 years, I’ve found some support offline too. And since 2014, when I began to come out to friends.. I now have a superb, superb group of friends – offline and online, and I am part of a few trans* and queer groups. Friends from @chennaipride have helped me define my sexuality and my gender better for myself. @SampoornaIndia has been a huge influence and a huge outlet for the kind of conversations I want to have with people.

So I want to ask one more thing. What would the reading down of #Sec377 mean to you?

A long time ago, a friend told me this: “What you allow the government to do to others, it will eventually do to you”. Allowing one set of people to live less freely than others, allowing a ‘minuscule minority’ to be oppressed just for that isn’t going to help when they come after your own liberty and rights. So for that reason alone, 377 HAS to go. Personally, it would mean the happiness and freedom of people like me, people unlike me.

Gender expectations are encountered everywhere. May be, start by undercutting hierarchy of the right kind of relationship.

Of course, it is easy to say this, feel it, incorporate it into your politics. but when it comes down to living it, people start putting road blocks. there are a whole lot of notions and beliefs, ideas to fight. can’t do it all the time and not feel tired, exhausted. sometimes you just want to give up.

Absolutely. I think part of the exhaustion derives from an added sense that LGBT is responsible for making everyone aware of the limitations of their thinking. It’s a double bind, like #sec377, puts responsibility on queer person to validate themselves, in an atmosphere that already invalidates them.

And with that, the chat came to an end with Genderlog thanking Nadja for sharing her life experiences in a conversation that they described as ‘invaluable’. Indeed, it was, what with other users getting involved too and sharing their feelings and responses with Nadja. We hope that such conversations only continue because when it comes to awareness, it’s never something that we can have enough of.

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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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