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‘I Thought I Was All Alone’: My Life As A Small-Town Gay Boy Who Killed His Identity

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My hometown of Haldwani, is the door to the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Here people from different ethnicities live in peace and harmony, engaging primarily in government services, business and agriculture. People here are industrious, progressive, educated and of course beautiful!

My childhood in Haldwani was full of treks and swimming in the river during summers. During winter, it was all about layering on two or three clothes, eating the meat of animals that my father used to hunt, and looking for firewood. Oh! The convent school I went to was in this perfect location, with a mountain range in its backdrop, Victorian architecture, the best teachers, and a record of producing toppers. My parents had chosen the best school for me with lots of dreams and aspirations for the future.

Everyone was all praise for me for being good in academics and extracurriculars but all of a sudden, I was mocked and picked on for acting ‘feminine’. I had no interests in society-defined interests and hobbies for guys. Instead, all my friends were girls. I loved dancing and dressing up as well.

It was in the ‘90s that I started doing drag. I wasn’t aware of the term back then, but I remember it so clearly: a birthday cap on my head, covered with my mother’s dupatta, another dupatta wrapped around my waist as a ghagra, and a third for a choli. I used to wear my sister’s pearl necklace and some other artificial jewellery. It made me feel calm and powerful, but that ensemble was limited within my house’s boundary.

I did not have a deep voice like other guys, and I used to be effeminate in my gestures. This got me unwanted attention and shaming from my friends, cousins, and sometimes from my sister too.

By the time I hit puberty in class V, I wasn’t just going through physical and reproductive changes. I was attracted emotionally and sexually towards the same gender when my other friends were attracted towards girls. Getting attracted towards guys was not ‘normal’ and apparently, that was not the only ‘not-normal’ thing happening to me. I distanced myself from people because as a gay teenager, I could not bear the rejection. I decided to kill that drag part of myself.

I thought I was all alone. Back then, there was no internet, no LGBTQ friendly groups on Facebook or in my city. I couldn’t even talk to my parents because they were busy working hard to make ends meet. I felt as if it was just a phase or disease which can be cured or fixed if I am determined. Hence, I started trying to walk like other guys, talk like them, and behave like them. I even picked up football (maybe subconsciously I was attracted towards footballers), and started fantasising about and flirting with girls.

It wasn’t Haldwani or its people who pushed me into the darkness; rather it was the unavailability of information, technology or resources which I could have accessed for help. Most importantly, there were no proud gay men in my city who could have eased my coming out process.

Pretending to be someone else made me do unforgivable things, made me insecure, unconfident, and dishonest. In secret, there seemed to be never-ending meaningless sexual encounters, and believe me, it was a new guy every time. I told myself I would find the love of my life this way. But how could I meet someone who would understand me and love me for who I am when I hadn’t accepted the rainbow in myself?

After more than a decade of that, I began watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, and it got me nostalgic. Seeing all these wonderful, beautiful gay men from different walks of life practising and nailing it made me regret giving up on myself.

On the other hand, it also keeps me wondering that even if I have had not given up on my drag, would I have been able to sustain it? I mean what about my family, could they be as cool and understanding as Nemis a.k.a Lactatia’s mother?

I remember the day my mother told me if I continued doing drag, then I would become like the ones at the traffic signal. That’s what she thought being a drag is all about, without even knowing what trans people in India have to go through their entire lives.

Tibetan spiritual leader HH Dalai Lama says that the most basic human characteristic is compassion. As social animals, we are supposed to be compassionate with each other. Instead, we fight with each other, hurt each other. The only way to do this is through education.

But, I am afraid. Afraid for people like me, people from LGBTQIA (or like one of my friends calls it, the “A to Z” community), because our education system does not talk about us at all – about our existence in the past or the present. How will queer kids from tier two, three, and four cities even know that they are not alone in this world, that there is nothing wrong with them?

It is crucial for us, the experienced generation of LGBTQIA Indians, to reach out to struggling kids and teenagers and realise our responsibility towards them. We must make a more well-knit community which can stand for each other when denied by our kin.

Killing my drag self and trying fitting into the normative gender roles of a guy killed the real me too. I had forgotten what being real felt like till I turned 25. And now, ever since I came out, my only priority is to find the real me, self-awareness, and to stop doing what others would want me to do. I am not giving up on my drag self this time.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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