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From Karan To Kevin: The Unsuitable Poster Boys For Homosexuality

A few days ago, I was chatting with a friend about the whole privacy judgement given by the honourable Indian Supreme Court which it adjudicated in a rare 9-0 unanimous verdict. And somehow Bollywood producer and director Karan Johar’s name propped up (No, I didn’t bring it up!). I was asked whether and why a famed director should make his private life public. Indeed being gay or straight is hardly a matter to bring into public affairs. Why should it matter whom someone loves or sleeps with? And it’s a totally personal decision (and risk) to come out as an LGBTQ person to the world or not. Both situations and arguments in this regard are valid and sound. They are –

1) It’s basically how you are, so why should you be forced to hide it? This is the ‘I am not ashamed, neither am I a criminal’ argument.

On the contrary,

2) It’s your personal life, so why should you be forced to blow your trumpet and announce it on a public platform. This is the ‘I want to keep my private life private, it’s nobody’s business including courts or Parliament’ argument).

But here’s the catch. For keeping your life private, you don’t need to choose an excuse. Just saying it’s your personal matter should be more than enough.

Karan Johar said, and I quote from his recently published autobiography, “Everybody knows what my sexual orientation is. I don’t need to scream it out. If I need to spell it out aloud, I won’t only because I live in a country where I could possibly be jailed for saying this.” For Johar, according to his biography, the fear of getting a prison term was what ultimately stopped him from spelling it out. Numerous people from the LGBTQ community and allies decried his words. They retorted that if Johar couldn’t come out, the least he could do was to not discourage those who still wanted to come out. Innumerable people also replied that they were open and proud and yet they had never been sent to jail for who they are.

And once again, rather, unfortunately, KJo was demonized in the only way he allows and remains. The anti-hero of gay India. The person who keeps hinting and dropping signals and yet chooses not to be out. Karan is the perfect example of Schrodinger’s Cat. You will never know about his orientation until you open the closet. But the homophobia present inside would, no doubt, have already killed the cat. So you better not open it.

If you ask a Bollywood celebrity – “Hey, what’s the deal about KJo?” you would probably get the reply that it’s none of your business. That he wants us to keep quiet about his orientation. But that’s also something he has always failed to do himself. Be it on the set of his talk show where he asks every other guest ‘whom will they have a gay encounter with if they are forced at gunpoint’. Or in his movies, his sad caricatures of lonelier-than-Bhandarkar-gay men, from Kanta Ben’s disgust to Dean Yogi’s death (I don’t know whether Rishi Kapoor’s character actually dies in the movie so I’m taking a wild guess here). It is sad how his words and movies mostly end up hurting the LGBTQ struggle and showing queer people in a negative portrayal. And I disagree with this. I also believe that if we were to consider the world as an inclusive utopia where sexual orientations don’t matter and there’s no law that proscribes the act of homosexuality, a person is still entitled to keep their private life private. But what KJo is implying, only he knows. Is he waiting for the judgement on the curative petition filed by Naz foundation? Will he do it then?

The fact remains that Naz foundation did manage to create a four-and-a-half year hiatus on Section 377. And countless people, excluding KJo, chose to come out after that. This window of hope was resealed again in an unexpected shocking verdict by the apex court. Legally, we were back to square one. But actually, people didn’t stop from expressing their orientations even after December 11, 2013.

To be fair, we are still living in a world where coming out is a stressful and sometimes even hazardous decision. You will have to think about everything before you tell your parents or peers. But inch by inch, with no role-model in sight, Indian teenagers are somehow coming to terms in spite of blatant homophobia that exists in our country.

Going back to KJo, he writes, “I have become like a poster boy of homosexuality in this country. But honestly, I have no problem with people saying what they want about me.” I appreciate his nonchalance, but poster boy? And here I was of the opinion that we equate poster boys to the likes of Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich who got a blue discharge from U.S. military and a red border cover from Time in 1975. The likes of Anne Frank or Ryan White or Rosa Parks who stood their ground as the world turned.

He adds, “Twitter has the most abuse. I wake up to at least 200 hate posts saying, ‘Get out, you’re polluting our nation, you’re dirtying society’ or ‘Shove [IPC 377] up your arse.’ I get this on a daily basis and I’ve learned to laugh it off!” This is a deep problem. A problem which has no social band-aids or a shortcut solution. No matter who the person is, no one deserves online abuse first thing in the morning. On a personal level, it is detrimental to one’s psyche. The hatred is already there. And we don’t know when will it go. If even a famous director gets abused openly daily then it’s a matter of public shame that there’s still no FIRs or police enquiry for this heinous cyber-bullying. I would like that he reports them to authorities. Just for the sake of reporting and that’s that. If the daughter of a former President could stand up against cyber harassment, he surely can.

Leaving our out-but-not-out director for a moment, let’s talk about another burning issue which has stunned the world. The Harvey Weinstein scandal was just a tip of the iceberg. The #Metoo campaign has seen a cascading effect and the sexual assault done in various parts of world turned out to be a humungous Demogorgon. It doesn’t matter where your country stands vis-a-vis GDP or HDI and whether it is a developing or developed State. The pain of sexual assault we found out is universal. Its wounds pervade every age, gender and orientation. In its wake, many Hollywood heavyweights are toppling like dominoes and deservingly so.

As a fan, the most shocking among them for me was – Kevin Spacey. The two-time Oscar winner had started early in his career when he was just a Broadway actor. And when his abused survivor mustered enough courage and recently shared his story with Buzzfeed News, Spacey meekly replied with a bout of amnesia and a bland “coming out”. That he was choosing to live his life as a gay man.

The Advocate and George Takei immediately denounced what was seen as Spacey’s bid to gain sympathy and shifting the attention away from the main issue. The issue here was never the orientation but the abuse. Now when his career is in tatters, Spacey, thankfully, has announced to seek “evaluation and treatment”. But what didn’t go down well was his apparent act of conflating homosexuality to child abuse. And so I thought, why blame an Indian director for not coming out and not being able to be a role model to the countless Indian LGBTQ youth when a world-class phenomenal actor who did come out, at last, ended up taking such a damaging decision on the whole? Forced to come out at the most inappropriate time, he taught the world in a way, how exactly not to come out. And yes, there is a stark difference between an individual character and a community. And one individual doesn’t really hold the key for all, howsoever famous, influential or powerful the person may be. In between Johar’s reluctance and Spacey’s rehab, we ought not to get lost in the caricatures and the stereotypes.

Karan chooses not to come out because he says and I quote him again- “I don’t want to be dealing with the FIRs. I have a job, I have a commitment to my company, my people who work for me; there are over a hundred people that I’m answerable to and I am not ready to sit in the courts because of ridiculous, completely bigoted individuals who have no education, no intelligence.” Meanwhile, Spacey indeed may have to deal with police cases now. He did lose his job as lead actor in “House Of Cards”. Netflix severed all ties with him and his very own people – his publicist and his talent agency – ended their relationships with him. Oh! The poster boys we have! It seems Johar was right the whole time.

I am ending this rather ambiguous, gossipy, (almost sleazy) piece with what is written in Leonard Matlovich’s timeless epitaph – “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”


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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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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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