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

‘Dear June’: A Letter For Pride Month

Dear June,

When I was 22, I remember attending a lunch wearing a black hoodie that had a famous Oscar Wilde quote printed on it. At the restaurant, my uncle told me how he detested the quote and everything associated with Oscar Wilde, saying “that blighted Wilde was a faggot”. I remember gasping in order to maintain the decorum of my favourite restaurant in my favourite hill-station.

I sat quietly while picking at my garlic lemon butter trout with my fork, just the way I did with my pasta when my cousin asked one of our brothers to avoid wearing pink because “Oh my god, he looks so gay in pink.” Just the way I sat sipping on my empty glass of lemonade, when an unassuming elder repeated the f-word (used earlier by my uncle) to describe musical maestros like Freddie Mercury and Elton John.

It wasn’t just on these three occasions that I maintained decorum by focusing on doing something meaningless with my excessively fidgety hands. This habit goes back to my school days—when any two peers with a sense of intimacy were termed as “gay”, as if “gay” were a cuss word. At least, for us school kids it was. And for those of us who refused to become more gender-aware, “gay” and “lesbian” are still cuss words—the most sure-shot way of instilling shame in the person they target. Interestingly, the validity of this claim had little to do with a person’s sexual and/or emotional orientation. It didn’t, actually. In fact, it turns out that being anything that didn’t correspond with the present society’s definition of being ‘straight’, or heterosexual, was something that one had to be deeply ashamed of, if not self-obliterating. Not just heterosexual, but heteronormative, if you will. Could this be the general reason for you, June, being celebrated as Pride Month? To dispel (in instalments) the cumulative amount of shame that is brought upon the majority of the global populace for not fitting into neat labels, boxes, and definitions as per heteronormativity’s assumed taste?

Photo by Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.

Every year, when I read June newspapers over breakfast as an undergraduate student in Delhi, I would spot Pride Parades on its pages—the robust and vibrant parades that the more privileged dissenters to heteronormativity participated in (mostly) worldwide. The faces, the smiles, the rainbow flags (and not to mention, the dazzling costumes that the bolder segment of the parade donned) unanimously spelled out ‘freedom’. The rainbow specifically shouts this out to an onlooking (often scowling, or worse, denying) audience that fails to conceive of each colour in the spectrum of existence due to the over-saturated monochromes of patriarchal social conditioning.

As you know June, ‘homophobe’ is the analytical term used to refer to the more radically conditioned populace that arrives at a visceral aversion to non-heteronormativity. Logically, then, this term implies their sole characteristic as being ‘homophobic’, which can be defined as a phobia towards all things non-heteronormative. You know why this extended definition is important? Because while my anti-Oscar Wilde uncle was averse to a renowned artist solely on the basis of his homosexuality, my cousin was averse to our brother’s choice of dressing for being non-heteronormative (possibly because for prudes throughout the better part of history, pink is a girl’s colour. Never mind that pink was once the preferred shade for boys and blue for girls, because doesn’t that serve the same binary that you and I denounce? Perhaps I’ll leave this for another letter.)

Now a person who is less fond of June might ask me why I am overreacting to banal comments on Wilde and pink shirts.

Because those are only the slightest discriminations against diverse identities that go pardoned,  unapologised for, or even unnoticed.

Because those are statements that well-educated and gentrified persons of modern day societies continue to make despite using #LoveIsLove.

Because these were, or still are, the parents who are sending their kids to homophobic (albeit homosocial) schools to graduate into adulthood and repeat the behaviour of their parents, relatives and friends.

Because I (and many like me) am tired of the usage of derogatory words to rattle the self worth of any identity that chooses, or even dares to be different. Because we are tired of the constant threatening and even terrorising treatment offered to any ambivalence around heteronormativity.

And most of all, because we are beyond tired of being suppressed for our fluid nature and choice of expression.

As a kid, I remember being labeled as a “tomboy” for preferring jeans over skirts, Lego over Barbie, sports over makeup, and Eminem over Spice Girls. My teenage gait didn’t have that ‘girly’ hip swing, and my pubescent self began to slouch due to being conscious of my recent developments. Apparently, they didn’t go too well with my ‘sporty jockishness’. And yet, I was fond of applying French manicures, straightening my hair, and often had my young heart broken by doofus teenage boys.

Even now, I often perceive myself as tiptoeing deftly on the shores of androgyny. For example, I fasten the longer flicks of my cropped hair by a shimmering pin. On days that I don’t have corporate meetings to attend, I am found in oversized spectacles and plain t-shirts that are flanked by indie pants. My dressing ritual ends with a casual pinning of earrings and a smear of lip colour, in hues that range from subdued nudes to the boldest shades of scarlet. I enjoy musky colognes as I do fruity splashes, and focus on maintaining toned biceps despite failing miserably at performing basic push-ups.

