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

Dear Cis Het Men, Your Idea Of ‘Normal’ Could Be Violent For The Rest

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

‘I recognize gender to be deeply violent, but that does not stop me from organizing on grounds of gender. That which is intrinsically violent can also become the condition of new possibilities of resistance of re-imagining the world.’ – Vikram Aditya Sahai

Design by Rupsa Nag

Female, LGBTIAQ+, and lower caste bodies have always been a site of interrogation for institutions that decide what is normal.

I went through a phase of wanting to shave badly when Veet ads used to punctuate every TV show. I sneaked in a razor and shaved my underarms once. Learning about ingrowths and skin problems made me stopped obsessing over it. Singer Halsey was shamed for armpit hair. Just like the shocked shamer asked Halsey, “What the hell is this?!”,’ I have witnessed people’s shocking, polite requests to ‘please put your arm down’ or unsolicited advise to shave. I find it amusing that people see it as unearthly as if they aren’t just shaving body hair but its memory altogether.

Upon discussing PCOS with people going through it, one of the major things that came up is how bodily changes caused by PCOS becomes difficult to deal with. “Excess hair growth, weight gain, skin disorders, and resultant emotional lows. Telling people that I cannot lose weight fast enough, says Sima Ghosh*.

Diya, who has a severe case of ovarian cyst says, “We might say looks don’t matter but I accept the black spots on my face or the hair fall. Beauty is important for a girl”. Soumi Mukherjee says, “Body hair, weight issues insecurity due to changes in the body that differ from so-called normal” Health conditions often have a damaging emotional effect because of the perceived ‘normal’. The normal body doesn’t exist because physicality itself and its association with the mind is unique to each person.

Tracing back to the carpenter’s square norma, anything made according to it was normalis—‘in conformity with the rule’.

So, the normal is not something intrinsic; it is a condition. It is violent and exclusive since the structure maintains itself through its demand for conformity.

It controls and attests eligibility based on institutionalised standards of appearances, behaviour, roles, and more. Thus, it negates the nuanced possibilities of the personal, whereby, whatever breaks norms is seen as a threat to this fragile, simplistic, linear idea of identity. So, this ‘normal’ also results in otherisation and marginalisation.

Healthcare And stigma

One would expect science to be unaffected by social conditioning, but it isn’t because the ‘normal’ affects our understanding or disruption of things. That also extends to legal, judicial structures, educational and healthcare institutions; those who make and execute them.

A doctor refused to answer my queries on sex because I am unmarried”, “I was shamed by the doctor for contracting UTIthese are some of my friends’ experiences of being shamed at a doctor’s chamber. Most people have either had or heard instances of being shamed by doctors which is one of the reasons people are inhibited about consultation. Tanurima Chanda opines how patient confidentiality is often compromised in India, “…and doctors often shame patients or disregard their concerns by normalising them.” She continues, “[Doctors] have belittled my concerns and fears by linking it to anxiety. With no further substantial information or help. Which in turn increased my anxiety. They often act irritated when I demand a full explanation of my condition, which is actually my right.”

Explaining every detail to a client regarding their condition falls under ethical practice which most doctors in India don’t follow as our family physician, Dr P.K. Banerjee had once opined.

Medical Stigmatisation Of The LGBTIAQ+

Diban, a 24-year-old trans man says, “Several doctors are still unaware of trans identities and see only cis-binary as normal. Not only doctors but people across the society are also ignorant. There are no separate washrooms for us. Schools do not have a choice of uniform (for a trans/nonbinary)”.

According to Dr P Raghupathy, Paediatric Endocrinologist, IGICH, “Globally, 1 in every 10,000-15,000 persons is intersex. India lacks reliable statistics on intersex persons”.

There is a widespread lack of awareness among people about sex, sexual identity, and orientation. This hinders medical practice resulting in a lack of research, stigmatisation and the most concerning ‘conversion therapy’ and nonconsensual corrective surgeries of LGBTIAQ+ individuals. Koushumi who adopted an intersex child spoke about the harassment and hostility she had to go through because of stigma at courts, hospitals, and schools. She is giving her child a gender-neutral upbringing and has left it up to them to identify themselves as they grow.

On 19th June, Intersex Voices addressed issues on healthcare and intersex persons where intersex individuals, doctors, and researchers spoke about these issues. Experiences came up where a doctor went on treating an intersex person assuming they were homosexual despite no diagnosis. A case has been filed against the doctor by the client for the wrong treatment.

Vino, an intersex activist from Tamil Nadu, said, “I was raised as a girl but was a genotypical male. My family still doesn’t understand my reality, it is new to them. I faced a lot of emotional pressure, growing up. I had a sense of being ‘different’. During puberty, I experienced no changes girls have and began to feel disabled. My mother would pray at the temple for me to attain puberty. It was only after my karyotype result that people believed. My anatomy is different from what dictates my genes. External appearance is not always indicative of a person’s complete identity.”

Actor-anchor, SRC, an intersex person whose surgery gave rise to severe health complications said, “I wish I knew better and had more exposure and a better doctor to guide me more responsibly, tell me about the risks surgeries involve. Life would have been different. But I now resolve to spread awareness about the issue and tell my story”.

Doctors’ Speak

In the webinar, Dr Sameera M. Jahagirdar addressed loopholes of the undergrad medical syllabi which pathologizes LGBTIAQ+ content and subjects relating to sexuality, gender variations are selectively omitted and not taught. Dr Jahagirdar highlighted the need for its revision to make healthcare LGBTIAQ+ friendly. Dr Shruthi Chandrasekaran, a Chennai-based endocrinologist,  poignantly stated, “They teach us medicine, they teach us symptoms but empathy is really what we need to learn.”

The lack of understanding of LGBTIAQ+ disrupts healthcare and causes legal complications. Doctors and courts refuse to give intersex certificates so intersex persons are forced to identify as transgender in official documents. More often than not intersex and transgender identities are conflated which the heavily problematic Transgender Bill 2019 has also done by not addressing unique healthcare provisions separately for transgender and intersex persons. Government hospitals especially have no proper provisions for treatment.

Shakti Sri Maya, an intersex activist from Chittoor urges legal and healthcare centres to treat the intersex community equally, “We’re treated like aliens, without proper medical knowledge. I wish to see people knowledgeable, keeping themselves updated.”

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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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