This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Suraj H. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

One Night In Shillong, A Tinder Date Brought Me More Comfort Than I Dreamt Of

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.

I don’t know about most of you, but I always wanted my first flight to be to a naturesque place like Machu Picchu, and one that didn’t land me in an urban jungle. Flying is a luxury, a privilege which I cannot afford. Travelling, just like flying, even to a domestic place, was something I could only think of after years of saving money. It costs a lot.

However distant (read: expensive) a dream that may have been (to fly to Machu Picchu), I settled for something more domestic, but still (importantly) close to nature. I took my first flight to Shillong, a city 3000 kms away from my hometown, Mumbai, all by myself. Was it freeing for my queer self? Yes. Was it too scary for my queerness? Very much. Politically, this land, like all of the North-Eastern states of India, is at the periphery of the centre. To reach the state of Meghalaya, there are only a few flights, and no trains at all. In a way, I did feel free – away from the ‘centre’, at the margins, at the periphery. Because that’s also where I think my ‘queerness’ lies―at the margins.

The online dating scene back in Mumbai, at least for me, had become dull and monotonous; it’s difficult for a romantic queer like me. I started using ‘Fake GPS’ apps which allowed me to virtually be in Shillong while still in Mumbai. I swiped right on a few profiles, but I gave up soon. The excitement was wearing off. But I was still waiting for something to spark.

Clothes, and deciding what goes with what, is important to me and so is my comfort; they help me express myself and hence my first airport ‘look’ was important. I chose wisely wearing my DIY ripped jeans and a shirt. On reaching Shillong, I realised it was freezing and that I could have worn something warmer. Even the summers in Shillong are colder than winters in Mumbai. Nevertheless, it was the perfect weather to snuggle up, and, if one is lucky, cuddle.

The curious cat in me wanted to meet people, in a ‘foreign’ land, among a different ethnic group, learn new names, be able to pronounce them correctly, to know their political inclination, and how they navigate their gender and sexual identities with the politics of their other identities. The only way that was possible (with the amount of anxiety I carry) was to grab every opportunity to meet someone in Shillong. I realised, being a visitor, on the app, especially from Mumbai (and its image of a global or ‘progressive’ city), it was easier for people to confide in and open up to me. At the same time, though, it was all the scarier for me in this ‘foreign’ land.

There is this age-old fight between Mumbai and Delhi. The former’s distaste for the latter is due to some stereotypes about Delhi people being ‘loud’. More importantly, the idea that cis-men in the national capital are hyper-masculine and that there is a need for them to check on their toxic behaviour. These stereotypes had induced anxiety and that was enough for me to maintain my distance from Delhiites. In Shillong, at least for the seven days I was there, however, there are hardly any people like this, and the rest are either from Guwahati or Bangladesh.

With a lot of trepidation, I agreed to meet a ‘match’ from Delhi, who also happened to be visiting Shillong, at their place. I wore something comfortable, but carefully selected. On my way to their place, I thought of ghosting them, for the sole reason that they are from Delhi. It was cold and I set my preconceived notions aside and to my disbelief met this wonderful soul. A soul so beautiful that they reminded me of the whiff of fresh air, the stars, and the moon.

I was 23 and they were 20, we had so much to talk about. It was probably the first time I was meeting with a person from Delhi. I have never been to Delhi nor have met anyone from Delhi in Mumbai. The day I met them was the day I visited Cherrapunjee, where I was just overwhelmed by what nature had to offer. My ‘date’ and I had a lot to talk about: I remember we spent some time discussing how the education system was inducing constant stress through professors and assignments. I believe all of us need someone, once in a while, to vent to, and that’s what we did for three hours. We spoke like there was no tomorrow and all this only made me eager to lean in for a kiss. However, I could not take the initiative because, well, anxiety! Ironic how my Mars is in Leo (if you know what I mean). In the three hours that we spoke and listened, we both wished we could cuddle and do the same. But our anxieties didn’t allow us to touch each other.

Soon, we were breathing in sync, and it created moments of mutual stillness. Breathing into each other, we kissed. They made me comfortable, they were gentle, and their skin to mine was ecstasy, discovering each other’s bodies right from the head to the toe. A blanket kept us warm. While all the talking happened we forgot to have dinner and then at 2 am in the night they got ready to make me a snack. I declined, only because I didn’t wish to miss another second of their warmth, and as it turned out, they had the same thought.

Through years of policing myself, I have become conscious of my body, and my anxiety is such that I insist on keeping the lights off when with someone. They agreed without any reluctance. The night broke into dawn and waking up next to someone had always been something I fantasised about; it was something I could happily get used to. I could be waking up next to someone in deep sleep but I woke up next to someone who wanted to kiss me first thing in the morning, even when my breath smells the way it might post eating onion. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the day.

It has been nearly eight months since I met them, and I haven’t come across anything purer than the time spent with them. After parting ways, I let them know through a letter how incredible they were, and what they can make a person feel. I ended the letter to them with this quote which I had read on Twitter:

Being at home means only one thing, at heart: being at peace. The geography part is the least of it.”

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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