What does this hopscotch game amidst so-called binarisms make me?

They make me who I am, and it is in this fluidity that my essence finds its home.

I was not exempted from the brigade of seemingly benign comments made by close as well as random people such as, “Beta, it’s so nice to see you become all girly”; “You’ve cut your hair too short’; “You would have been such an eligible bride, if only…”

The lack of validation accorded to my nuanced androgyny did leave me feeling confused about my identity, and at times, frustrated. Overcoming the need to conform to several binaries does originate from a certain amount of privilege, and that is an undeniable fact. But it also arises out of an ongoing internal battle wherein these binaries are vanquished, little by little every day.

My contention against these binaries gained additional zeal when I began to increasingly realise the futility of their artificial imposition. While at LSE, I heard feminist theorist Judith Butler say that gender is nothing but an act of doing, or performativity, that is assigned to us from the moment our birth is heralded with an “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” From moment on, it is either this way or that. The pursuit of gender justice that unites Butler with humbler selves like me is our mutual wistfulness for a time when birth announcements sound more like, “It’s whoever they choose to be!” The finality of a birth certificates becomes terrifying to those like us, who’d rather opt for a provisional one that can be revised later by a more evolved and informed version of our adult selves.

Oftentimes, my supposed ‘idealism’ has been flouted as part of the bandwagon that is Western modernity. Those who are more well-versed with the diversity of Indian culture and heritage would agree with me when I say that heterogeneity is unapologetic Indian in its foundations, as is modernity. The temples of Khajuraho, Mahabharata’s Shikandi, the legends of Ayappan, Mohini and Brihanalla only form the tip of a colossal iceberg that swells me with pride for an ancient acceptance of queerness, but also pains me for how they’re now being shunned by the rudimentary combinations of imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.

Now, keeping in mind your celebratory pretext of LGBTQIA pride, I do not mean to undermine the urgency of diverse self-expression making itself more visible through each subsequent June. However, I also wish to bandage an over presumed affliction that rhetorically places a homophobic lot of the society as ‘villains’ against an alienated queer populace as ‘victims’.

There are two flaws in this assumption. One, that it is impossible to put an end to binarisms with yet another binary. Two, and more importantly, because this is a redundant mechanism of division. I’ll tell you why I say that. In my (naïve) opinion, gender justice has little to do with vindicating queer identities and avenging homophobic myopia. Rather, the monster that deserves our unanimous fight is the homophobe as well as the ‘queer victim’ that to many of us carry within our selves due to the uninterrupted conditioning of heteronormativity, in which we eat, breathe, sleep, and, essentially, live.

Though my privilege and lived experiences might make me more gender-sensitive, I am not a morally upright exception to the conscious or unconscious denouncements that, as a preconditioned society, we make towards fluidity and ‘deviant’ identities. There are times when, for so many of us, an inner homophobic villain takes precedence! And it is this constant internal conflict that I find to be the cause of our alienation. This alienation resides in the very sophisticated boxing of our own fluid selves, as well as everything that we happen to interact with or know. For how can water be boxed without ice trays?

So June, I end with a thank you for patiently enduring my musings that find more concrete expression with the unfurling of your rainbow flags. But before I sign off, June, I leave you with a crucial end note that I hope you and your successors pioneer.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen refutes one’s identity as being a source of accidental discoveries. Instead, he points at conscious choice as its fountainhead. In other words, we are not passive victims of stagnant identities that we happen to discover. On the contrary, we are active agents of our constantly evolving identities that we make through choice and mediation in multifarious situations of constraint. But then again, Sen wonders, which choice is made in the absence of limiting circumstances?

Source: Chullo Arts/Tumblr.

In a nutshell, the presence of never-ending contingencies doesn’t take away the cardinal existence of choices that we are entirely responsible for and accountable towards.

June, since you advocate for the freedom of diversity more than any other month, I welcome you yet again in the earnest hope of leading each one of us to reclaim the choice of being who we are and how we conduct ourselves. I welcome you, yet again, with a pledge to continue the uncomfortable, yet undeniably worthy quest of self discovery and self truth.

As the world continues to be gripped by the fangs of a dreadful pandemic, I welcome you yet again as the month of freedom and diversity. I hope for you to usher us to a more sincere, accepting, and liberating means of existence. May you end after weakening the impostors within us, and undoubtedly, the biggest impediments to our own freedom.

Sincerely,

Your fan.

Featured Image source: Namma Pride Bangalore/Facebook.
You must be to comment.

More from Urvashi Singh

Similar Posts

By Meghna Mehra

By Rahul Sen

By Sas3 Tranimal

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below