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Being A Queer Woman Helped Me Accept My Body

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As women, we are constantly told that our worth lies in whether men find us attractive or not.

You can’t be too tall, your man will feel insecure. You can’t be too short, you’ll look like a child beside him, and he doesn’t want to be mistaken for your dad! You can’t be too dark, you can’t be too ugly. Wax your legs, shave your pits, do not have stray hair on your face.

We have so many rules in place to be attractive to men. But the most important of them has been this: do not be fat. No matter what you do, you cannot be fat.

Fat women are looked at with disgust, fear, and rage. Never love, never adoration.

So, of course, it’s no surprise that we begin to hate ourselves. That we begin to internalise the thought that unless we are the perfect size, the perfect proportions, we do not deserve to be loved. It is a belief that I have carried around for years, and it has been reinforced by shitty boyfriends who have told me over and over again that I need to join a gym, that I need to lose weight before they introduce me to their friends.

body shaming
Shared on Facebook by The Militant Baker.

As a result, when I first realised I was into women as well, I thought they would not want me either.

I started gaining weight and becoming fat around the same time as I started realising that I like women. A fat 12-year-old, all alone in a girls’ school she had just joined, realising that she likes women. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?

As a woman who likes men, you are constantly told that men won’t ever love you back unless you lose some of that weight. No man wants to have a fat girlfriend or a fat wife. So it made sense to my baby gay mind that queer women would be affected by that cis-het male gaze as well. After all, all the girls in the several schools I studied in bullied me for my weight.

What I did not realise was, just like how I loved women, of all shapes, sizes, and abilities, women loved back in that same way. Of course, there will always be women who shame other women for their size, their height, and so many other physical attributes, but I am yet to meet a single queer woman like that.

I do realise that I am privileged in this. As a cis-woman, my body is not seen with the same lens as a trans woman. Trans women would not feel the same freedom in their bodies in queer spaces because of Trans Exclusionary Rad-Fems (TERFs). TERFs claim to be feminists who say that trans women are not real women, simply because their genitals are different. This is no different from the patriarchal view of woman-hood which reduces us to our genitals and objectifies us. Trans women, unfortunately, face a lot of transphobia within the queer community itself because of these inaccurate and dangerous views held by many, despite the fact that they have done the most for queer communities.

The first time I was naked with a woman, she asked me to sit in front of her. I was awkward and tried to hide my body. My rolls, my scars, my body hair. She held me until I stopped fidgeting and told me I was beautiful. I did not believe her at all. Wasn’t I always told that I have to be smaller to be worthy of love, to be considered beautiful?

Image Source: @ay.irani on Instagram.

I have spent a couple years thinking about that woman. She and I never became a thing. We never dated. We hooked up a couple times, with our fat bodies in all their naked glory. We kissed each other tenderly, and we shared cigarettes after. Not once did she make me feel like I wasn’t worthy. Not once did she make me feel unattractive. She was the first person in my life who looked at me like I was beautiful. Not sexy, not fetishised the way men do. But beautiful.

I have since then become a part of several online communities for queer women. Women with short pixie cuts in wild colours. Tall women who would make me feel like a dwarf if I were to stand next to them. Muscular women who could snap my neck with one twist of their arm. Women who are small. Women who are the same size as me. Women who are bigger than me. And the amount of love and positivity I have seen there for all these women fills me up with warmth. It fills me up with hope.

I have not dated a woman yet, but I want to. I know I will never be shamed for my weight. I know she will support me if I tell her I want to shave my head. I know she will never ask me to wax my legs, or get my eyebrows done. I know she will never tell me to join a gym before I can meet her friends. She won’t look at me and say “Oh I wish you were taller” or “Why can’t you just lose some weight, you would be perfect if you were a couple sizes smaller.

Being a woman who loves other women, I realised that women look at me with the same tender gaze I look at them with. And that, more than anything, has made me feel at peace with my body. I hope to one day love it.

FeaturedImage source: @ay.irani/Instagram.
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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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