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Editorial – Mental Health and Sexuality

A close-up photograph of a daisy

Mental health, much like physical health, is a state of wellbeing and not just the absence of disease or infirmity. Because each of us is unique, with our own particular temperaments, quirks and histories, we may react to situations differently. However, our wellbeing is affected not only by our individual traits but also by social, cultural and other systemic factors. When some of us don’t fit the default setting (cisgender male, heterosexual, upper class/caste, able-bodied, and the list goes on…), we are made to suffer for it. But, as the articles in this issue of In Plainspeak elucidate, we are not passive victims, silently licking our wounds and enduring what is done to us. We resist, we fight back, we reclaim our selves, and, yes, we demand and find joy!

In a world that devalues and erases queer and trans people, oppression is an everyday factor. And yet, we build resilience, support, friendships and a community, to feed our souls and be fully ourselves, bit by bit. Shruti Chakravarty, succinctly and beautifully, lays out how we do it through intimacies, solidarities, laughter and conversation.

Speaking of caste-based oppression, Deepa Pawar minces no words in a powerful and hard-hitting interview with Shikha Aleya, talking about her work with nomadic and denotified tribe (NT-DNT) communities. Deepa rightly points out that it is society that is mentally imbalanced for inflicting visible, invisible, subtle, overt, blatant and inhuman discrimination and violence on these communities for hundreds of years. Deepa takes us beyond the concept of mental health to the idea of Mental Justice and what it means for marginalised communities.

“We make tiny adjustments to do whatever it is that is expected of us. We think that eventually we will get to do what we really want,” says Taniya Mondal realising the fallacy of her thought and the weight of obedience that was demanded from her by her extended family to fit a patriarchally-determined role. Change came for Taniya with her taking a break from it all and finding healing through forgiveness, understanding, kindness, and, most of all, love.

There are some who find healing and some who offer it after having sought it for themselves. Pooja Priyamvada, a sexual wellness counsellor, recounts how from having no access to mental health and sexual wellness services herself, she went on to offer sexual wellness counselling services. Instead of gratitude or, at the very least, a welcoming reception, she met with hostility and abuse because of the assumptions that men make about a woman who talks about sexuality.

Anuckriti Garg, having asked herself what recovery is and how she could find it, went on to research her hypothesis that queer community-led peer support would be more desirable than therapy for queer-identifying women. Through the narratives of her research participants she saw how each one navigates their own journey in their own particular way, and arrived at an understanding of the complexities of trauma and recovery and the value of agency.

We all want community, the feeling of belonging, of being accepted. It is a privilege not granted to all and not everyone gets included in the circle of happiness. Shubhangi exposes the gate-keeping within the queer community, the subtle and not so subtle ways of making someone feel that they don’t belong, that they are a nuisance, a troublemaker, and quite frankly, unwelcome in a space that on the surface of it is supposed to be inclusive.

We need more safe and affirming spaces that are not based on the assumption that everyone has the same experiences and background, and that recognise and honour the specificities of each person’s experiences. Read about more about this here.

And finally, watch Me, We, Us, a three-part series on self- and collective-care by TARSHI and Nazariya Foundation based on a series of workshops with activists who work on issues of sexuality and gender in different parts of India, and who despite the challenges strive to find joy.

Continuing with the theme of Mental Health and Sexuality, how do we build inclusive, safe spaces of support, acceptance, and kindness? In our mid-month issue, Shikha Aleya, writing about TARSHI’s ongoing research on creating Safe, Inclusive and Self-Affirming (SISA) spaces, reflects on the importance of addressing the connection between mental health and wellbeing to our sexuality as well as the intersectionality of our lived experiences and identities, to build truly inclusive workplaces.

Further highlighting the importance of using an intersectional approach, Simran Kewlani and Vasudha Ramani emphasise the need to use “a nuanced, depth-oriented, person-centred and intersectional approach” in therapy in order to address the internal and systemic factors that cause distress, violence and marginalisation of queer and trans people.

How else can we build SISA spaces? Sanskriti Bhardwaj envisions forming temporary collective female friendships to counter self-doubt, insecurity, body image issues and privacy concerns that women usually experience while using the supposedly ‘private’ space of the changing room in clothing stores. In her vision, these temporary friendships can be a safe space to challenge the notion of a ‘desirable’ feminine body and to confidently explore their femininity.

Anuja Das’ review of Darlings (2022) sheds light on how the movie offers pathways to reimagining our social reality through the “interplay of multiple emotions within the different relationships”, especially in the portrayals of a wife-husband relationship and a mother-daughter relationship. Neel, in a poignant meditation upon the contentious relationship with her mother, writes about her attempts to explain her transness and dysphoria. In the process, she dwells on the concept of ‘womanhood’, the impact of her mother’s non-acceptance on her mental wellbeing, and the ecosystem of support she has built around herself.

In our Poetry section, we have Carol D’Souza’s poems, titled A room of one’s own and Sunshine, about the perception of the self by others and the melancholic longing for a friendship that has now become distant, respectively.

Given the capitalist structures we inhabit, and the proliferating online spaces within it, it is not surprising that we are made to feel bad about ourselves. And so, to round off this issue on Mental Health and Sexuality, we have curated two articles for you in our Corners section. The first is an article from BBC Future about the negative impact of photo-based social media activities on people’s thoughts about their body and some suggestions on how to ameliorate it. The second article is by Mary Ann Clements, initiator of Healing Solidarity, on resisting the commodification of self-care, being compassionate with ourselves, and building community care structures. We also offer you TARSHI’s curated list of weblinks on organisations that work at the intersection of mental health and sexuality.

Stay well, stay happy!

Cover Image: Photo by Stacie Clark on Unsplash