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Your Gender Is Not The Clothes You Wear

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TinderEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #AllTypesAllSwipes, by Tinder and Youth Ki Awaaz to celebrate Transgender Awareness Week. Tinder now supports more ways to express gender identity by giving users the ability to add information about their gender outside the binary. Share your experiences of love, dating and authenticity here.

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?” ― Jeff Garvin, “Symptoms of Being Human”.

What Is Gender Identity?

There are two ways to answer this question.

First, we see gender as the identity that has been assigned to you at birth, after the doctors check your genitalia. They label you ‘male’ or ‘female’; it’s a binary. A lot of people do not question their assigned gender (or the identity with it). They are what we call ‘Cisgender’. Those who do question it, and who transition to the opposite gender are what we call ‘Transgender’.

People who are born with ‘non-normative’ genitalia (neither typically ‘male’ nor typically ‘female’) may be made to undergo a surgery to make their genitalia ‘normative’. It is without their consent or knowledge as it is done after a few days of their birth. They may be put in the category of ‘intersex’, a category which a lot of people think is the same as transgender. (FYI, not true!)

The second way to define the term is a person’s personal sense of identity – masculine, feminine, transgender, genderqueer, agender and so on. And this is not based on the genitalia you are born with, because people have a right to identity however they want to, duh! Here people self-identify. It happens after someone examines if their assigned gender is how they think about themselves. Some may accept the gender they were given at birth, and some may not.

Do Clothes Make A Man/Woman/Person?

Well, we have an idea of what gender identity is now. But it shouldn’t be confused with gender expression.

When we think of ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ identities, we may have a certain idea of how each looks. But is it necessary for a person to abide by the roles and appearances commonly associated with their gender? For example, can a cisgender man’s favourite colour not be pink? Can he not grow his hair out? Can a cisgender woman not cut her hair and wear pants? Of course they can! In the same way, a transgender man might love to wear skirts, and a transgender woman may hate to wear make-up. But the idea of what is ‘male’ and ‘female’ is so strict that we sometimes forget this.

What Is Gender’s Relationship With Clothing?

Since forever, clothes have been divided into a binary (by patriarchy, WHO ELSE!?). Skirts, dresses and high heels for girls. Pants, shirts, and brogues for men. And something as simple as shopping can seem like a nightmare for gender non-conforming people. This established bipolarity between two genders makes it extremely difficult for a non-binary to navigate the world of clothing.

A lot of non-binary people try to dress androgynously, which usually means finding clothes which make you look like anything but the gender you were assigned at birth. As a non-binary person myself, I find it helps maintain the ‘otherness’, as I do not want to be a part of the ‘male’/’female’ divide.

But how much of a role does clothing really play in our lives. It’s just fabric, right? Well, even our pronouns (‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’) are unnecessarily tied to the clothes one wears. The minute we see a person wearing certain kind of clothing, our bias and prejudice that comes with it is projected at that person. The person is not them but the clothes they wear. Shouldn’t you at least ask us our pronouns before assuming something based on our clothes!?

A lot of people have issues with a man wearing ‘women’s clothes’; that person might be banned from entering their college, or from a flight. He might be bullied and insulted. Interestingly, a woman wearing pants isn’t looked down upon (at least in many places in India). You can clearly see how it’s acceptable for women to be ‘masc/masculine’, as it denotes power, but it’s not okay for men to be ‘femme/feminine’, because of femininity’s association with weakness, and inferiority to masculinity.

What’s The Deal With Androgyny?

For me, androgyny is about making sure people can’t figure out the gender I was assigned at birth. I think I make for a nice mixture of what is seen as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ in our society.

Of course, we also need to understand that what is considered ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ according one particular society may not be the same in another. Scottish men wear kilts, which a lot of societies will consider ‘feminine’ dressing, as it is, after all, a skirt. On the other hand, trousers worn by women has been equally contentious. However, let’s go back to when female spies were introduced during the First World War. There, the line between what is ‘masc’ and what is ‘femme’ were blurred, and how! Over the years, many activists and artists have tried to play with the normative understanding of gendered clothing. Luisa Capetillo, a women’s rights activist and the first woman in Puerto Rico to wear trousers in public, was one of them.

So gendered phrases like “who wears the pants?” have slowly become redundant, with gender expression becoming more and more diverse.

All We Need Is Love

But not everyone got the memo on gender diversity. We should not invalidate someone’s gender identity based on how they look (if a trans boy likes wearing skirts, he’s still a boy; if a cisgender woman doesn’t shave or thread her eyebrows and upper lip, then we have no right to call her a man). It is rude. The minute someone invalidates someone’s gender identity, it feeds into the already set idea of gender polarisation. A person’s gender identity is something very integral to their sense of self. We all need to understand how distressing it is not to be accepted for who you are.

We humans have an innate need to belong somewhere and be accepted. Not being able to express oneself is one of top causes of mental health issues. Many people undergo immense stress due to this external pressure to perform the way you are ‘supposed to’.

So ask yourself this question, how necessary is it for us to put someone in a box based solely on your perception? Is the entirety of a person based on the label we give them, or they are more than that? How much discomfort do you actually feel when you see someone not adhering to the set gender norms? Asking yourself these questions might reveal how you’ve given into the socialisation you have gone through. But not to worry! It’s time to question it and become more inclusive.

Knowing more about all gender identities can increase sensitivity in our society, and also take the pressure off people of performing their gender in a strict way

Constantly trying to fit people in the way you view the world has been the reason for racism, fascism, sexism, misogyny, casteism, homophobia, ableism, linguicism, religious discrimination, xenophobia and many more. There is a definite power play. Is there a need for this hoarding of power? This ‘Us vs Them’ is the reason we indulge in these such discriminatory behaviour. To undo the shackles of gender roles that we have had to live with so far, we need to find similarities with each other. And nobody puts it better than African-American writer, Audre Lorde:

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

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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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