Lessons from Taare Zameen Par

Gyan Toh Gyan Hota Hai, Chahe Woh Zabaani Ho Ya Likhit…

I would be the first to admit that my Hindi vocabulary is extremely limited, so if you had randomly approached me for a translation of the above quote, I would have had to blink and stammer.

However, it so happens that this particular sentence has appeared in a movie, one I have watched over, and fallen in love with over, again. So let me tell you what it means.

‘Knowledge is knowledge, whether it is spoken or written.’

Let me ask you a question. When you hear or read the word knowledge, what or who is the first image appearing in your mind’s eye? For me, it’s Mrs. Vimala, my 9th grade English teacher. Having been one of the most influential people in my life, I will forever remember her playful smirk and chastising tone.

Now that I think about it, it’s actually rather interesting how we remember only particular teachers/professors and conveniently forget the rest. The ones you do remember, it’s because they’ve either made a huge positive impact on your life, or they’ve given you memories so bitter that you can’t forget!

I mean, don’t you remember that playschool teacher who looked so like a popular actress that it was funny?

Don’t you remember that high school teacher who gave you the chills when she so much as called your name?

Don’t you remember that college professor who helped you see the world clearly even through the lens of your depression?

Whatever they’ve meant to you and at whichever points of time you’ve met them, the fact remains that every teacher you’ve had in your life has shaped and changed you irrevocably.

On that note, let me get back to the movie that I have watched numerous times: Taare Zameen Par.

When I first watched the movie 8 years ago, I was impressed. When I watched the movie yesterday to prepare myself for this review, I was emotional. I mean, hats off to the entire team, man!

From Darsheel Safari’s perfect portrayal of an innocent 9-year old, to Shankar Mahadevan’s soulful voice singing ‘Meri Maa’.  Just beautiful.

And don’t even get me started on Aamir Khan or I will gush. For now, I’ll just say one word.

Inspirational.

But then again, I guess all teachers have that effect on people. Teachers inspire you to introspect, innovate, and improve yourselves; they make you want to be a better person. And this part has been played amazingly well by Aamir.

Would it have been more realistic if the character had been a little older? I would say ‘Yes’, because Nikumbh’s wisdom seems a little uncharacteristic of a youngster. But one part of what makes the movie so unique is its turning of prejudices and stereotypes on their head. The other part is its relatability. Like I mentioned earlier, all of us have had teachers like Tiwari Sir and George Sir, and all of us have been misunderstood kids at one point of our lives, and it is this nostalgia that the movie captures accurately.

With the growing need to pay attention to the delicate psychological and emotional health of a child, the responsibility has fallen on our very own lighthouses of knowledge – our teachers, to guide us through the rocky seas of life.

If there is one thing that TZP brought out very well, it is the importance of a strong support system for children and adults suffering from various disabilities. Emotional and moral support can come from your family, friends, and even your pets but teachers, being those we are most in contact with during our initial years, are the first to note and care for you, and form the best support system one can have.

Think about Ishaan’s attitude when he is in a situation where his teachers misunderstand him and compare the difference we see in him at the end of the movie. Drastic development, don’t you think? But that’s the truth; a misinformed teacher has the ability to break a child’s spirit, where a compassionate teacher can kindle happiness and motivation in the same child, as wonderfully shown in the movie.  

Yes, to some children, school is a nightmare and teachers are downright scary, but to some others, going to school and interacting with friends and teachers is a form of therapeutic release. I have experienced this, myself; those 8 hours I spent at school everyday served to save me from being alone with my thoughts. Apart from the purpose of education, going to school also establishes a very dependable long-term routine, which helps to ground yourself and feel secure. 

Your daily lessons also serve as a distraction when you need one, and the sports and extracurricular activities at school act as excellent stressbusters. And who is at the centre of all this? Our teachers.

But let’s face it, teachers don’t have it easy. Theirs is one of the most unwanted positions in terms of employment, because it takes herculean effort and endless patience to handle the job. And that’s what makes the difference between people who view teaching as a profession, and those who view it as a calling. And imagine this: in a world where you might be distracted from caring for your own family, teachers volunteer to come forward and take care of 30+ troublesome little people!

Jokes apart, I strongly believe that every child or young adult deserves an inspiration in the early years of their lives, be it someone like Ram Shankar Nikumbh who has gone through similar struggles, or someone like Mrs. Vimala who can simply be there through your bad days. And the most important thing that linked both Nikumbh and Mrs. Vimala? They both believed in their children.

