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I Am Not Your Petri Dish: Dealing With Transphobia In College

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By Kabir Trivedi:

I still remember when I first read about the Orlando nightclub shooting. On the morning of June 13, I opened my phone to read the words ‘gay’ ‘shooting’ ‘nightclub’, ‘49’. I began to get a pain in the pit of my stomach, the kind you get when someone you love abandons you; the kind that spreads until you can feel it in your fingers. I thought it would leave, and I would get back on track with my college applications and career track. But months passed, and that nasty feeling kept coming back. After all, it wasn’t as if a friend had left me. 49 had.

Queerphobia is, in its definition, a fear or hatred of queer and LGBTQIA+ spectrum people. But I think this definition needs to be rewritten. Queerphobia is the reason we lose our friends to vicious murders (the instances of which are too many to name) or suicide such as our dear friend Pachu, a 22-year-old transgender man we lost this week, who could not even have his gender affirmed in the press coverage about him. They called him “she”. He was a man.

Pachu, a trans man who recently committed suicide because of transphobia. Source: Facebook.

Queerphobia is every look, every comment that makes our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters afraid to hold their lovers’ hands in public. Queerphobia is the feeling you get of complete self-abhoration when your mother asks why you just can’t be normal. It is a monster of many shapes, ever present and ever growing, more powerful with each victim it attacks. Being a mentally and physically healthy (for the most part), immensely privileged transgender man, it may not occur to many that queerphobia can affect me. It does, immensely, and almost every day. In college, it may be the rumours spread about me or the way professors interact with me. At home, it may be the immense pressure of keeping up appearances of ‘normalcy’. On the streets of our nation’s capital (comparitively one of the safest cities for queer people), it may be stray calls of “dekh, hijri!”. But what is important to note is that if the privileges of caste, class, and religion can be transcended to make someone like me feel unsafe, it is only too easy to imagine what the daily life is for Dalit and tribal queer people, disabled queer people, or economically disadvantaged queer people.

Here, we must distinguish between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ queerphobia. Hard homophobia is easy to track; it is visible and tangible in violence, slurs, or structural disadvantages placed in our legal system (such as Section 377 of the IPC). Soft homophobia is a little harder to trace, and all the more damaging for that reason. It’s a comment here, a joke there, all passed off as ‘polite polite’. Every time you try to question it, your experience is invalidated. For me, it is the primary form of transphobia, as it is more everyday, and can even get exacerbated by this everydayness. It can hide behind the guise of “nothing’s wrong”, and make the queer person pointing it out look the villain.

As a metaphor (or maybe some sort of misplaced coping mechanism), I think the song “Home” by Lisa Hannigan applies to my experience of queerphobia. Maybe that’s why it’s on just about every playlist I make.

For me, transphobia in my college and home leaves me with a sense of alienation with my body and my personhood. I am, but I am not.

“Home, so far from home,
So far to go
And we’ve only just begun”

Every medical professional I go to has laughed at me. Every college professor has treated me as their personal petri dish, throwing in whatever name and pronoun they choose. I hide now, smoking in my bathroom while my parents think I’m at yoga. It’s the only substance that doesn’t clash with my psychological medication.

And oh, every lie we told
Is written in stone
Every lie we wrote
In our bones”

But I digress. The question was how I deal with queerphobia. I fight. I fight everyday. I sit in front of bureaucratic offices all day to meet with officers who couldn’t care less, to start the Queer Collective in my college. I correct people about my pronouns no matter how redundant it gets. I fight people who crack jokes and pass comments about my community, no matter how ugly it gets. Most importantly, I fight myself. Every time I feel like the Miranda House Queer Collective has not made a difference, I look at a card a junior gave to me. It says, “Thank you for building a community“. That card keeps me from taking steps I can’t come back from. But it’s also a testament to how much the queer community needs to be just that, a community. There would be no fight left in me had I not found my people, willing to fight by my side. People who are willing to change whichever institution they are in, and to change the world, making it a safer place for queer people everyday.

“And hold on, there’s nothing to pack
We know we’re not coming back.”

Images courtesy of Kabir Trivedi.
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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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