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The First Time I Felt Safe Enough To Come Out As Gay Was At 28

With the hearing that Supreme Court hearings on reading down IPC Section 377 were underway, there is a desire to plan the changes our society should follow once (hopefully) homosexuality is decriminalized.

This change is very personal for me. I realised I was gay when I was 14 years old, and, of course, I did not know the nuances nor the impact that would last all my life. I, like most teenagers, was in denial and forced myself towards heterosexuality, but that did not work. By the age of 17, when I started my first year of college, I was certain that I was gay, but was unsure how to move forward. I was insecure about not being accepted, and then went online for information. There, I found physical comfort too. I had horrible and pleasant experiences but luckily nothing that would have caused any physical or mental harm. I was content with my secret life, but I could not share my emotions and feeling with anyone. I could not talk about my dating issues with friends. Most people I met online were as scared and discrete as I was and so it was difficult to form lasting friendships in the online queer community. And so I spent almost all of my early twenties in this fear of and anxiety about humiliation for being, well, me.

When I was 25 in 2009 (the year the Delhi High Court read down Section 377), I candidly spoke about homosexuality with my elder brother in one of our late-nightly chatter, in the hopes of finding some solace and a window for me to come out to him. He made snarky remarks, though, that ‘it is a choice’, and people have been ‘misled’, and the same old cornucopia of arguments that traditional society holds. I was bottled up again.

Watercolour painting by Jose Silva. Source: Facebook.

All this changed four years later, I was about 28. The year was 2014. The Supreme Court had already declared Section 377 valid again. It was after a party in Bangalore that one very good friend of mine and I went back home to continue drinking some more. Along with our drinks were also stories about office girls, his girlfriend, relationships. I had had it up to there. I blurted out—showing my helplessness over the topic of conversation—my identity. I came out to him. I simply said that I was gay. I can’t say he was shocked or surprised, he simply said “Okay, good for you.”

The night went from gloomy to better as we spoke. It was the first real conversation about my sexuality that I had had with anyone in 28 years. A mountain of emotion poured out of me. I cried, I confessed my issues. It was like my first real teenage banter, and it lasted for the next three hours. When the dawn broke, a new beacon lit my life. I finally had a confidante, a friend, and someone who did not need to reject or accept me. For him, I was me, and not my sexuality. My first coming out experience was a victory and I must say it did boost my confidence and self-esteem. My love for alcohol kept increasing with each success in coming out to one friend at a time.

Now I am in process of coming out to more people. In the last four years, I chose one friend or colleague at a time, laid the groundwork, and picked the right moment to tell them. I am not sure if society has evolved more or I was just plain lucky to have an awesome bunch of people around me. Each of them had a positive reaction. Of course, the first reaction was usually disbelief and then usual questions like “How?” “When?” “Are you sure?” But then they all came around. Each experience of coming out had its challenges for me. More than courage it was anxiety of telling, and fear of losing the friendship.

But it was friendship, not family. With family it was a different ballgame. You may end the friendship at once, but family is an intricate web of relationships and people. My brother. who is married by now and has a kid, had given me no reason to believe that he might have changed his stance on this issue. All that changed last week at a cousin’s wedding. After much deliberation and drinking four to five pegs of whiskey in a car-bar situation, I finally pulled him out for a walk and told him. I can’t lie, I welled up even before I could finish my sentences, but he had his arm around my shoulder and did not move even when the sobbing subsided. I can’t say he has totally accepted the fact or understood what exactly the act of coming out to him holds for me. But he is with me, supports me, and I guess that is what it is. That beacon of light in my window again.

At 32, I am that kid again. And, to let me live, you don’t need to understand me, you just need to love me. And love is all we seek–from law, from society, and from family.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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