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Why I Wish I’d Seen This Show In My Teens

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A cheating parent, a weirdo younger brother, and a monster crush on somebody who’s ‘bad company’ – it’s a clusterfuck of clichés that usually scream “unoriginal content” when it comes to any show made after the “Freaks and Geeks” era. And yet, all of this is easy to overlook in the 2005 UK TV series “Sugar Rush”. Why? Because lesbians. Among a few other things, that is.

Chock full of very British humour, and a soundtrack that takes you back a decade,“Sugar Rush” follows the lives of 16-year-old Kim, and her sexually forthright and hedonist classmate, Maria “Sugar” Sweet. And it’s set in none other than Brighton, UK’s gay capital.

Win For Representation!

The show’s portrayal of “women-loving-women” is what really did it for me. To quote a friend of mine, queer women are pretty starved for representation – and no, “hot lesbians” on RedTube do not count.

Between “Girls in Uniform” (a highly regarded German film from the ‘30s) and the award-winning lesbian vampire romance web series “Carmilla”, few mainstream productions have brought queer women into focus, much less teenagers. So premiering a year after the smashing success of “The L Word” – that holy grail of lesbian pop culture – “Sugar Rush” was really breaking new ground with characters that young.

As a result, the show pretty much discards the idea that you have to wait to be a certain age to be sure of your sexual orientation.

A still from the show.

Win For Female Sexuality!

The series opens with Kim masturbating to the thought of Sugar. For a moment it throws you off, but then you realise that in a global culture of telling girls to deny their desire, this is nothing short of revolutionary.

Across literature and film (and even real life!), there’s no dearth of male characters who enjoy their libido. In comparison, there are few narratives that show women doing the same. Yes, “Orange Is The New Black” boldly broached the subject in 2013, but “Sugar Rush” had already done it eight years prior.

Not only does Kim take her pleasure into her own hands, she approaches her impending homosexuality (LOL) in a way that is very very different from what we’re used to seeing. The usual doom and gloom that surrounds most coming out stories is happily absent from this one. In fact, our plucky protagonist goes on to (spoiler) have a string of girlfriends, and by season 2 she’s successfully navigated Brighton’s gay scene.

Win For Well-Written Characters

Kim’s makes various (and consensual!) forays into sex while exploring her identity, but at no point does this become the sole purpose of her life as a (gasp!) lesbian.

In fact, while most media finds it difficult to tell stories about queer people in a way that isn’t reductive, “Sugar Rush” rises to this challenge is a great way.

There’s a trope of ‘tragic lesbians’ who either break up, or die (really!?), and this series makes every attempt to steer clear of it. That isn’t to say that these characters don’t all go through periods of conflict. In fact, the show’s exploration of Kim’s relationship with Sugar, her mother Stella, and her first proper girlfriend Saint are particularly striking.

Much of the first season is taken up by Kim trying to work out her dynamic with Sugar. While on the one hand, she is attracted to her irreverent and self-absorbed friend, she also begins to see the parts of their relationship that are toxic and exploitative. And all of this contributes to a character arc that is captivating while still being believable.

Kim’s conflict with her mother also raises a lot of questions about how women are often cast in domestic roles that just don’t suit them. And Kim’s relationship with Saint shows us a whole new side of our protagonist as she goes through stages of jealousy, insecurity, and forgiveness.

The show has a lot of other great stuff to offer as well, from a Thelma and Louise style car chase towards, to Kim’s brother’s cross-dressing. But, disappointingly, “Sugar Rush” was cancelled after its second season and has not been revived in the 12 years since its release.

Even then, in its 20-episode run, it gave queer women a complex and fleshed out narrative that was a long-time coming. And I can’t help but think I would have loved to watch this show back when I was a high school student, trying to figure myself out, just like Kim.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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