This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Jnanasiddhy Raghavendra. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Journal Entries Of A Gay Choir Boy

Dear younger me,

Pause. No, don’t stare melodramatically at me. Really, drop your guard and listen. It’s all going to turn out wonderful and beyond the horizons of your dreams. But first you will go through a lot of self doubt.

Then laziness will exacerbate the self-hate. Stay put, drag those feet along and believe in the best of people because it’s true. Your current sample size is small, so don’t start wisecracking yet and cry yourself to sleep if you must, but everything’s coming up roses, baby!

I remember the day I saw the Facebook post about auditions for Rainbow Voices Mumbai, a Mumbai-based gay choir. That was the day I knew I was going to audition.

I dreamt that I would knock the socks off everyone in the room and make one person have goosebumps. I’d steal coy glances at them and while our chemistry would get tiresome for everyone else in the choir – thinking will they or won’t they hook up – after two or three months of dilly dallying, we would finally become boyfriends and screen would be swallowed by a giant rainbow.

Except what really happened was I went in and sang a couple of songs, met people who were neither dreamy nor did they have a roguish allure. I met gay people who didn’t hit on me. David, our wonderful choir director, taught us our parts of the harmonies.

My heartbreak was shorter than my dream. A sneaky wave of familial warmth hit me only a few months in. We were getting comfortable with each other. We greeted each other with hugs and traded silly lines about each other. We sang together and at some point, we sang like we were all one person.  David said that’s the way a choir is supposed to sound.

I truly don’t remember when it was that the Pink Singers were mentioned. This time, I didn’t bite the dream bullet. They were going to visit Mumbai and sing with us. I had recently fallen hard for a desi boy who had retained his British accent from his three years of undergraduate degree and I was still reeling from how disastrous that had gone.

We met the Pink Singers months later, in January, and I instantly fell in love with their rendition of Nat King Cole’s “Love”. I was sobbing in the front seat and thinking, “What the hell is happening? Oh, they’re marvellous!”

Before they left, I managed to learn everyone’s name and got a sense of how reality can be iridescent and multidimensional and truer than dreams. Because what are dreams if not desires with tunnel vision? There were people of all age groups, sizes and shapes. There were couples and there were single people just like me. They all seemed confident. Our concert at the NCPA went great!

When we walked the Mumbai Pride together and partied after, I remember feeling lost. They were going back and I didn’t want to break away from the hugs.

Somebody said something about us needing to have passports during one of our Sunday rehearsals as we might have to go to London. My brain scoffed, “As if.”

All my plans were prefaced with a just-in-case. Just in case we did actually go, it was better that I got my passport renewed. Just in case I got the visa, I might end up going after all?

I treated the prospect of the entire trip right until we were in the check-in queue with the pretentious coolness of a guy who thought he was being checked out by someone handsome at the bar. I wasn’t going to let up. Besides, half our choir, the students, couldn’t get their visas and I felt like an impostor. It was only when we were in our seats and had raised a toast with the flight wine that I finally smiled until my cheeks hurt. It was happening!

We landed and were hugged and kissed and taken to the Pinkies’ homes where we’d be staying for the next 10 days!

My hosts were Ben and Paul, who had been married for eight years. I was meeting them for the first time in London as they couldn’t make it to India in January. Paul had asked me on Facebook what my eating preferences were and had said he couldn’t wait to meet us all. After we reached home, Paul took me out for dinner by the river before we met with the rest of the choir. Ben was at work.

The first morning after I woke up, I was sitting by the table in the kitchen watching Ben make tea for me and coffee for them both. Ben said something about school budgets. He’s a life science teacher at a school. Paul said something about taking out the trash. That moment warms me every day – when watching a married gay couple in a house talk about their lives was no longer a scene from a movie or play or just an idea.

I could go on about how each lovely day was one-upped by the next day and how all our 10 days in London were glorious beyond belief.

We marched the London Pride with the Pinkies and I got to reunite and hug all of them and make friends with the ones who couldn’t come to Mumbai. We sang and danced all our way to Trafalgar Square with people on both sides behind barricades hooting and cheering for us. Two hours of that cut a solid 100 hours from therapy in the future. We sang at Trafalgar square and I remember sobbing into Guillaume’s chest. He was way too tall and he said, “There, there,” in his French accent.

Our itinerary was stacked every day. Two or more Pinkies took days off to show us around London every day. We saw the major sights: the museum of natural history, some arrestingly beautiful public parks, Tate Museum’s gift shop (We stayed there too long and missed the museum. I know, I know! Spare me that look!), and we went to two musicals – “Kinky Boots” and “The Lion King”.  

We went on the London Eye. We went to Brighton! We sang at Ebay and Willis Towers Watson. We ate out every night and took the Tube every day. To paraphrase Rihanna, we da shit ya baby we da bomb.

It was a sea of wows and my head was spinning from all the serotonin flushes. Our rehearsals went on for long hours but we honestly didn’t realise how time flew. During one of our very first rehearsals in London, David said that if we don’t let this experience affect us, then we haven’t really lived it. I’d say we were changed and humbled and it made us giddy.

We still can’t believe our stars. We met some gorgeous souls and I know I’m not being presumptuous when I say we made some lifelong friends. The city was great, the trees were magnificent, the weather oh so kind – but the people! – oh the Pinkies are truly an unwaveringly fierce and compassionate bunch!

And so talented! They knocked it out of the park at Cadogan hall performing 15 song including choreography in one night! The audience was supremely welcoming and I almost lost my footing when we got a standing ovation even before we began to sing! We weren’t victims or bruised people, we were proud gays and lesbians and we mattered! We sang our guts out, as did the other guest choir for the evening, Out Aloud.

We danced silly that night and had a picnic lunch the next afternoon. Slowly people started saying goodbyes and tears started trickling down. By dinner, we were all a bawling, sniffling mess. My hosts, Ben and Paul, put out a cheese platter that night as Aditya, Peggy and I sifted through their photo albums and talked about choral arrangements. More goodbyes and tears followed.

Coming back to Mumbai was – I’m not going to lie to you – hard. There weren’t many times that I walked the roads in London when I was not holding or hugging one of our choir members or the Pinkies. We held hands with an immediate lack of inhibitions. It’s baffling how quickly we get used to blessings. We had a taste of spaces that did not strip us of our dignity and it was hard to leave those 10 days behind.

It was only a few days later, and after ‘hearting’ several Facebook pictures from our trip, did I gather myself and regain focus. We are all renewed. We are not alone. We have our brothers and sisters beside us! We’re powerful and driven and here to sing for our rights. We are Rainbow Voices Mumbai and we will have our voices heard! World, watch out!

 

You must be to comment.

More from Jnanasiddhy Raghavendra

Similar Posts

By Debesh Banerjee

By Rupsa Nag

By Ungender Legal Advisory

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below