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As A Young Gay Man And Drag Queen, The New Tinder Will Make A Big Change For Folks Like Me

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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.

With its recent announcement of introducing 23 new gender identity options, Tinder has really opened up the playing field for LGBTQIA+ Indians. With a list of words like “agender”, “transgender”, “pangender”, “transfeminine”, “non-binary” and many more, there is likely to be a shift in how people, especially those on dating apps, view the queer community. And here’s why:

From Curiosity Comes Awareness

So far, there has been very little gender inclusion online. But the change begins now.

If my gender is male, and I’m straight, and I’m using Tinder for the first time and I see all these options that I’ve been unaware of, it will generate curiosity. I’d say, “Oye, wait. I’ve heard of just ‘male’ and ‘female’. What is all of this?” That’s the first thing we want – for people to know we exist. With all these options out there, some people will at least research about it.

Authenticity

For queer users going online, too, seeing all these different options will make an impact. How? Let me give you a little example. As a gay man, I’ve known about my sexuality for a long time. As a young drag queen, I’ve gotten to know more. But awareness doesn’t fall out of the sky. Earlier, when I had just begun as a dance teacher and choreographer, I was in a very small environment – mainly home, dance studio, home, dance studio. I hadn’t socialised with a lot of people. But when I started doing drag, I met a lot of other people, and I benefited from the awareness and education that the whole community offered me. In the same way, queer users going to Tinder might actually find themselves in those new gender options! The people who have so far fallen in the “Other” category are finally getting to express themselves in the most honest way possible, and I think it’s a very powerful step.

A Chance To Learn

Alright. Now we have 23 new gender identities that we know about. But how do we make sure we are respectful of them all? The number one step is to keep an open mind. Don’t restrict yourself to the education you got in school. They say learning never stops, and that’s not just a creative writing prompt. It’s actually true. As a dance teacher, I interact with people of various age groups, and from them I learn things that are as small as how to tag someone on Instagram, and how photographs of Pluto have evolved since the first one was taken in the hazy ‘90s (and you bet I went home to research its history!) Just accept the fact that your brain is not capable of containing all the knowledge in the world.

I want to see an inclusive Tinder! And we’re heading there. It’s sad that a lot of places don’t have water connections, but they will have TV, and they will have internet-enabled mobile phones, and they’ll even be using Tinder. At these places, you’re creating awareness and letting people know that there are these options as well, that there are other people who are not like you, and that’s not a threat when you learn about them.

Like I said, for me, learning about the community through drag happened only recently, but it’s never too late to learn!

Building Safer Spaces

With the recent Supreme Court judgement on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the law is finally backing up queer people in India, giving them the right to express themselves as they are. And this carries over to online dating, since it’s a great way to get to know other people.

On dating websites, a lot of people like to put a lot of things about themselves out there. The whole things is to find someone compatible to you, right? How will you find someone like that if what you’ve written in your bio isn’t enough?

Even with the law backing us up, there are still societal pressures and stigmas that prevent you from taking a full step forward. But safer spaces will allow people to be themselves and then find what they’re looking for.

A Chance To End Prejudice

The problem with limited spaces and limited identities is the way in which prejudice grows here. For example, “No fats, no femmes, no Asians”. Maybe you’ve heard this about the gay dating scene in other countries, but its true of India as well! Body-shaming is a big problem. People will not go out with someone who’s a little skinny, or feminine, or doesn’t fit the usual idea of ‘a fit man’. Even within the community there’s this idea that ‘feminine’ is equal to ‘submissive’. Further to that, there is a lot of prejudice against ‘Asian’ men, who many men think are feminine (whatever their idea of femininity is, it’s obviously negative).

And if body-shaming wasn’t enough, there’s colourism too! It’s not even funny how people will stop talking to you the moment they think you’re slightly darker. I get it, there are preferences, but there is also being ‘phobic’ of certain things. There’s a fine line between these things, and it all depends on how people put that information out there. Yes, something may be a sexual preference, but honey, wake up call, not everyone wants to sleep with you!

The third thing that I often see is prejudice against trans people. The most common misconception people have is that trans people online are sex workers, and I know from personal experience where this leads. While I am not a trans person myself, I am a drag queen, and a lot of people don’t make the distinction. Once, I uploaded my drag pictures along with my boy pictures, and I got a sudden influx of people swiping right, and people asking uncomfortable questions.

These are three among many prejudices that we can begin undoing, now that we have more representation of trans and gender non-conforming people on Tinder, using their own voices, and claiming their own space!

To All Of You Queer People Looking For Dates

Now, this won’t be advice from the master himself, just a few reminders, user to user.

First of all, keep everything out in the open. If you’re looking for a one-night stand, mention it. If you’re looking for a friendship, mention it. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship, mention it. Just for one night of pleasure, don’t play around with someone else’s feelings.

Second, always have your own picture on! A lot of people use fake pictures; and I don’t mean fake like celebrities, where it’s so obvious, I mean fake like using pictures of other users! I mean, how is that even beneficial to you, when you go to meet someone and don’t even look like you’re picture?

And third, do not be afraid to be yourself online. Tinder is an application used by so many people,not just for straight and cisgender couples. So have fun!

Featured image courtesy of the author.
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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.

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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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