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My Story Of Not Identifying As A Woman And Dating Men

“The Psychoanalysis of Edward the Dyke”, Judy Grahn

I have been dating for a while. This is a weird thing to start with, but anyone who knows me well enough has made fun of how I end up dating another person soon after a breakup. I called myself a serial dater for a while, but it didn’t catch on.

Now that I’ve started this article with an embarrassing fact I think this is the right time to segue into what it’s really about: ‘boyness’.

I do not identify as a woman. I never have, and I don’t think I will. ‘Woman-ness’ seems something completely out of reach for me. I used to aspire for it, emulate the women around me and on TV, until I realised I couldn’t. Nor did I enjoy it.

I have been using the same kajal stick for five years, simply because I barely use it. I own five dresses I haven’t worn in years. I never wax or shave anything or anywhere and I’ve never threaded anything on my face. I know being a woman is much more than these physical markers but these are the most ‘tangible’ ways in which I express my identity because our society is always looking for ‘tangible’ ways to tell you what your gender is.

When I ask myself “what makes you gender non-binary?”, I don’t know how to answer except to just say – because I think I am. I work, or aspire to work, for women’s rights – but I don’t necessarily identify with the field all the time. Rather, I am passionate about assertions of bodily autonomy and choice. Coming from spaces where women I know are pushed into the roles of wife, mother and daughter without having a say in it (when and how), I want to undo this expectation that people assigned female at birth necessarily have to be the things we’ve told them to be for centuries.

Being born and brought up in Delhi, I am aware that I hold a lot of class and caste privileges. But watching my single working mother struggle for most of her life to get the respect she deserves, has taught me a lot of lessons about feminism and resilience. I started volunteering with The YP Foundation two years ago – and it was the first time I found a space to talk about sex, pleasure, desire, and identity. Though I am still shy about telling people how I personally navigate sex and physical desire, I do love writing and talking about gender – about discovering and knowing my gender more intimately, to be precise.

I am a non-binary female-assigned-at-birth, and I have dated some boys. The thing about dating boys, though, is this: they somehow always end up making me feel like a girl, and not always in a good way.

Dating is very gendered. Especially when we’ve grow up with movies, books, TV shows and everything else that is constantly trying to tell us what a ‘normal’ man-woman relationship looks like (and even in same-sex relationships, we somehow end up recognizing the ‘man’ and the ‘woman’). We inevitably learn to emulate these patterns in our relationships.

So, unless I drastically and consciously change my appearance or a part of my behaviour, anything I do is inevitably classified into some sort of gendered box, and I am seen as some ‘type’ of ‘girl’. While this is helpful for some people to figure out what their ‘type’ is, rarely am I asked about my own identity!

But I have found that when I am comfortable and intimate with someone – a friend or a partner – there is a certain ‘boyness’ that I like to embody. I have cross-dressed, switched pronouns and terms of endearment, or just changed my behaviour in these intimate spaces that allow me the safety and warmth to be myself or be a different version of myself.

I find I am most comfortable telling these closest people about my gender identity and how I navigate it, though I am easily able to ‘pass’ as a cisgender woman in most other spaces. I am still trying to figure out if ‘passing’ is a certain privilege or rather a painful censoring of my own identity. But while I am doing this, I do allow myself to be comfortably non-binary with other people who are also questioning the gender they have been assigned at birth.

With some friends who were feeling the same things, I also co-created Gender Pages Zine, and explored the opinions and art of other young people who didn’t want to be confined to certain identities, and were trying to embody something beyond the ‘male-female givens’.

With regard to love and relationships, I hope to enter the dating world someday as I am, rather than progressively ‘revealing’ these truths about myself to whoever likes me. I hope that my dating experiences in future will stop being so predicated on gendered stereotypes and rather become experiences of ‘playing’ around with identity and roles. Above all, while it can feel great to be someone’s ‘type’ of ‘girl’, I hope that dating heterosexual men or homosexual women someday will not inevitably require me to confine myself to a gendered box according to their needs.

Featured image used for representative purposes only.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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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