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I’m Neither ‘Man’ Nor ‘Woman’, But That Doesn’t Mean My Love Life Is Doomed

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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.

Being a non-binary person assigned female at birth, and a gynophile (experiencing attraction towards women) – I know, it’s a mouthful – makes you a very unpopular fish in the dating pond. But, speaking from personal experience, it’s not something that you should get you down. But before I tell you my story, let me explain my identity to you first, so as to make life easier (or maybe more complicated? We’ll see).

I define ‘non-binary’ as someone who doesn’t care about gender, which is typically seen as something that makes everyone’s life hell! You ask how, and I will answer that as well. We find ourselves in an extremely binary society – made of only man or boy, and woman or girl. Now, for trans people too, many also subscribe to gender norms that have been made for the binary – yes, transgender identities are often built on cisgender identities (note: ‘cisgender’ or ‘cis’ for short means you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth).

All of us (well, almost all) know how the binary works. You are assigned a gender based on the genitalia you were born with and then you are stuck doing the performance that it asks of you. If you are a man or a boy, you are the breadwinner, and an unemotional robot who has to take care of a family ‘financially’, among other things. And if you are a woman or a girl, you are the one who does the household chores, is treated as a baby making machine (baby-boy making machine, more often than not), and the overly emotional one who cries. Basic, stereotypical stuff.

Now comes a non-binary or genderqueer person who doesn’t care what these stereotypical gender roles are, and just wants to live their life to the fullest. No one likes to be told “You are a girl, you can’t go out at night”, or “You are a boy, you can’t cry”. How is it that my gender (which, thanks to society, I didn’t even get to choose) puts so many restrictions on me?

Half the time, whether in real life or in virtual spaces, people are confused when they look at me. One night, while travelling home, I met this little boy in the train. Kids (like some adults) do not have a social filter, so he asked his father quite loudly if I was a boy or a girl. With embarrassment, the father looked at me to check if I had overheard the conversation, and looking their way. For an hour, both father and son were unable to decide on an answer. But then I spoke, and the mystery was gone for the father, but not the kid.

Nothing gives me more pleasure than that obvious uncertainty that people have with regard to my gender identity, and how to address me. Because I do not look ‘feminine’, I am “bhaiya” or “sir” to 90% of the people who see me. A number of taxi and auto drivers have asked me what my gender identity is. I usually reply with a “How does it matter to you?”, which totally catches the other person off guard. But this pushed them to think about their understanding of gender and the prejudices. And I get to secretly break gender stereotypes and smash the patriarchy! YAY!

I think the most basic thing that someone can do when meeting anyone, not just non-binary people, would be to ask their pronouns (it won’t kill you). In my line of work, I ask my clients their pronouns and most of the time they have no idea what I am talking about. If we were to making this a habit, rather than guessing people’s gender, it would definitely help create a safe space for people who are not within the binary. I understand that not everyone is aware of non-binary identities (like genderfluid, pangender, agender, or transfeminine to name a few) but there’s always time to learn and be more inclusive to people who are different.

Even when people online don’t ‘get’ it, it has been great fun because lots of people on Tinder swipe right on my profile just to know what my gender identity is all about. I feel like I am giving gender studies classes!

Thankfully, that’s not the only outcome. I came to know some amazing non-binary people after coming out. There are so few of us right now that it can be extremely isolating. But there are a few safe spaces online where people can sign up and talk to others who identify as non-binary.

Coming out, again, in itself, has been quite an event as I didn’t previously know any other non-binary people or people who used a word like “gynophile” to identify themselves. But with the support of my friends and partner, it was an extremely liberating experience.

I’ve met some lovely people on Tinder who understood my identity, and made me feel accepted, especially in this extremely binary world. Of course, it doesn’t stop there! When you mix your gender with you sexuality – now that’s a whole different ball game altogether. As a person with a ‘non-normative’ identity, it becomes extremely difficult to navigate your love-life within a heteronormative script. Before, when I used to identity as a Sapphic woman, life was much simpler. Now that I identify as a non-binary gynophile, half the time introducing myself to another person leads to this are: “So you are a lesbian, basically. Why didn’t you say so?” I didn’t because I am not. And now try explaining your identity to people on Tinder.

Eventually, I met my partner, who identifies as a cis-woman. That was a turning point for me because we didn’t know what kind of couple we were. Technically it’s two AFABs dating which leads people to think that we were a lesbian couple and that caused a lot of dissonance for me. But, after having a long discussion with my partner, I realised that that label wasn’t ours; we know that we are what is often called a ‘mixed’ couple. Labels can be extremely confusing and at the same time liberating. And realising that I was not cisgender also helped me to actually understand the fluidity of it all. I didn’t care much about the label, I was with someone I love and that was it. It takes an immense burden off your shoulders when you are just happy with who you are. And I hope everyone reaches that level of comfort, because the labels don’t define you, you define yourself.

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  1. Francesca Pinna

    This definition of non binary is very personal and doesn’t describe the experience of most non-binary people. Saying that non binary people don’t care about gender actually erases the struggle of non binary people who have a strong gender identity (that obviously isn’t woman or man) and who fight to have their gender identity recognised, while making it seem like it is something very superficial. If a person wants to call themselves non-binary just to express their will not to be gender-conforming I won’t stop them but I don’t accept in any way articles like this that are misleading in the true meaning of the non-binary experience.

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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.

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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.

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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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