Team LonePack salutes all the love, care and effort that teachers provide!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hack your brain’s chemistry for a better mental health

In order to be physically fit, doctors recommend that we take the right nutrition, watch out for bad habits, proactively get health check-ups and exercise. It is uncanny how every one of them is completely applicable for being mentally healthy as well. While being mindful and in tune with yourself is very important, it is also crucial to learn and educate yourself about general mental health. If there was a short cut, or a smarter way to get yourself into a better place, that hack is worth learning.

Even today, with all the advanced researching capabilities, much about our brains and the complexity of its functioning evades us. However, with the current knowledge, we can appreciate that the body is dynamic and constantly changing. One of the systems that plays a key role in our brain and nervous functioning is the endocrine system.

The 5 Key Hormones

The endocrine system is a network of glands in your body that makes hormones that help cells talk to each other. They’re responsible for almost every cell, organ and function in your body. There is a long list of hormones that your body produces to keep it functioning properly and an imbalance in the hormone levels can have a direct and acute impact on the mental state. Prolonged imbalance can lead to chronic effects like depression, weight gain and other major health disorders.

As much as the endocrine system affects our mental health, it is also a feedback system. The production of these hormones is in response to external stimuli. But artificially creating the right conditions can also result in these hormones to be released or curtailed resulting in a better and desired mental state. Here are 5 important hormones and how you can hack them for a better mental health.

Cortisol

Cortisol has received a bad rep for itself nowadays as the stress hormone. Cortisol much like Adrenaline is a hormone that helps in generating the ‘fight-or-flight’ response to a stressful scenario. It helps in quickly ramping up the blood pressure, regulates inflammation and controls your sleep/wake cycle. However, being in a state of constant stress can lead to hormonal imbalance and lead to adverse effects such as high blood pressure and increased chance of stroke.

How to Hack?

It is not an easy solution for this one. One cannot simply say, relax and de-stress. One hack would be to take a relaxing bath/shower, to mandatorily take a break so as to keep down that elevated and continuous stress level. This post from our Instagram shows simple breathing techniques that you could incorporate into your fast-paced routine.

Serotonin

In all its effects, Serotonin is almost opposite to Cortisol. Out of the 40 million brain cells, almost all are thought to be influenced by Serotonin directly or indirectly. It is a crucial neurotransmitter that influences mood, sexual desire and function, sleep, memory and learning among many others. It helps you be more calmer, happier, more focussed and less anxious and more emotionally stable.

How to Hack?

The hack for Cortisol suppression works just as effectively in boosting Serotonin. It is almost a no-brainer that being happy positively correlates with increased levels of Serotonin but did you know that you can simulate being happy by simply smiling? Even forced laughter or smiling can trick your brain into thinking you’re happy and releasing endorphins and Serotonin. Exposure to bright light has also been linked to increasing Serotonin. So open those curtains in the morning and flood your room with that Vitamin D!

Endorphins

The word endorphin comes from putting together the words “endogenous” meaning from within the body, and “morphine” which is an opiate pain reliever. In other words, endorphins got their name because they are natural pain relievers. Endorphins are released as a reward for important activities such as eating, drinking, physical fitness and sexual intercourse. They help in minimizing stress and maximizing pleasure.

How to Hack?

Exercise. There is no activity that is more effective or has a longer-term impact on the health of your brain than exercise. In this TED-Ed video, neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki goes into great detail on the effect of exercise on your brain. Doing a simple thirty-minute workout can flood your system with endorphins and start making you feel better almost immediately.

Dopamine

Dopamine is central to your brain’s reward system. Dopamine is released when we accomplish something or complete a task. It’s release reinforces pathways in the brain building confidence and motivation. In extreme cases, the imbalance of this hormone has been linked to severe disorders such as Schizophrenia and ADHD.

How to Hack?

Break down your goal into small sizable tasks and complete the easy one first. We often procrastinate as a way to avoid negative feelings. As we get closer and closer to the deadline, we stress over it and complete it at the very last minute and end up feeling we aren’t good at what we do. A simple step you can take in tricking yourself to feel better and also get work done is to start with the smallest and easiest task on a project. With the positive reinforcement from the dopamine flooding your system, that hill to complete the project might feel just a little less steep.

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the ‘cuddle hormone’ or ‘love hormone’ because it is released when people snuggle up or bond socially. Oxytocin is an important hormone especially in new mothers and helps in mother-child bonding. It enhances the grasping of social information and consequently links sensory information to the brain’s reward system.

How to Hack?

It is as simple as a hug. The physical contact with another social being, even a pet, can lead to higher Oxytocin levels in yourself and also the pet animal. So, next time you get a chance to give a belly rub to your dog, know that it is doing you good as much as it is for the dog. Give your friend a proper hug, none of that pat on the back stuff.


