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To My 21-Year-Old Self

A close-up photograph of a white blank paper upon which letters are scribbled. Upon the paper is a black fountain pen and some violet flowers.

Dear Chand,

Take a deep breath. I am sure you are excited to begin your academic journey in Mumbai. You will face unprecedented changes. Shedding your birth name and taking up this name will probably be the first one. The term ‘comprehensive sexuality education (CSE)’ might be alien to you. You will only learn it years later when you join the social sector after a long journey. However, do not despair. You will learn all about it, and more, through your friends, your chosen family, and most significantly, your own experiences.

You will encounter cis men, and they will scar you forever. I am sorry. You will see them twist their words and actions as per their convenience, making your comfort and enjoyment secondary. You will begin thinking that this is the norm. You will encounter ‘grey areas’ where you don’t get any pleasure, but you don’t say ‘No’. You will begin thinking that it is surely your fault if you do not assert yourself and say ‘No.’ Hold on; this will be a tough journey. You will see people treat you with disdain and indifference for the way you look. Your body will come under intense scrutiny, every curve sneered at and every inch analysed. You will have partners who will make you feel lesser than, for not possessing the ideal body. You will feel the pain as their words seem to twist the dagger into the wounds of your childhood. You will hide your femininity and throw a cloak over it every time you meet a potential partner. It is a strange paradox, after all. The femininity and queerness that frees you every time you embrace it also has to be hidden in the pursuit of love and sex. However, it is natural since the word ‘sissy’ has become a painful echo in your mind. I know. It is not easy.

‘Is the future so dark?’ you might ask. I am here to tell you that it is not. As you begin your exploration into the world of queer theory and feminist theory, you will learn that the straightjacket version of sexuality cooked by our families was undercooked. You will first unlearn what gender means to you and understand that it is a universe of expression, presentation, doing and undoing. You will learn how narrow the box of ‘man’ is to describe yourself. You will come to embrace the term ‘queer’ to describe your gender, sexuality, and your worldview itself. You will slowly shed your inhibitions and other people’s expectations of you as you begin exploring your sexuality. Your comrades will guide you and help you understand the importance of using protection. Always. No ‘Ifs’ and ‘Buts’. You will encounter the workings of HIV and the long shadow it has cast on our communities through Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)1 when things take a dark turn. You will understand the truly insidious nature of ‘male entitlement’ and watch it fill you with anger. You will come to reject the deep-rooted idea that having a particular sexual preference makes you any less than others. Your body will change, and you will see the very same people who derided you for not matching their social ideas, treat you differently, making it apparent that the problem was never you. It was always them.

You will embrace pleasure in all its shapes, sizes, and myriad hues. As you dive deeper into gender studies and queer theory, you will come to rejoice in your femininity and your queer expression. You will understand that being monogamous has nothing to do with the number of your sexual partners. You will understand that consent is not the absence of a ‘No’ but the presence of an enthusiastic ‘YES!!!!!’ It will be a painful realisation but you will come to learn that unless there is mutual respect and reciprocity in romantic and sexual relationships, it is not worth being in them. You will come across the idea of CSE when you begin working in the social sector, and it will sting. You will wish you did not have to learn about CSE the hard way and that everyone understood it. I hear you. I feel you. I know. But it will be alright. You will have your comrades and chosen family always ready to pick up the pieces. You will shape your own life and paint it with all the colours you can dream of. You will fuel your dreams to advocate for a future where everyone has access to CSE and its transformative potential to shape their own lives and enjoy healthy relationships. And at the end of it all, you will still have hope.

Future Chand

[1] HIV PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, is a short course of HIV medicines taken very soon after a possible exposure to HIV to prevent the virus from taking hold in your body. It must be taken within 72 hours post-exposure for it to take effect. To know more, visit


Cover Image: Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash