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

Yes, I Don’t Identify With Any Gender, And I Still Found Love

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.

Long ago, when I visited the Kanheri Caves at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, I came across a cave that had a Buddha statue with 11 heads. I was told by the historian accompanying us that it was Aryavalokiteshwara, the Buddha of Compassion, who is worshiped by many Asian cultures, in both a female and a male avatar. That was my first introduction to gender fluidity.

Growing up, I had always experienced both feminine and masculine characteristics in my behaviour, which I always found odd, but eventually came to accept. Years after coming out as queer, I began to identify as a non-binary person—a person who identifies with no gender. It was the identity that described me best, for I had always felt that gender is just a social construct. For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated being limited to such boundaries forced upon us by societies, limits that never stop aping regressive dogmas. In a society that’s obsessed with labels, all I wondered was why everyone wanted to boil down universal beings to such tiny tags. I believe (as do so many others) that nothing is absolute, which includes sexuality and gender identity. But people are still trying to come to terms with this.

I have noticed a lot of bigotry within both heterosexual and homosexual communities alike. Shame is perceived within both these groups in similar but different ways. For example, a heterosexual cisgender male may be shamed for his romantic-affectionate side towards other cisgender males. The same shame is foisted onto a homosexual cisgender male for his romantic-affectionate side towards cisgender women. We all confine ourselves to these small structured concepts. Are any of us ready to consider the possibility that they’re not completely hetero or homo, or not completely male or female? That the gender spectrum is blurred in reality?

When I accepted the fact that I was a non-binary individual, I began to wonder: if I identify neither as male nor female, how could I be gay? Was my experience really ‘same-gender’ attraction, then? I was always ashamed of the fact that I was romantically attracted to women, although extremely rarely. Within my years of being a cisgender homosexual male, I had a close friend for whom I developed a romantic inclination. But I never approached her since I felt ashamed that I was experiencing attraction towards a woman, as an openly gay ‘man’. She was one of the only three women I have ever yet been attracted to. But this was only the tip of the iceberg.

When I came out as a non-binary individual at home, my parents threatened to disown me. What was even more surprising was when people from LGBTQ+ NGO(s) lectured me and told me that I was “asking for too much liberty”. Yes, this is the bigotry I experienced within my own community. Not only was I appalled but it was jaw-dropping too. But I set it aside for a moment, and decided to tackle the situation at home when my dad said he’d disown me. In a moment of anger, I replied to him that I really don’t care since, I had adopted Ambedkar as my father, a man who stood up for LGBTQ+ rights way back in the 1930s. Obviously, my father really felt offended, and kept quiet. But a tense while later, to pacify him, I told him that no one should want to die with so much unnecessary hatred towards a community in their heart, when they have an option to die with love; love which comes only through acceptance. He did agree with me, but he also requested a little time to digest the fact. And as difficult as the incident was, it really did warm my heart towards the end.

The very fact that there isn’t any gender related bigotry within the non-human animal community shows that hatred within us against LGBTQ+ individuals is a learned trait. But of course, it can be unlearned too! However, one will always find bigots everywhere. And sometimes, they might show up online, in your inbox, and even as prospective partners on dating apps.

To make online dating culture more queer-friendly, I believe queer-themed media campaigns are required to educate the masses (if not an educational syllabus). After all, it is the quality of users that makes a dating app likeable. And when you find a user with whom something just clicks…

The first guy I met on Tinder was an aspiring drag artist. After we matched, we exchanged numbers. He was from Pune and expressed his wish to visit a Pride Parade for his first time. Since the Mumbai Pride Parade was just weeks away, at the time, I suggested that he should come over to my house first, so we could go together. He was overjoyed to meet his date for the first time and that too at Pride.

He came over and decided to wear his Batman cape (which his mom stitched for him as a child) in front, like a one piece dress. And I wore a Roman toga. I’m a person who usually prefers to not wear any makeup, but he had come prepared! I found it funny that a person who claimed to know so much about makeup was watching makeup tutorials while simultaneously applying makeup. We went to Pride together and both of us had to separate for a while as we had two different groups of friends to keep up with. But, later, somehow, he managed to track me down at a bar, and (a little tipsy) we decided to go for the after party – his first one. We changed our clothes in that small bar, and he wore his batman cape again but this time, the ordinary way, on his back. I offered him my Egyptian-style necklace to wear on his head like a tiara. On our way towards the after party, as luck would have it, my friends and I stopped at the footpath and ended up having an hour-long argument with a stranger about LGBTQ+ rights. Since most of my friends are passionate free thinkers they never give up an opportunity to debate, which really annoyed my date since he was really eager to enter the party! Once we reached, the next thing I know is that towards the end I lifted his batman cape up, covered both our, and under it, we kissed passionately, dancing in time to the music. Many photographers started clicking pictures of us, and those flashlights seemed magical, like twinkling stars in the black background of his space-like batman cape.

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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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