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I’m Queer, I’m Muslim, And This Is Why I Need To See More People Like Me

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By Anonymous:

I was born in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia – and raised by conservative Hanafi Muslim parents, who, however, believe in modernity. They do not follow traditional cultural practices like pardah, and they do not frown upon the intermixing of people from different communities. I belong to a “doctor family”, with both parents being medical practitioners, and my elder siblings choosing the same field. But then there’s me, 21-years-old, Muslim, and queer.

I was a ‘closet kid’ in more ways than one. I would literally avoid contact with people. I was reserved, hated crowds, and cried if I was around too many people at once. But more than this, it was my interests that made me “unusual.” Growing up I was not a “sporty” kid. I was attracted to children’s kitchen kits, dollhouses, and toy animals. This was highly unwanted, and I recall my parents refusing to buy them for me, saying they were ‘girly’. To this very day, I still get teased by my aunts and uncles for my avid love for kitchen sets!

As Muslim kids, we aren’t really given ‘The Talk’ at home. Instead, I learnt all about sex from my male crushes at school. I studied in an all-boys school, but in case you’re wondering, no, that was never the reason for why I am queer! For the longest time I thought that my sexuality was a phase and it will be over once I become ‘masculine’. At the time, masculinity and ‘being a man’ to me meant standing up to schoolmates who bullied me. The bullying lasted for three years, while my parents did absolutely nothing, least of all encourage me to fight back.

Visiting India during vacations meant interacting with extended family. Of my 13 cousins, I was closest to one. I used to write letters to her, and her role as a sister and friend mattered a lot to me. That spark was never there among, say, the female friends I had in my school bus. And it was something I really needed.

Life quickly changed when and I moved from Riyadh to start college in Bangalore. Coming back to India, I realized that here I could explore new-found freedoms; I could explore my sexuality. But keeping in mind “religion” and “being sane”, I was unable to.

In my second year of college, in the year 2016, I discovered PlanetRomeo, a gay dating site. I made my account, and realised being there made me happy and secure .

Now fast forward to October of the same year. My sibling found out about my identity when she went through my phone and foundmany NSFW (‘not safe for work’) texts to various people. Naturally the news reached my parents, and they reacted badly. Thus began a phase of immense torture that lasted until April 2017. I had almost no access to the internet or to a smartphone. I was put under house-arrest, monitored constantly. Thanks to my brilliant doctor parents, I underwent various kinds of conversion therapy – an attempt to ‘convert’ me ‘back’ to heterosexuality. One of these included taking hormones to ‘fix’ me. And though I have stopped taking hormones now, my mental health is in a mess as a result of this so-called therapy. I also underwent religious cleaning and exorcism to “remove the female jinns” from my body which were, apparently, attracting men to me, and me to them.

For me, religion and sexuality were like oil and water. They never mixed. I was in a constant state of struggle while trying to come to terms to it. This made me feel like my queerness was a “disease”.

Then it so happened that I stumbled upon The Queer Muslim Project in March 2018 where I found out that here were other queer Muslims too! This gave me a huge sense of peace. What’s more, I learnt about a one-day consultation on LGBTQI Muslim issues in India being jointly organized by The Queer Muslim Project and Aneka in Bangalore on May 13. I’m super excited to be a participant! I believe this is a positive step towards building inclusive communities and creating support systems for those who are disadvantaged by their religious and sexual or gendered identities in our country.

It’s so vital to have a safe space like this for queer Muslims. The lack of any such space for queer people as a whole leads to so many ending their lives for not being understood, not being accepted by family and society, and feeling loneliness and isolation.

My journey took a positive turn when I found a community and when I realised I had the power to reconcile my different identities. Today, I can say I am proud of being queer and Muslim, because only God can judge me. And in His eyes, I am not abnormal, unclean or evil. I am just me

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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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