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I Was Sick Of The Same Old LGBTQ Storylines, Then I Found This Show

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It was quite by accident that I found one of the best queer TV series I’ve ever seen. A 400×300 pixel video running on auto-play in the ads section under an article I had been scrolling through. A chance glitch that hung the web-page, and forced me to watch the first two minutes of the show, and by then I was hooked.

Called “Falling for Angels”, the six-episode series is produced by Here TV, an American television network exclusively for LGBTQ storytellers, filmmakers and performers. The theme song is a kitschy number, with an orb of light making its way through five Los Angeles neighbourhoods. The show is divided geographically by these neighbourhoods, like Boyle Heights, Koreatown, or Malibu, which lend their names to each episode. But the spatial diversity is just the backdrop. Here’s what makes this show so special.

Gay = Pretty White Boys?

Sometimes you wonder if the bigots aren’t on to something when they call homosexuality a ‘western import’, because nearly all the media we consume about queerness is dominated by young, white, cisgender male faces. Very rarely do you find queerness represented as a nervous Taiwanese man knocking on his date’s front door, or an African-American artist trying to make sense out of masculinity through his spoken word poetry. But the lives of queer people of colour are front and centre in this series!

This is important because even in the gay community, standards of attractiveness, desirability and success are defined by the most privileged group in America – white cisgender men. And there is a huge need to move beyond that.

Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Sad Gays

LGBTQ storylines have infamously been about victimhood, separation, and even death (‘Bury your gays’ tropes, anyone?). But there are no tragic characters in “Falling for Angels”. Instead of harping on the isolation and discrimination of gay men in a homophobic world—which has been done to death—the shows follows far more interesting, relatable or even mundane occurences. Such as a couple overcoming a period of unfaithfulness; a couple bumbling awkwardly through a threesome and then deciding it’s not for them; having a friend you can complain to about your partner; two men who have been married to each other so long they’re bickering just like we’ve seen our parents do. It’s refreshing to see gay people going through the motions, rather than being turned into an astounding symbol of oppression.

Gaycism

The episode set in Koreatown exposes the prejudices against Asian men in gay dating culture. There is an alarming number of gay men who specify “No Asians!” in their bios when looking for hook-ups. And even if it isn’t said in so many words, it’s often implied. What’s worse, this prejudice is so common that it becomes internalised. In this episode, a Taiwanese-American, raised in a white neighbourhood, is forced to confront his own ‘gaycism’. He is later put on the spot when his date says, “You rejected me as soon as you saw my Korean face. But I get it. You’re a self-loathing Taiwanese-American that isn’t attracted to other Asians. You bitch about other people not being attracted to Asians but you’re not attracted to Asians yourself!” His date goes on to drop another truth-bomb about the lives of queer men of colour can be so utterly bereft of self-love: “There’s a metamorphosis that happens when you’re having sex looking into someone’s eyes that look like your own.”

Navigating Intimacy

In the same episode in Koreatown, the Korean character expresses his discomfort with intimate gestures like kissing, saying he isn’t interested in commitment or attachment. This of course lends itself to interesting interpretations about how masculinity influences intimacy, or whether queer people have the liberty or security to be in long-term relationships.

Yet another theme is about how physical closeness may plummet with time, as it happens with two men who have been married ten years. The pair have to then face something so many couples do – that feeling of “Well, what now?”

The episode I found most interesting was when a couple welcomed a third, much younger person into their relationship. This initially causes more trouble, until the trio address their feelings of jealousy and get comfortable with how polyamory works.

The Ending

The sixth episode is warm and fuzzy. Set in sunny Malibu, the characters are gathered together for a wedding. Partners that struggled through infidelity, feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and more are seen holding on to what’s most important to them—each other. Here we see all five storylines converge, joined by two additional examples of a positive queer relationships.

There is nothing characteristically “gay” about the show apart from the fact that it includes same-sex couples. There is no fetishising of queer bodies, no family drama (read: parents hurting or disowning queer children), no unhappy break-ups à la “Blue Is The Warmest Colour”. Bonus: no bisexual erasure!

Increasing the number of LGBTQ people we see in our media can only do good. Daniel Franzese, an actor on the show, strongly believes in this. Currently the ambassador for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, he claims that screen-time has actually influenced healthcare! “Each year that a story wasn’t being told,” he explains, “we saw a rise in new [HIV/AIDS] infections.”

Last year’s GLAAD media report found that out of 901 primetime show characters, only 6.4% were identified as queer. And this was the highest figure yet! It’s disappointing to say the least. Maybe we ought to have more networks like HereTV to help change things!

Far from offering a slice of glitzy gay life from the West, “Falling for Angels” kicks hard at stereotypes, and propels itself into being a sensitive, multidimensional and brave anthology of stories.

And I think everyone should definitely give it a shot.

Created by Shambhavi Saxena

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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.

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Read more about the campaign here.

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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.

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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