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I Am A Trans Woman, Loud And Proud, This Is My Story

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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.

Mona Varonica Campbell as told to Tinder:

I spoke to my dad on the phone before I wrote this, and all I really remember is “make sure you tell them loud and proud that you are a trans woman.” I don’t want to be labelled a woman, I am a trans woman, and calling me a woman diminishes my experiences. I don’t want to hide my gender, I want to live with freedom and I am very happy with who I am.

I was born and raised in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. My father worked for the government and my mother is a homemaker. As far back as I can remember, I knew that I was feminine, a girl, a woman. At the age of 3, my mother would dress my older sister and me in dresses, and never treated me as a ‘conventional’ little boy. Right until the age of 12, I felt as though my sister and I were both little girls in the way we dressed, behaved and were treated. Even though we were from a small town, our neighborhood was very supportive. No one judged me or passed any comments about how I chose to dress and behave.

I think the pivotal moment came in grade 8, when my father put me in an all-boys hostel. I was acutely uncomfortable taking a shower in common areas, boys would grab my tits and make fun of how I looked. I confided in my father about the mental trauma, how it prevented me from studying but I stuck it out for 2 years until I no longer couldn’t.

I wanted to be closer to home, shower in the privacy of my own bathroom and be as womanly as possible. My father supported me unwaveringly, shifted houses so I could be closer to a day school and went out of his way to educate my faculty, teachers, principal, new friends and peers about my gender expression. They were asked not to tease me, threaten me and were reminded repeatedly that no one should be teased for natural behaviour.

I went on to finish school, and after much familial angst, had my parents support in pursuing a degree in fashion design from NIFT in Hyderabad. In college, I had a gay friend from Assam who introduced me to dating apps, and I was hooked. I had never had any sexual experiences and was excited about discovering my sexuality. I matched with a doctor, who had a life-changing effect on my transition journey. Not only did I have his emotional support, but constant medical advice. He also educated my parents and held regular medical camps on my campus, about being trans and the science behind it. Most importantly, he treated me as a woman. At 19, I started hormone replacement therapy and my journey towards transitioning.

In 2007, I was crowned Miss India Trans Woman, and overnight I shot to stardom in Hyderabad. At this point I was faced with a choice, whether or not to go through with gender reassignment surgery. I wasn’t sure, so I put it off. In 2008, I stopped my hormones and went off to London to study further. While I was there, my boyfriend, my rock and my biggest cheerleader, passed away in an accident. It took me 6 months from this event to feel like myself again.

I had seen my future; we’d live in London, we’d get married, pay off my loans and build a happy, stable emotionally fulfilling relationship. Everything had changed now. As luck would have it, I found a job in cosmetics in Canada and decided to move. I restarted my hormones, made good money and came back to Hyderabad to start my own makeup label. At this point, I decided to have the surgery. I told my parents I had made up my mind, I wanted to feel comfortable, I wanted to feel like myself. Gender reassignment surgery is a long drawn-out process. I went back to the United Kingdom to have it, it was 3 different surgeries and took me one year to recover.

Looking at the dearth of plus-size models in the country, in 2016, I decided to move to Bombay and make a go of it. I was used to setting my own pace and facing everything head on. If you believe in yourself, your identity and silence the white noise, nothing is unachievable.

In 2017, I met a guy on Tinder. I was ready to start dating and meeting new people. My Tinder profile is under my nickname Santini, where I am loud and proud about my identity. The guy I matched with was also nursing a broken heart, so we were a match! We spoke every day for 31 days straight, lived in the same city yet never met, although we video chatted a lot. We finally decided to plan our first date and mutually agreed it has to be epic given all the communication and build up. We met at the JW Marriott in Juhu for dinner and drinks and then flew out to Seychelles for our first official date. You read that right. And all this planning was him. I can’t say I’ve had anything less than a positive experience on Tinder.

As for being able to identify, if Tinder gives you the option it is much easier for people to express their choices. People just really want to be given the option to choose their choice.

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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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