I Am A Canvas Of My Experiences: An Individuality Beyond The Stereotypes

With time and maturity of this enlightenment, I can now even comprehend the strength and beauty of my sexual orientation.

To successfully distance yourself from the prevalent norms of the society that with every passing breath from childhood aspires to instil in you every single grain of prejudice is a herculean task that cannot be accomplished without any support and in isolation.

Being born in a middle-class Rajput family was not a choice I made. As a child in his own bliss of innocence and ignorant of the ways of society, I enjoyed basking in the glorious orbs of my ma’s jewellery and sarees.

Unlike boys my age, speeding and force were never my gaming zones. The tenderness and beauty of dolls often lured me into playing with them; dressing them up as gorgeously as nani would find me with those heavy, dark locks and big, round eyes of mine that shimmered in the attire of a bride.

Dressing up as the dulhan in the ‘dulha-dulhan‘ game, wearing masi’s dupatta as a hairpiece and dancing wholeheartedly without an ounce of care for the world on Madhuri Dixit’s Bollywood numbers opened the non-negotiable realm of the society for me; an arena I would bargain for by giving up all I had if only I knew what lied ahead.

While growing up, I did not share a friendly relationship with my father. Like most dad-son bonds, ours was also garbed by the shades of masculinity where the proclamation of love and expression of feelings lied suppressed somewhere. To make a man out of his effeminate son (whose walk and words resonated with feminine tenderness rather than manly toughness), papa resorted to relentlessly beating me even at the slightest of my mistakes. He detested my speaking of Bhojpuri, our mother tongue as he felt it made me sound like a ‘mauga’ (a Bhojpuri word for effeminacy).

I was unknown to the amiable side of parenting for the most part of my childhood; it resurfaced only in certain instances when ma was around. Her working in a different district often stole this bliss away. Where on one side, home had this to offer, the school only worsened my mental peace and added to my trauma of ‘being different’.

Known to be a space for the formation of one’s identity and shaping up of personality, school contributed in making me known as ‘a chakka, a hijra’ (an insult for eunuchs) thrown like daggers at me by my schoolmates in the utmost derogatory sense. The notion of your name reflecting as your identity became a blurred idea for me. There were very few days of my school life when I was not bullied or humiliated, and hence, it is hard to forget the rest which had become ‘my normal’ for not being normal.

An incident of one such day etched clearly in my memory was when a classmate sitting behind me had tainted my shirt with the alphabets- ‘SIXER’ (an abuse for queer people). The courage and strength that I had been mustering all this while, which had been secretly pushing me to move ahead each day, had now shattered in many tiny fragments which felt like an eternity to put together. I tried every possible way that could stop me from going to school ever again even if it involved intentionally hurting my own leg, but alas, to no avail.

For once, after years, I laid down my shield of masculinity and cried in the warm and secure arms of ma, cursing my birth and my own existence. The torment of years could not be calmed with her wise words. So taking the onus on her to set it all right, she spoke to my class teacher about all that had been going on. This only worsened things. Everyone at school had stopped talking to me, and my existence had now disappeared.

After matriculation, I took admission in humanities in a different school. My idiotic heart that clings to every false hope led me into believing that this change of place would mark a new beginning of acceptance, kindness and warmth. Little did I know that humanities can only teach such notions but cannot force you into practising it.

All my aspirations to be known ‘ADITYA’ in this new setting, among new people had burnt on the playground beneath the ravishing heat of the sun when a boy from my previous school called aloud to me “chakka, tu yahan!” I had decided not to succumb this time, so the ‘new me’ did not let them humiliate me on my face, but that did not stop it from happening behind my back. Anonymously referring to me in those same slangs, they now sounded like teenage slurs from a distance.

To exist equally was now forgotten. The exuberance and flamboyancy about my personality had now been boxed forever. Insecure in one’s own skin, I had started to feel suffocated in my own body. Choking halfway while swallowing a piece of mortin made me loathe myself for not having the cojones to free my own spirit.

I started keeping to myself, an introvert who only found the resolve to breathe in the reality of his own identity either through comic books, TV series or movies. At times, I danced in front of the mirror, in my dad’s dhoti wrapped around as a gaghra to live my truth. It never felt as liberating for the doors were always locked, and loneliness was my only audience.

I was not only accepting the award for topping the second year of college but also realising how college had empowered me to accept myself the way I am.

The process of change is not noticeable to the naked eye, nor is the human brain intelligent enough to register it until this change is visible on the outward. Standing on the stage in a yellow long- skirt, resonating my faith in blurred gender roles and belief in masculinity beyond the idea of clothing, in an auditorium stuffed with people, I was not only accepting the award for topping the second year of college but also sinking in the realization of how past three years in Ramjas had empowered me to accept myself the way I am, to love myself beyond the horizon and to believe the notion that the sky can be your only limit.

This realization and acceptance did not enter my system overnight but was a process of constant unlearning what society had breathed in me ever since birth and learning to put your individuality beyond the flawed spectrum of prejudices and stereotypes. To say that it was a cakewalk would be utter nonsense and a lie.

For these three years of my graduation, I resided in Ramjas Boys Hostel. Initially, it was tough to be surrounded by men who would question your manhood and masculinity in your every action. It made me feel vulnerable beyond my threshold. But the beautiful course I was enrolled in helped me understand how fragile the word ‘masculinity’ is; the constant load and pressure it puts upon the males of our society ‘to become a man’, to be conditioned as insensitive creatures and to san all the discussions and talks about this normalized oppression and constraint as it would manifest their ‘unseen, unknown side of femininity’.

Understanding this helped me soothe my anger towards my father. It helped me see his unfortified concerns for his son; and being the product of his times, he gave into the methods of his father’s upbringing. Of late, I have been vocal about my feelings, and this has mended our bond.

Delhi, in all its colours, brought with it some angels in the form of the most understanding humans in my life. Without their support and irrevocable faith in me, I would have never dared to take such a big leap from the side of constant insecurity and loathing to undeterrable belief in myself to become whoever I wanted to be.

With time and maturity of this enlightenment, I can now even comprehend the strength and beauty of my sexual orientation. I am a Gay guy who happens to fall for wrong men always. To love them has always felt like ‘we’ have never belonged to this tangible place, neither do our hearts and yet, here we are, I am making love as we make love to life with no strings attached. This tantalizing fragrance of love with same-sex has ephemerality and strength of Petrichor—intense but short.

Every time I have fallen in love, it has been a different experience, just like the varied spectrum of sexuality. Still, one thing that has been common to all is how easily a man can accept his vulnerability behind locked doors, but even his balls cannot help him do so in the outer world; how everyone is a little gay or have a ‘gayish’ side to them that can be hidden well behind a façade but to have portrayed it out boldly is to bathe in the unpretentious mirth of a unicorn ride over the slide of a rainbow.

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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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