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What Do Queer Women Think Of The New ‘Bold Lesbian Love’ Video? We Find Out

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It’s late evening when I catch my mother peering over her spectacles at that new music video featuring Monica Dogra and Anushka Manchanda. You know, the one that GQ India tells us to “watch right now” or that Indian Express says is taking “same-sex love to another level.”

What are you watching?” I ask.

She pulls her headphones off and squints at me, “Some video that everyone is saying is really hot. I don’t know. I don’t get it.” On the computer screen behind her, Dogra and Manchanda’s highly polished, desaturated limbs are writhing all over each other, in a newly released music video by Mumbai’s DJ Nanok.

I am flustered and slightly embarrassed. About being upstaged by her on social media trends, that is. By now I’m curious about the video that numerous media outlets are clamouring in favour of.

But I wonder what actual queer women in India think about it.

My first impression was surprised,” says Isha, a psychology student from New Delhi, who identifies as bisexual. “It’s not everyday that you see lesbian content, and I thought the intimacy was tastefully presented, without demeaning it to a mere threesome or a one time drunk act.”

Depictions of queer love in India have not been fantastic, so the sheer novelty of “Lay You Down” was certainly compelling for many, including Richa*, a teacher from New Delhi. She said: “We hardly have mainstream representation or mainstream faces doing queer things.

But several problems immediately stood out for her, such as the fetishizing of the female body, and especially the closing scene of a teary-eyed Monica Dogra. “It’s so 1970s! This whole one tear from the side has been done in so many shitty Bollywood movies. After the wham-bam is over, you tried to jam the social message in, because you realize ‘oh wait, this [relationship] is illegal.’”

But this same closing scene had a very different impact on Saswati, another bisexual woman from Delhi. “As the gravitas grew, I could connect to it on an emotional level, rather than a sexual level,” she says. “It’s talking about a love story, and then you realize it’s not going to happen. It will also break the straight-man’s fantasy for a bit.

Many have criticised the video for reinforcing the “tragic lesbians” stereotype but Saswati thinks otherwise: “The stereotype is representative of a lot of real life! Not many queer women come from understanding families. Many of their relationships end in heartbreak only because of their circumstances, and not because of any actual problems the couple had.”

Storytelling aside, where representation is concerned, many of the women I spoke to were thrown off. In an interview with GQ, Nanok explained he wanted the video to be about “two people in love.” And he said, “then I thought why can’t it be two girls?

To Richa, this just doesn’t cut it. “That’s it, that was his ideology? He didn’t give a shit about queer representation! A realistic relationship doesn’t look like that.”

For Harnidh, another queer woman from Mumbai, “Lay You Down” left her feeling uncomfortable. “It always has to be high octane drama, high octane sex! You remember that BuzzFeed video of 20 Things Homosexuals Do Everyday? It’s just people living a normal life. Like that was far more impactful for me.”

And the choice of actors did not escape them either. “They’re the picture-postcard of ‘hot lesbians,’” continues Harnidh. “Like they’re so other-worldly that they’re lesbians, and just unachievable in all ways.”

And there is some danger in depicting lesbian love this way. Richa thinks this could backfire horribly: “If the first impression of two queer women you’re giving to people is a sexualized version, that could really send out the wrong message. The average viewer who has no idea how a lesbian relationship works will think this is all that these women do, because their relationships aren’t as concrete as heterosexual ones.

But queer feminist Rituparna thinks everyone is taking this video way too seriously. “I found it hot,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Even heterosexual love making scenes aren’t so open. It was very bold for both of them to do these roles, and in this age of censorship!” But that being said, Rituparna added: “I don’t see this video as representative of queer women’s desire, or of lesbian women’s invisibility. Even when Deepika Padukone’s ‘My Choice’ came out, everyone took it too seriously, as if our life is dependent on these videos! Let us not put too much onus on Bollywood, or videos, to change things.

Alright, so the music video isn’t going to usher in a brand new way of thinking. But my conversations with these women has certainly highlighted several aspects of the video. Indian audiences have had to deal with films like “Girlfriend,” a 2004 flick featuring Isha Koppikar and Amrita Rao, with a lesbian romance that was simply irredeemable. So if “Lay You Down” is sparking more coherent discussions than that, then hey we’ll take it.

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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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