This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Anthony Chettri AISS, Amity University, Noida. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

A Pandemic Of Loneliness And Fear For The LGBTQ+ Community

More from Anthony Chettri AISS, Amity University, Noida

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Homosexuality, particularly in modern India, is seen as something which is an ultra-deviative behaviour from the so-called ‘natural’ norms. And the ‘natural norms’ concerning the sexuality according to me is based on production.

Since there is no production in a relationship involving LGBTQ folx, the majoritarian group (social and religious systems/institutions) along with state (political systems/institutions) have declared it as unsocial, unethical and criminal activity (although in India, now homosexuality is not criminal). Thinkers, philosophers and rationalists are of the opinion that physical and emotional love has no gender. But socially, such kind of love is seen only as a sin.

This attitude of the society has made a large section of society (not minuscule) live their life in complete denial, emotional unrest, confusion, deceit, disloyal and all other sinful forms as per the social norms. When will the society understand that by not allowing the LGBTQ folx to live their life as they earnestly wish to, the society is actually forcing people to a sinful life? (I don’t believe in the concept of sin, but I am using it since the society see it from sin perspective)

Representational image.

The society forces LGBTQ folx to live a life which is not real. Even their parents never ask them about their sexual preference. They think that their children are heterosexual. What a great assumption! Very strongly, their parents link their sexual orientation with their family prestige. The moral fight with their parents is so heavy that most of the LGBTQ folx in India prefer to marry as per their parents’ choice and live a complex life thereafter. This leads to loneliness, depression and other mental health issues which they cannot share with anyone.

Does the society understand that since centuries, they have actually forced the majority of the LGBTQIA+ community to live a life of fear and loneliness?

They are not free to choose our own sexuality and live proudly with dignity. Actually, LGBTQ folx have been living in quarantine since the time they became aware of their sexuality. I understand that a person cannot choose their parents. Nature does not allow it. In India, we generally cannot choose our own religion too. But sexuality, which is one of the important identities of a person, is also not allowed to be chosen freely. Just imagine the pain that one has to live with, throughout their life, suppressing their original sexual orientation only because of fear and shame.

LGBTQ folx go through pathetic mental health and in many cases, the individual may not even be as they have learnt to live in denial. Isn’t it a health pandemic?

A cross-sectional survey guided by Meyer’s Minority Stress Model was carried out by Anupam Joya Sharma, (Social Epidemiology, Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India, Published online 2020 Mar 12. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0229893) “to assess the links between minority stressors (internalized homophobia and degree of closetedness), age-related stressors (ageism and fear of ageing) and psychological wellbeing (loneliness, depressive symptoms and sexual compulsivity) among 207 Indian men (aged 40 years and above) who identified themselves as non-heterosexuals“.

Results showed the significant positive relationship of ageism, internalized homophobia, and fear of ageing with loneliness (even after accounting for sociodemographic and stress mitigating factors). The study goes on to state, “Overall, the theory-driven empirical findings suggest that even in India, where family and friends are social insurance for later life, the issues of ageism and internalized homophobia have the potential to lead to worse mental health outcomes among older queer men.”

So imagine a large section of individuals in the community who are non-heterosexual, not because of their choice, and have to live in quarantine and closet with fear, loneliness, stress, throughout their life. Is it not a serious mental health issue? I don’t know because I am not an expert on mental health. But if yes, then should it not be called a pandemic?

Why can’t our modern institutions, established on human rights values, be sensitive enough to call it as pandemic and find ways to resolve it? Oh, sorry I forgot one important thing, these modern human rights institutions are ruled by the majoritarian groups of the society who believe strongly from the deepest corner of their heart that homosexuality is a deviation norm. They may show themselves as very sensitive because it comes from the belief that my family members are ‘normal’.

Homosexuality is right outside their family, so with a guilt syndrome, they show that they accept homosexuality. Funny and ironical, if you ask me.

The moral fight with parents is so heavy that most of the homosexual persons in India prefer to marry as per their parents’ choice and live a complex life thereafter. Representational image.

We are all homosocial (this means the same-sex relationships that are not of a romantic or sexual nature, such as friendship or others). That is why people in gay/lesbian-dating sites say that they want friendship but are scared of explicitly expressing that they want a relationship beyond homosociality. Hence in case of gay men, some marry women to ensure that they are the perfect man (able to have sex with women and produce a child).

But in reality, they just perform the gender role of a man being in a conjugal relationship with a woman. Just imagine that these men at some point of time may get tired, frustrated and mentally sick performing a role that does not actually not coming from their natural feeling. Is it not an issue of mental health? Again, I want to clarify I am asking as I am no health expert. If yes, then why is this condition not a pandemic? Just imagine if the woman comes to know at some point of time that her husband is just performing his gender role, then what type of mental agony she will go through just imagining the societal norms.?

Why do our society and its different systems and institutions never teach us to be proud of our sexual identity? Why do our teachers not inject that courage in our mind from childhood that allows us to accept who we are? Why are we always taught to do things that adhere to the majoritarian norms of our society? Why are our children not taught to just love? Why does our society unknowingly (maybe knowingly) teach us to hate others which are not as per majoritarian norms?

We have many identities as humans. Sexuality is one of the important identities which governs our life and its chemistry. Why can sexuality not be left to personal choice? Why is sexuality associated with production? Why is it not discussed openly with a lot of maturity by our parents and teachers?

Can you (who are heterosexual) just close your eyes and imagine that you are a LGBTQ person? Will you ever dare to think for one time in your life in case you are not LGBTQ person? If you do so (in case you are brave) and think for a few seconds you are a gay, then how will you feel? Is it a good feeling? I could imagine that majority of you saying to yourself after the imagination exercise (almost a hundred times) that “Thank God I am not Gay”.   With this thought, I leave you all here to reflect on what I shared above in this small piece expressing deviation norms so openly.

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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.

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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.

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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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