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What A Messed Up Relationship Between Shame And Sexuality Is Doing To Us

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By Omnl Chow:

Journeys on metro trains are always interesting and harassing in new ways. From cold gazes and warm sweaty hands wanting to grab my skin, to inquisitive minds and fingers that pull on my hair – my entire body, for most of the eyes in the compartment, is a fascinating biological and social question. One that is wrong and disgusting, one that is worth-exploring, one that is different, creepy and undefined, one that doesn’t fit their normative traditions and cultures – but at the same time, appears bold and shameless. And somehow, this shamelessness seems to mean that bodies like (but not limited to) mine are overtly sexual bodies.

This relationship between shame and sexuality translates into misinformation, stereotypes and skewed attitudes towards people under the LGBTQIA+ banner. It’s funny how when it comes to queerness, there is both misinformation and a simultaneous complete lack of information! I feel that there is no room for conversation around identities that do not fit the ‘normative’ – and through this silence, the oppression is deepened, which often leads to depression.

Across our histories and pasts, people have made arguments about how we are all equally human – and these arguments have paved the  way for better representation, and maybe the accommodation of different ideas, opinions and expressions, only to a certain extent. But, it is not all that simple. The stigma associated with being LGBTQIA+ is deep-rooted. Our identities challenge the fundamental unit of society – the family. The box of heteronormativity is something that we as a society keep intact, because acceptable gender norms provide us with some privileges that help us manoeuvre our everyday lives.

We need to realise how individuals, different or same, are still equal. We need to respect people’s personal choices that don’t generate any kind of violence. We need to talk about the kind of discrimination LGBTQIA+ individuals face on an everyday basis, and what effects this has on them.We need to create open, and if possible, safe spaces, where such individuals can come together and talk about personal struggles and the need for support groups.

We need to stand up against this right-wing hyper-masculine brigade – which wants to suppress those who are already suppressed and also wants to make criminals of consenting adults of the same sex who love each other. We need people to not care about ‘random people’ and their opinions. We need to be more inclusive as a society and as a community to accommodate as many people, identities and ideas as we can. We need to talk and we need to question!

The current scenario is bad – many people are being killed, raped and discriminated in the name of political agendas, religious beliefs and ‘culture’. More visibly, many LGBTQIA+ people, especially ‘trans’ identifying people, experience discrimination that’s so serious that they are often denied employment, accommodation, entry to public places and more. The constitutional recognition of the ‘third gender’ sounds progressive only on paper – such legislations and amendments have almost no effect on how people choose or think.

Another related, important – and yet, the most neglected issue – is that of mental health. Often, we never know what to do, what to say or whether to say anything at all, when personally confronted with such situations. We don’t talk about it and we don’t learn about it. I think we can learn from such experiences by putting ourselves in their position, and by trying to feel what the situation could have made them feel. On the other hand, there are times when it’s better not to try this at all, because certain situations might be beyond our imaginations. But dealing with mental health in a sensitive and comforting way is very essential.

Even while we lack good information about these issues, ‘gender’, ‘sexuality’, and ‘mental health’ are now ‘hip issues’ in popular media. Many people want to write on these topics – and often, without reading up or knowing about them. These representations perpetuate outdated attitudes and misconceptions – and many a time, corporate organisations mint profits by superficially appearing to support a cause, while oppressing a different community to do so! This is their hypocrisy. This is our hypocrisy.

Popular representations of queer identities seem to give people the license to assume people’s sexual orientation/identity/interests by reading their gender expression, which is absolutely bizarre. Even as I type this, I’m busy scrolling through Facebook, looking at the profiles of people I know and people I knew in school. All that these faces remind me of is the bullying and commenting I faced in school and the hurt I felt. All of this leads me to think that we have to start talking about queer identities, about mental well-being and empathy from the school level itself.

All we need to do is initiate thinking and questioning about what society has to offer, and create an open and sensitive environment for the marginalised and the oppressed to voice themselves.

The author is a TYPF Peer Educator and Youth Advocate.


Design: Kruttika Susarla

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.


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Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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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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