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A Trans Man’s Letter: ‘Change My Name In Your Phone, Address Book, Your Mind’

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Dear friends and family,

As many of you know, especially if you’ve seen me in the past few months – but just as many or more of you don’t yet know, I began a huge new journey last year in July 2015. For me, this journey was a long time coming, with the seeds planted in early childhood and grown through my years in school and college.

Over the last five years, though I’ve found happiness and satisfaction without saying publicly what I’m about to say, something was always slightly off. I was never quite myself.

Finally, I found the courage to do what I had long been avoiding, thanks to my ever supporting mother, sisters, brothers-in-law and my best friend (I thank God everyday for them).

In short: I came out as transgender. This means that even though I was born biologically female, on the inside I feel like a male. I do not identify with the sex/gender assigned to me at birth.

To that end, several months ago, I started the process of transitioning, medically and legally, to make my outside (body) match how I feel inside (mind and heart). This is not a decision that I’m making lightly. I’ve felt this way all my life but fought it to the extent that I tried my best to conform to society and live as a female but I just could not do it anymore.

And it’s been a liberating experience that is already making me more genuinely myself and more happy than I have ever been in my life.

Photo courtesy of Vihaan Peethambar.

These past months, I have been living and presenting as male full time. I have legally changed my name to Vihaan Peethambar and gender to male and use he/him pronouns.

So, to put it bluntly, if we talk, I ask that you abide by that change around the clock, whether I’m there to hear it or not. Change my name in your phone, your address book, and most importantly your mind.

I’m still the same person I was before I came out, though with the aid of modern medicine, my physical appearance has changed to a great extent. But my old name and pronouns (she/her) are simply not mine anymore. I don’t identify with them, and I DO NOT respond to them. So even if it takes some extra effort, and it feels uncomfortable at first, and you slip up sometimes (in front of me or not), please put in the effort. It’s important to me and it matters in ways both big and small. I think you’ll find it’s not as hard as you might at first imagine. It just takes a little practice and a bit of patience.

Like many trans-people, I’ve had to be patient with myself too. It’s been a long road to feeling like I can share this part of myself with the world. Over the years, I’ve watched in horror as trans-people have been murdered for the apparent crime of trying to match their respective bodies with their minds. My heart has broken repeatedly as I’ve read and heard stories about trans-people pushed so far to their limits by their families, peers and society – so utterly broken by the process of coming out that they took their own lives. To be honest, I have felt that way several times.
As most things with the LGBTIQ community, things are slow but getting better, every day, month, and year at differing paces around the country and world. On that front, I will continue to be patient and I hope that in coming out, I can do my own small part in helping those who are trapped in their own battles in the ongoing struggle for trans-recognition and rights.

I am now a member of Queerala – an LGBTIQ support group in Kerala and I work for creating awareness for trans-rights in Kerala. Recently, I was a panel member (representing Kerala trans-men) at Quest 2016 – National Seminar on Queer Discourses and Social Dialogues at Trivandrum.

Big picture aside, these past few months have been the most liberating, challenging and terrifying of my life. I am more myself than ever before. At last, I honestly say that this is who I am and I’m proud of it.

The main reason I’ve waited so long to tell you all is that I just felt uncomfortable writing this post and that I really didn’t know how it would be responded to if I told you this in person. Thank you for reading this. It’s a grand step in my journey.

So hey everyone, I’m Vihaan. It’s nice to meet you… again. I hope you’ll stick around for the next chapter of my journey, and in turn, I’ll stick around for yours.

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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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