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A Letter To You, From A Young Indian Trans Woman

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By Pink Fluid for Cake:

What you see or, what language does not tell.

To the man who sits on the bus and smiles patronizingly, what do you see? I curl up, into myself a little more, hoping what you perceive isn’t too bad. I mean, as far as a generic boy would look, not too shabby? Right? I mean, yeah so my lips are red and my eyes are a little darker, but what the heck. An odd little boy, yes? At a certain age, when these things pass. You experiment, it happens.

No. Not really. I’m a girl.

What a joke.

To the conductor who looks at me when you think I do not notice, what do you feel? Curiosity? Fear? Amusement? A mixture of these and more?

To the people who stare as I walk by, are you wondering what the hell I’m doing? What my life is like? Because I wonder about you, all of you. All of your lives. What you’ve been told.

What your mother told you, what your father told you.

What your language told you.

What your science told you.

What common sense told you.

What ‘felt’ right.

What you see is what you get is what you see is what you get is what you always, always see.

No escaping the manual.

To the woman who I met one evening, down a dark side alley, when I was lost. I had asked you for directions and you had been afraid, so very afraid. You had frantically waved your hand in a random direction and walked quickly on. I had felt sadness catch at my throat. I realized you were afraid, how could you not be? You saw a man, whereas I was hopeful of a fellow being. I realized almost instantly after I had hailed you, but forever too late by then, of what you see. A random male coming to you asking for directions in the dark is trouble. Of course.

In my sadness I had walked where you had pointed, simply to make something of the attempt you had made to aid me as best you can and protect yourself. I do not resent you. I am sad for the situation is far too familiar to me. Yet not one I had ever in my dreams imagined I would cause.

I would’ve fallen into your arms, crying, begging you to believe me that I was afraid too, just as much as you.

I feel so big. So stupid and over-sized. Cumbersome. My hands, my feet, my head, my nose, my face. So out of place. I wonder what you’d expect in a woman and I know it isn’t this. I know it’s something else. Something that is the not-me, the not-I.

I mean, sure you’ll say you’re not judging by body type, but isn’t the phallus hanging from between my legs a little bit too much of an inconvenience? Isn’t that stretching it a bit too far? Isn’t there a line your parents told you that you just cannot possibly cross?

To my dearest, loving friends. What do you see? Each day at campus, you hail me. You respect me. You do me the just service of listening to who I am and attempt in your own ways to adhere to it, this identity. Or you do not, perhaps, do any of the above, but only smile and wave.

But I wish you’d look at me.

No, I mean, really take a look at me.

I have heard of the gaze of those who I desire, who I do the infinite disservice of the generalization simply, of men. And I have seen you, who for simplicity’s sake call yourselves men drive my compatriots into a frustrated frenzy, with your gaze. Yet I have never seen the heated look of one of you directed at me. There are those who are sickened by your constant expectant eyes, that range forever in search of the Other, the other shoe of the pair that fits.

Beside me, away from me, behind me, in all possible directions your eyes rove, but never do they fall on me.When I was younger, I would go around telling those whose curiosity would be aroused, that I once had a lover one beautiful summer, that it was short-lived, that he left me come summer’s end. Tragic, the perfect nauseating tale we see as something to be impressed by, or so I thought. Stupid, pathetic, indulgent me.

In truth, I did what many of us do, in order to cope, to make do. I lied.

Judge me, it is inevitable to do so, a human condition that you cannot really help. But moderate that judgment in the knowledge that I too am a human being like you, yet one who has never, ever been approached by any one, ever, who would have come up to me to let me know that they were moved by my presence. That their body burned by my side.
I live, I breathe, I desire.

Yet I stand erased. There is no looking there where you can find nothing. Nothing of note, of interest.

Oh, I have been looked at, of course, you cannot escape being looked at, of course not. Scorn, ridicule, confusion. Even the eyes of the molester who wishes to smother my body under his hands.

I wonder. Is a woman all that exists between her legs? On her bosom? Is her body all that you ever see? Is her lilting voice all that serenades you? Is there no varying this constant pattern that somehow is now inscribed in the very core? I do not know. I do not expect you to know.

What I do know is I will probably stand here till the very end, as all things must end. And I will marvel at life, at your efforts, your struggles and your stories.

And you will not see me.

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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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