After Summer Break, I Plan To Come Out To My Friends In College

Writing this during International Pride Month might have been the more reasonable choice, I just wasn’t sure if I could do it.

I have spent the last month watching hundreds of videos from the world over about the LGBTQIA community, my community, celebrating Pride in New York, which marked 50th anniversary of Stonewall uprising. I watched videos of London Pride on July 7 too. All this was a cathartic experience for me and gave me the courage that I needed to write about my own struggle with sexuality. I know that people have had worse struggles than mine, but if my story helps even a single person, the purpose of this write-up will be served.

Water-colour painting of two men by Joe Silva.

Coming to terms with your sexuality isn’t as easy as those who discard it as a disease seem to think. Sex is a taboo in 21st century India, let alone homosexual sex. It’s due to the lack of discussion on this topic that it sometimes takes years for people to realize what their sexual orientation is. Some realize it at an early age, some when they hit puberty, and some even after their teenage years.

It feels like my whole life I have had this glass wall in front of me, a wall I can see through but cannot cross to get to the other side. I came to know about my sexuality about a year ago, and with it began my agonising journey of depression.

I study at one of the most prestigious institutions of India—Hindu College. People there are not as homophobic as, let’s say, the small village I come from and most parts of the country. Yet, having realized that, I still couldn’t muster the courage to come out to my friends. Every night, I plan to do it the following day, and yet something inside me holds me back, for I am afraid that I might lose them.

March 29, 2019, is a date which is going to last in my memory forever. Coming back home after my classes, I started watching a movie called “Prayers for Bobby”. The climax of this movie is where Bobby, the protagonist, jumps off a bridge and kills himself because his family couldn’t accept the fact that he was gay. It made me tear up. Burdened by college internals, I, half-heartedly, tried to prepare for my tests but bringing my mind and soul into congruence was difficult for me that day.

I have been pretty close to my elder brother and as soon as I realized that I was gay, I kept wanting to share this with him. But I decided against it every time, worrying about how he would react and what if he told our parents. I, however, had avoided it long enough and now my own truth was suffocating me and killing me inside.

At 11:18pm on the same night, I sent a long message on WhatsApp to my brother, who was sleeping in the room adjacent to mine, and told him everything. I even mentioned that he might hate me after this but I badly needed to get it off my chest if I intended to stay alive. I avoided him the following morning and left early for class.

Contrary to my expectations, he was pretty cool with it. “Arey ****,” he said. “Don’t feel suffocated. It’s a normal thing. Get good education and pursue your dreams. Everything will fall in place.

As comforting as these words were, he didn’t say anything about it when we met next and I didn’t broach the subject either. It was awkward for a few days but things are back to normal now.

We all crave acceptance, and being accepted and acknowledged by the people we love and admire is what keeps us going. I am done with living a double life and I want to be the same person to my friends and family that I am to myself.

As I enter my final year of college after this summer break, I plan to come out to my friends and be unapologetic about who I am.

I want to go out on dates, meet new people, and do everything that heterosexual people have been able to do without being judged and frowned upon.

In hindsight, coming out to myself was more difficult than coming out to my brother. There are millions of people out there like me who are in the closet and fear coming out to their loved ones. Not being able to come out pushed me back to a deeper closet, I cut off ties with people, would spend most of my time alone. I thought of killing myself. I write this today because I know how difficult it can be to accept yourself when you’ll be called names, cursed, or, worse, killed for who you are.

Initially, I struggled with suicidal thoughts going on in my mind all the time. But I did not give in to such thoughts and nor should you do.

I want you to hold on to life, and I know it sounds clichéd but it really does get better.

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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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