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The Boy Who Wishes To Feel The Rainbow

There are a series of Pride marches across the globe, and thus, the community feels like one big world.

The month of June marks the beginning of Pride. It’s a month full of joy and celebration among the LGBTQ+ community.

There are a series of Pride marches across the globe, and thus, the community feels like one big world. On account of the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration of pride like an open fest isn’t possible, however, the spirit of pride lives strong amidst the hearts of the community.

Having said that, how would you feel if I told you there are various people who still can’t celebrate pride or even feel the essence of the rainbow in its true sense?

I hereby narrate to you my story with the hope to fulfill my wish to feel the rainbow:

I was born in a middle-class Maharashtrian nuclear family. Till the toddler years, one hardly understands what it feels like to be different.

In my case, it was in my secondary KG Class where I felt completely awestruck at my teacher’s sarees and salwars. Every time I attended her class, I felt amazed at the way she would dress up, and coming back from school I would indulge myself in playing Teacher-Teacher, where I would dress up trying to look like my teacher in school using my mothers dupattas draped as a saree or a body towel wrapped up and tucked to resemble a saree.

I would teach my imaginary students and felt contented in doing so. My parents back then thought it was just a little boy playing, and thus, they played along and never tried stopping me: “He is small, doesn’t understand”, “let him be”, etc.

On the contrary, I knew exactly what I felt like draping those dupattas and carrying my mum’s handbag on my shoulders. I felt joyous.

As years went by, I made more female friends and we would play Teacher-Teacher and Ghar-Ghar together.

We are two siblings and my older brother was the complete opposite of how I was. He would indulge in playing Bat-Ball with his male friends. Many times, his friends would ask me to join them to play cricket back then, and I disliked it.

I couldn’t hold the bat correctly, couldn’t bowl in the way it was expected, and fielding was a nightmare. I would shut my eyes and cover my face at the sight of the ball.

This triggered my brother and his friends to never play with me and instead make fun of the way I played. They would tell me to join their sisters or other girls and play Teacher-Teacher and Ghar-Ghar.

But I didn’t care, I loved my games and felt happy playing them. My parents noticed my dislikes and forced me to play with my brother. Trust me, my heart never felt it.

Boy crying alone
Even though I tried to be the same as the general society, they still wouldn’t treat me as an equal or even a human, for that matter!

Years passed, and in the growing years, school became difficult for me — I was a studious child and a rank holder, but that didn’t stop the bullying.

As a child, I always kept my mouth shut at the homophobic slurs. In a Marathi context, a word called Baila is used, and I was repeatedly called by this slur. It made me think as a child for the first time: why am I less of a man/boy? Why am I not like the other boys at my school/colony? What is it that makes them call me that slur?

Back then, I couldn’t answer any of these questions.

Then, in the mid 90s, a show called Shriman Shrimati used to air, and the cast included a character called ‘Dilbura Uncle’, who happened to have his hand movements in an effeminate way. Suddenly, all my classmates and society kids called me by his name and bullied me.

A similar character was in the famous Bollywood movie Raja Hindustani, and most people teased me by singing the background score of the character in the film. It never really mattered to me until one day, a close family cousin did the same to me; and that’s where it triggered my parents.

They behaved strictly with me, didn’t allow me to play with girls, stopped me from watching romantic TV serials, forced me to watch sports, etc.

It’s strange in the growing years. Every single person; your teachers, your folks, etc. want you to be a “Good Boy”. Little did I know that even that tag would be used as a bullying mechanism in a quote, “yeh to ‘gudd’ boy hai (sweet or meetha like jaggery)”, followed by cheap laughs.

Growing up, until my college days, I couldn’t really make any friends. It was difficult for others to be friends with me because they feared similar bullying.

In my college years, I had changed myself to be more like a ‘guy’ and be more ‘heterosexual’ in my behaviour, and thus, made a few friends. But deep down, I couldn’t hide who I was. It was in college where I faced much of the bullying from girls. They made fun of the way I walked, made fun by asking me to wear makeup or telling me to use the girls washroom for laughs.

Again, as usual, I kept all this to myself and would cry alone. Even though I tried to be the same as the general society, they still wouldn’t treat me as an equal or even a human, for that matter!

Representational image.

In college years, everybody seemed to have a girlfriend or had a ‘hot’ crush; however, I couldn’t really figure out why I did not feel the same about girls. It could be the bullying, or every time I looked at girls, I would end up noticing their hair, makeup, clothes and didn’t feel anything beyond.

Feeling romantic was out of the question. But then, I didn’t really feel anything for people of the same sex either. I didn’t feel any love/romantic inclination towards anybody.

In early puberty or college years, one is exposed to Porn, so was I, and that was a revelation for me. It was probably the first time, my body responded to an outside stimulus that I saw on screen.

It was also the realization of the process of sex, and it meant only binary sex, boy and girl who indulge in a physical way to feel love or romantic emotions.

Still confused, because even straight porn had an impact on me, I kept introspecting. That’s when I got exposed to non-binary sex and realized that I bore more inclination or attraction towards that.

In my working years as an adult, I knew my truth, yet I couldn’t express it completely. It was in the starting years at work that I felt romantic about girls and boys.

Strange as one can feel from the above storyline, I felt these varied emotions gushing through me.

What is happening? Why do I feel both ways? Is it just a phase that will pass? Questions and more questions, with no clear answers.

The biggest question that remained: How do I make peace with my truth? How do I tell my folks about myself? How can I identify myself as part of the LGBTQ+ community?

Talking about love, I felt my first attraction towards a boy in a local train. Funny as it can be, I liked him a lot, but couldn’t really express anything to him.

One such time, in a crowded train we happened to be close to each other, and that’s when I saw him swiping on a Queer Dating App. I became hopeful and tried to connect via the dating app. But I came to the realization that he was not into me and my love or attraction was one sided.

I didn’t want to give up on my love interest and tried connecting with him via a social media platform. That too was in vain as he never responded.

Post that, I have tried finding a true friend or a partner on these apps, but discontinued, having realized they had more inclination to the sex part of the relation than being in love.

Yet, I am being optimistic about myself and I keep a never-ending hope that one day, perhaps, there will be someone who is made for me.

Today, I understand my reality as a person, who still feels closeted, because of my own socio-economic shortcomings. I feel the fear of being judged, fear of being identified as different, fear of being exposed to hatred by the large heterosexual society, and the dismay it may cause my family.

To conclude, I feel hopeful that one day, I will feel the rainbow in its true sense. Recently, I joined a few groups on social media, and it feels great to see that I am not alone. There are so many people with varied talents and expertise and who are proud of who they truly are; and that keeps the rainbow flag flying with glory.

I am also working towards improving my financial constraints and seeking counselling from Queer affirmative counsellors, so that when the time comes, I can take care of myself.

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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.

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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.

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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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