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There’s A Thing Called ‘Being Gay’? : My 8YO Self’s Intro To LGBTQ+ Community

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Trigger Warning: Mentions of Homophobia

A world exists aloof of the distress of those who don’t fit into this cishet-normative and heteronormative society. They are called ‘Indian teens’.

Do Indian teenagers know about the anxiety and misinformation experienced by their non-binary and queer counterparts? No, not really.

In 2015, when eight-year-old me first eavesdropped on my elder brother and his friends discussing whether the respected headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was ‘gay’, I was perplexed by this new term.

lgbtq rights
Representational image.

Nevertheless, I never quite questioned it then; perhaps it was the confidentiality of the entire conversation that barred my conscience from exploring the meaning of the term — one which is still very much a taboo in Indian society.

A Step Towards Social Acceptance

This confusion lasted several years and was finally cleared in 2018 when the Supreme Court read down parts of Section 377 of the IPC which criminalised gay sex.

While for the LGBTQIA+ community, September 6 was a historic milestone and a first step towards social acceptance in India, for me it was a day of enlightenment. Finally, I got an insight into a world and community that I didn’t even know existed.

It also immediately became a joke among teens. Countless times, we would tease two friends of the same sex who were close and tell them, “Haha, now you can get married finally since Section 377 is no more!”

Two years later, I now realise how offensive it was of us to treat homosexuality as a joke or as ‘weird’. A hopeless romantic from my early days, I was smitten by the thought of eternal love, and the first time I was exposed to stories of same-sex relationships was through Thai Boy Love (BL) stories in Class 8.

I was surprised by how the meaning and feeling of love was constant and the same — it still meant trust, honour and loyalty. But wait, there was more. I soon opened my eyes to a world full of terms like ‘asexual’, ‘demi sexual’ and ‘pansexual’ and more — a whole spectrum of people.

This phase of discovery, which spanned a year, was full of emotion — from sympathy to empathy to rage over having been denied access to such information and even manic mirth over realising that there is a whole population that is conveniently hidden by this ‘anything-apart-from-normal-is-wrong’ society.

Living In A Heteronormative Society

By then, my friends considered me ‘weird’ — my best friend is borderline homophobic — and my parents, deep down, frowned upon my interest in non-binary people and other sexualities.

I remember my parents treating Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan, the first-ever gay-centric Bollywood movie, as yet another fantasy story, far away from the realities that we would ever experience. It was extremely frustrating to see them act so aloof, and it actually made me more interested to dive deeper into understanding people and their sexualities.

From a very young age, I was always puzzled by why we think twice about equality — as long as you are a living individual, there is no reason that someone else deserves something that I don’t. As kids, we learn what we are taught, and as a kid, I was taught that mental health was a joke, depressed people were just putting up charades to find someone to curse for their mistakes, and that teenage mental health wasn’t even a thing.

Representational image.

This is largely the reason I feel that my problems are small, but I overthink them and that they are not consequential. If I, as a societally normal, straight, educated teenager, have no idea about how to deal with problems I am facing, how would a teenager, possibly unaware that anything beyond the gender binaries even exists, get to know who they really are, let alone deal with their problems?

Need For Inclusion And Empathy

Sure, with the internet at our disposal, we can conveniently search for anything and find answers, but where does one get the emotional support, the warmth, and the empathy, when the people around us aren’t ready to accept that one may be gender fluid, pansexual and intersex?

There is a spectrum of undiscovered problems, circumstances and solutions that society has conveniently hidden in plain sight under the guise of ‘abnormal’. The world is big and consequently diverse.

How are we to find a viable solution to give people of various sexes, genders, and sexuality a share of their rights, let alone equality, when we don’t teach our newest generation about it — to love, accept, understand and propagate?

This article was originally published on Live Wire 

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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