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Editorial: Young People and Sexuality

Butterflies are not born as butterflies; they are born as eggs, the eggs become caterpillars which develop into pupae which in turn grow into butterfies. There’s a lot that happens before they become the brilliantly beautiful creatures we know them as. So it is with us as we grow from infancy to childhood to adolescence and beyond. Growing up is simultaneously exciting and confusing. As we reach puberty, we are confronted with many questions about who we are and the physical and emotional changes we are undergoing. Our journey of self-discovery can be at times exhilarating, as we learn about and relate to our body and sense of self, and our world, and at times, overwhelming for the very same reasons. We each grow up under different socio-cultural, economic and political circumstances and are inundated with a confusing jumble of information (and misinformation) about sexuality.

As we explore our physicality, especially its ‘forbidden’ contours, and begin to express our desires, fantasies, and preferences, we reach out to our family, peers, the Internet and other sources, seeking validation of ourself and answers to our questions. Sometimes we find acceptance and answers, and sometimes we are left with more questions and a feeling of ‘Am I the only one?’ We may feel especially alone if our body and/or our preferences differ from the norm. Shaleen Chrisanne writes with insight and honesty about her battle with internalised bi-negativity and the necessity of visibility and accurate representation of bisexuality. While media coverage and awareness around the LGBTQIA+ community is increasing after the reading down of Section 377 and the opening up of different spaces, we are still in the very early stages of building affirmative and inclusive spaces. That’s why self-proclaimed queer allies Sunali Aggarwal and Aditi Mittal are developing an app to facilitate queer dating. They write about realising that their earlier biases against their lesbian friends were based on ignorance and fear, and make a strong case for communicating openly with young people.

Ignorance and fear, judgment and assumptions create fences between people, fences built on ideas about gender, sexuality, class, colour, ability, religion, nationality, to name just a few of the many things that seem to divide people and place barriers between them. Nhylar’s poetry, tenderly and insightfully, depicts the barriers she confronted and overcame to come to terms with her sexual orientation and discusses the politics of love as a ‘girl in the Third World’.

Queer or straight, as we explore our sexuality, concerns around consent and safety arise. What aligns with our authentic self? Where do we feel safe and where do we not? Are there particular vulnerabilities we have when we are young that may be exploited to our detriment? Elsa Marie D’Silva’s review of the miniseries Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich divulges the cunningly crafted web of lies, manipulation and abuse spun by convicted sex offender Epstein through survivors’ narratives. Looking at abuse from a lesser-discussed and personal lens, Nidhi Chaudhary  problematises the ‘coexistence’ of love and abuse in her review of the film What Will People Say? that is centred around the theme of shame.

Young people may be vulnerable to being manipulated and abused, but they are also resilient and resourceful. Asmi, while bemoaning that not much has changed in the way older people deal with young people in terms of sexuality, finds hope and inspiration in the ways that young people deal with each other. In Hindi, we have a translation of Sujatha Subramanian’s article which explores young women’s engagement with social media as a means of self-expression and self-determination.

In Brushstrokes, Robot Hugs’ comic Closets delves deeper into what constitutes the ‘closet’ queer people are asked to come out of so as to legitimately express their sexuality and/or gender identity and its impact on their self-acceptance and wellbeing. Comedian Sumukhi Suresh in her first stand-up video, I Run When my Mom Calls, part of her  stand-up performance Don’t Tell Amma, humorously relates how despite exercising agency in a larger public setting, she is still accountable to her mother to practice what is considered ‘right’ and ‘moral’.

In our FAQs Corner, we bring you a video, in collaboration with Feminism in India as part of our #WhyCSE campaign, debunking myths around Comprehensive Sexuality Education in the classroom and reiterating its significance in equipping young people to make informed decisions.

Like the butterflies we began with, young people come in all shapes and sizes, colours and hues. They inhabit different habitats, have different needs, different talents, and different strengths. For them to spread their glorious wings and fly freely, what they all need in common is safe, inclusive, sexuality-affirming spaces. As do all of us, young and not-so-young, for that matter!

Stay well, stay safe.

Cover Image: Pixabay


Article written by:

TARSHI supports and enables people's control and agency over their sexual and reproductive health and well-being through information dissemination, knowledge and perspective building within a human rights framework.