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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!

In our mid-month issue, Anjali Hans, in her mid-twenties, writes with insight and humour about learning and becoming a woman while navigating the terrain between the world as feminists want it to be and the world as it is. Manak Matiyani in an interview with Shikha Aleya tells us why he foregrounds his identity as a feminist, what this brings to his work with young people, the issues that face them today, the positive changes that have occurred with respect to sexuality education, as well as some ways to expand these further.

The world has changed in many ways but seems to have remained the same in many others with young people in our country still being expected to wait for the ‘right time’ to learn about sexuality. What it’s like to be growing up in a world that pays little heed to young people’s sexuality is emphasised and reiterated by three of our other contributors. Arzoo Garg writes about her adolescence being a tumultuous time with her constantly being told to be a ‘good girl’ and the effects that that had on her development. Isha Vajpeyi compares reel and real sexuality education – what the Netflix series Sex Education depicts and what she received in school. Sreejani M, reflects on the constraints that young people face and the pressures they bear as they embark on the adventure of growing up, and encourages us to create a world that embraces sexuality and affirms its magic and beauty.

Part of growing up is learning how to become oneself and learning how to let other people be who they are. In the blogroll section we have an article in which the author takes us along on his journey from self-doubt to self-affirmation, and another in which a 17 year old yearns for an education system that teaches compassion, love and dignity for all. Plus, an introduction to Explore: Stories of Youth and Sexuality, an anthology of short essays depicting and embracing the journeys of early childhood sexual exploration and an invitation to contribute your own story to the anthology.

In the Tech Corner read students’ responses to feminist principles of the Internet. The Innovations Corner showcases a new toolkitA Young Woman’s Toolkit For Advocacy on Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights and Mental Health by Feminism in India in collaboration with World YWCA. In the TARSHI Corner watch The Birds and the Bees Talk, a chat with our very own Ramya Anand and Vani Viswanathan, on how parents can talk with young people about issues of sexuality. Thanks Sipping Thoughts for inviting us to do this!

Stay well, stay happy!

Cover Image: Pixabay

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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.

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