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Finally! A Famous YouTuber Talks About Asexuality, Offering Much Needed Support!

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The YouTube landscape has undergone numerous changes since the days when it still said “broadcast yourself.” Many of us spent a significant part of our teens watching folks from around the world showcase their talents on it. It was also a time when a signature brand of youth-targeted humour was emerging with the slapstick, often overdone routines of Smosh, Ryan Higa, Jenna Marbles and others. But as much as I loved the comedy, I was also put off by a lot of its casual homophobia (I’m looking at you, Shane Dawson). Of course, in the years that followed, part of the changing YouTube landscape also meant a growing sensitivity towards the LGBTQ community, and there is now a large presence of out-and-proud vloggers like Troye Sivan, Tyler Oakley, and Joey Graceffa. Heck, even Shane Dawson came out as bisexual, and has since embraced his identity.

But even in that friendly and accepting environment, the topic of asexuality was seldom broached. Asexuality is a valid orientation defined by a lack of sexual attraction, but it’s just not as well known as ‘lesbian,’ ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ or ‘trans.’ As a result, you don’t get to hear about it very much. Sure, there was Swank Ivy’s series, “Letters to an Asexual,” but it never really got the traction it deserved. So when London-based vlogging sensation Dan Howell’s video ‘Internet Support Group 8’ addressed asexuality, it was an important moment.

The video follows the same format as its predecessors – Howell takes a few questions from his massive fan following, balancing out some of the more bizarre ones with a shot of vodka. ‘Internet Support Group’ was started four years ago as an interactive series, during which Howell and his viewers could all share in the swirling vortex of awkwardness that is human life. And it makes for a fun watch. But when he got to 16 year old Sierra’s question about coming to terms with being asexual, I almost did a double take.

Once again I am a lost sock in the dryer of life trying to find the place I belong,” wrote Sierra – it was funny, but also incredibly familiar to me, and, no doubt, to all asexual-spectrum people. She talked about facing rejection from both straight as well as queer people, which has been almost characteristic of the asexual experience. At this point, I was fanning my eyes, mentally reaching for this Canadian teenager thinking, “Oh my god, I’ve been there, I feel you,” but then a sudden anxiety crept over me.

While Howell gives out some pretty solid advice from time to time, he can also be uber dismissive of some of the questions. Usually it’s because the question is so inane he has to shut it down with that trademark dry humour of his. But given how little known asexuality is, I wondered if Sierra’s question was also going to be quickly glossed over or laughed at.

However, Howell really comes through. After a customary two fingers of Smirnoff, he opens his advice with a warning against making generalizations. Then he talks about the importance of understanding human difference, of loving and accepting yourself, and not giving into the hate. The whole sequence is only about half a minute long, but is incredibly affirming not just for the teenager who asked this question, but for literally anyone watching.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InTZfnNyLIQ]When a public figure like Dan Howell, with over six million subscribers, recognizes and normalizes an identity that is as contested and reviled and poorly understood as asexuality, it means something. It means that of the one million people who saw that video, at least a fraction might have gone back and googled the word “asexual,” and maybe another fraction discovered something about themselves, or about their close friends, or a relative.

And it certainly meant something to these twitter users as well:

Interestingly, the same video carried some comments about safe sex and STDs, because Howell does actually deliver on the “support” bit. In fact, he has on several occasions made his stance very clear on social justice issues. And this time, with regards to asexuality, he demonstrates a kind of effortless positivity that we sorely wish were more common, both online and offline.

So Dan Howell, you may not realize it yet, but what started out as your fun, kitschy segment, has, in its eighth instalment, provided a rare form of support to asexual kids online. And we’re sure glad to have it.

Cue asexy end-screen dance.

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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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