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I Googled ‘Transgender’, ‘Transmasculine’, ‘Non-Binary’, And Found Home

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By Andy:

As the 10th Delhi Queer Pride concluded this year, I began looking back at my own decade-long journey as a queer person, who has spent most part of their life living in the capital city

I remember a time when I was severely depressed but had no way to address or even acknowledge it. Thankfully, however, I had built enough emotional awareness and sense of courage and self-care to be able to understand that I needed to do something for my “gay self”. It was circa 2009. I wanted to see gay people. Delhi (and a few other cities, I believe) had already organised its first pride parade in 2008. I had read about it in the newspaper, while desperately searching for an acronym called “LGBT”. A year later, I realised that I must attend a Pride parade. I joined Facebook, found a couple of “LGBT India” groups and went around asking if anyone was attending Pride.

It may seem a bit weird but that’s how queer people find community. Doing so was hard, and it still is for many people. I have had privileges that made things so much easier – living in an urban set-up, coming from English speaking middle-class and upper caste background. Perhaps we should not compare our troubles but perhaps also, we must count our blessings and use every inch of our privilege to further the voices that find no space. I spent the next few years finding and building my own queer circle – “gay friends”, as I called them. One of the gaps that I noticed back then was the lack of any spaces for younger, college-going queer people. There were some events that happened in the city once in a while, but they remained out of reach for me because of monetary constraints and because they happened too late in the evening. I simply wanted a space where I could talk about myself with others who were going through similar issues – something as simple as discussing my crush or how to come out to straight friends at my engineering college. So, with this bunch of gay friends I made, we took first steps towards starting a space for younger people and called it Queer Campus. A lot of my personal growth as a queer person happened because of the effort we put towards nurturing this space and the support it received from the larger queer community.

Taking first steps into finding and building queer community in Delhi was great but I didn’t think I could live in Delhi long-term as I wasn’t out to my family. After much effort and churning, I had opportunities to relocate and there are two significant lessons that I learned from my journey away from the city I always called home – one is on gender and the other on finding sustainable support as queer people falling outside all forms of conventional societal structures.

I’ll start with gender. Over the years, as I got more comfortable with my non-heteronormative sexuality, and as the emotional barriers to feeling romantic came down, the questions around my gender and my own comfort around my body started revealing themselves. I have called myself gay/lesbian, soft butch, stone butch; so, as one can observe, I transitioned from simply asserting my sexuality (gay/lesbian) to finding a way for asserting my gender expression (butch), while also expressing discomfort around my body (stone butch is a label for people/lesbian women who present masculine and don’t like to be sexually touched by their partners). What did bother me was the fact that all the labels I used ended up being associated with the “woman” gender and this was when I felt like I was not only questioning my gender expression but also my gender identity. I found some comfort in describing myself as masculine-of-center, and genderqueer; however, I still didn’t know if I could use any pronouns apart from he/she.

Medically transitioning was like a possible but unimaginable dream in my head – how could I transition if I were not a transgender man?! This was the status quo for many years until a friend told me on a lunch date that I could transition even if I did not identify as a trans man. I went home and googled “transgender, transmasculine and non-binary”. And, I found home.

Being transgender and non-binary is still not a voice that finds much echo within the queer community in India. So, I’ll say this – gender is not binary, it is more than a spectrum and if you really want to understand it, think of it as a 3D space-time continuum. Queering my gender meant I have no sexuality labels that I can relate with. Or as a popular meme says, “When you are non-binary, every attraction you feel is gay“. Perhaps I can live with that.

On the second point regarding finding support outside of societal structures – somewhere between moving cities and running away from my family, I started feeling like I had no friends. I had just moved to Bangalore and hardly knew anyone. My dating history had never been great and none of my romantic relationships had ever lasted for more than six months. After almost a year of feeling isolated and painstakingly trying to connect with people, I finally found some sense of friendship and camaraderie. And this is what I learnt – I feel like as queer people, we must get used to a more nebulous sense of community than the usual anchored “family” like community that we are used to. For me, the characteristics of family come from a defined sense of responsibility and the fact that these people in your life are “always” there. I am not sure if friendship-oriented, ‘chosen’ families work like that. Relationships evolve, people leave and one has to make efforts to reconnect. And it happens over and over. This is a helpful perspective to keep as we individually and collectively build and sustain our communities as queer people.

Photo courtesy of QGraphy. For representation only.

Circa 2017 – I am with a bunch of people, all preparing to go for pride. Some of them are fussing over make-up and saaris, while my rainbow tie holds me in good stead. I feel like I have come far from wanting to go to pride because I wanted to see gay people. Am I even gay anymore? Well, jokes apart, it has been journey that has shaped not only my identity and politics, but also my sense of community and belonging.

Here’s to 10 years of being queer and being here.

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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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