By Ritika Ghosh:
Till 2016, the only conversations I had around gender and sexuality were influenced by my course in English literature. The conversations we had in college were usually completely theoretical and everyone would constantly try to one-up each other. My professors encouraged my feminist politics and thoughts – but even then, I was never sure or comfortable enough to assert myself in my home, college or social circles. I felt like I didn’t have the ability to translate the conversations I had in the classroom into something I could use in the other parts of my life.
I felt this most strongly when a few friends of mine and I used to go to the college gym – only to notice a few boys ogling us while we were working out. It reached a point where all my female friends and I decided to go in a pack to the gym in order to feel safe.
One morning, I asked a friend to let me know when they were planning to go to the gym. She only laughed at me, saying that I had nothing to worry about because no one was interested in harassing me. I remember the stinging hurt, but I also couldn’t help but think that maybe she was right, that no boy would harass an overweight girl.
It is only now that I realise how messed up it was that we equated harassment with being desirable – and not with the violation of our bodily integrity.
In my third year of college, I volunteered with the YP Foundation without knowing what to expect. The few months of training I went through shifted my attitudes and knowledge on issues like sexuality, caste, queer politics and governance.
When I look back, the dominant feeling I carried during the training was of discomfort – not just because the conversations I had with the other volunteers pushed me out of my comfort zone, but because it also forced me to take a hard look at my own prejudices and judgment, and even about myself. When I finally started working with adolescents from marginalised communities, I changed in ways which I couldn’t even have anticipated. I stopped going into these communities intending to ‘help’ them – because the more I talked to them, the more I understood that we are not messiahs.
Everyone is entitled to information to make better choices about their own bodies.
I remember a conversation I had with a girl during a session on violence and rape. She nervously came to me afterwards and told me that her uncle makes sexual advances towards her when drunk. She went on to ask if she had the right to say ‘no’ to him, or if she would be punished for doing that. In the long conversation that followed, we talked about how she is well within her rights to say ‘no’, and also about how she could keep herself safe from him.
A version of this conversation came up in a different part of my life. Once, while chilling in college in a mixed group of friends, one of the girls in the group talked about being touched without her consent at a party. While my first reaction was concern, the guys in the group made a few jokes, told her to lighten up, and not to talk about such ‘heavy things’ while they were trying to have a good time. I remember the look on her face at that moment. There wasn’t a lot I could do then – but I made it a point to let her know afterwards that I would support her with whatever she needed to get through the incident.
Giving – and getting – comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) has forced me to examine the ‘boxes’ in which I tend to put other people around me. Having conversations with others about ‘sex’, ‘pleasure’, ‘choice’ and ‘body’ has also caused a significant shift in the way I talk to myself about my own body. Now I know that a lot of the shame and disgust I used to feel was not accidental.
We have to unlearn the layers of stigma around ‘desire’ and ‘pleasure’ – something that can often take a lifetime.
Above all, the feeling I have carried all my life is that I wish that these were things that someone had talked to me about, in a safe and respectful way, while I was growing up.
The author is a TYPF Peer Educator and Youth Advocate, and has been working with TYPF since 2016. She graduated from Delhi University in 2017.
The YP Foundation’s KYBKYR campaign 2.0 is a continuation of the Know Your Body, Know Your Rights campaign that we ran in 2010–2011. KYBKYR 2.o focuses on the need for young people to have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights information that is fact-checked, evidence based, and sex-positive. The campaign provides resources that assist young people to advocate for access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) with the decision-makers and authority figures in their lives, including family members, teachers, and administrators in educational institutions.
This post was originally published on www.theypfoundation.org.
Do you have an experience you’d like to share? Tell us your stories about talking about sexuality and sex, and why you think sexuality education is important! Write to [email protected] with your story, or tag your YKA article with “Know Your Body, Know Your Rights”.