While it is important to get out of the funk when it is getting you down for a long period of time, it is also vital to realise that feeling down, stressed, angry, or happy are a natural part of being human. We shouldn’t associate negativity to any emotions and must allow ourselves to feel the range of complex and inexplicable emotions that we are capable of. Similarly, we mustn’t misuse these hacks to immediately get out of a mental state when that state is perfectly reasonable. However, if for some reason you are constantly feeling down or for unexplainable reasons, then with this chemical key to your brain’s inner workings, you can hack yourself into a better place.

These hacks are not for adverse health disorders and it is recommended that you visit a certified health professional for a diagnosis. If you’re feeling down, chat with our listeners on LP Buddy in a non-judgemental fashion.

Mental Health in the Workplace

With the quarantine in full effect, Some of us have been working from our beds – the line between home and work completely blurred. Some others have a little too much family time and work has been their escape. And, for yet many more the pandemic has cost them their jobs and uncertainty looms like a guillotine over their lives. The undeniable fact remains that this lock-down is a little crazy and completely chaotic, and working from home has only added fuel to the fire.

The conversation surrounding mental health has never been more important, and while more and more people are talking about it, one space that it is rarely discussed is work. The internal separation between our ‘professional’ work-selves and our home-selves makes the topic of mental health issues taboo at the workplace. The need for this dialogue is also scarcely driven by employees. Changing this corporate culture must be driven by every worker. Spreading awareness and building support for demanding these benefits is a vital starting point. Encouraging more open conversations about mental health between colleagues and peers can lead to a more robust employee-driven implementation of policies. Finally, focusing on continuous improvement and adapting to change is key to support a workforce that deals with rapidly changing ways of working. Regardless of the myriad occupations that each of us hold, we can focus on these common spokes to turn the wheel of change. 

While some companies have started recognizing this and provide benefits catering towards employee mental-health such as free therapy and paid time-off, this is far from being the norm. Corporations exploit this diffidence to enhance their profit margins. However, businesses may actually profit from providing mental health services as part of their benefits. The World Health Organisation estimates that the cost in lost productivity due to depression and anxiety disorders is nearly US$ 1 Trillion. 

The pandemic and resulting work-from-home paradigm has brought forth a new challenge to the mental well-being of the digital workforce. While traditionally, most companies viewed working from home with suspicion, the current state of the world has brought enlightening new facts to dispel this doubt. Microsoft was among the first companies to enforce work-from-home for its employees. It has also been proactive in studying the results of this ‘experiment’. Some of the highlights (or sobering facts, to be accurate) from this study are, 

  • Employees were spending 10% more time in meetings when working remotely.
  • Instant Messaging usually slows down by 25% during lunchtime. However, when working from home, it dipped by a mere 10%.
  • Instant Messaging usage soared by 52% during 6pm and midnight.

The World Economic Forum recommends these 10 tips to boost your mental health when working from home. Here are some of the key points.

  • Set up a dedicated workspace, which should be as free from distractions as possible.
  • Develop a schedule, which includes phases of focused work as well as breaks.
  • Try to establish simple routines which don’t require any self-control, such as a coffee break or starting your working day with an easy routine task.
  • Set up dedicated times for work and leisure – and stick to these times.
  • If possible, work in a different room than the one you spend your leisure time in. Particularly avoid working in your bedroom as it may remind you of work related issues, preventing detachment when you go to sleep.
  • Engage in absorbing activities, which capture your full attention after work. Good examples include exercise, cooking, mindfulness meditation, or focused playing with your children or pets.

Due to the advances of technology and to the delight of managers, the feeling that an employee is available at any time when working from home has become the norm. Mental health has taken a back seat. Zoom burnout and loneliness (especially in the case of the younger workforce) are frequent complaints. In a 2010 experiment conducted by Nick Bloom, a British Economics professor at Stanford University, for a Chinese travel agency Ctrip, one half of a 250 employee-group, were told to work from home while the other half worked in the office. To the surprise of the agency, the productivity of the Home group went up by 13% and the company could save nearly $2000 annually per employee from this arrangement. But the experiment also measured happiness and ‘feelings of loneliness’ were the main reason for employee dissatisfaction. 

A majority of people spend one third of their adult life at work. Even if the social value of dispelling stigma surrounding mental health at the workplace isn’t enough, there is also a clear economic motive. The same study that estimated the cost of lost productivity due to employee mental health issues also provides hope. As a positive incentive for companies to take up the cause of mental health in the workplace, the research estimates that for every US$ 1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity. Here are the key takeaways from the steps recommended by the World Economic Forum to build a mentally healthy workplace,

  1. Be aware of the specific needs and circumstances of the work environment of your employees and tailor policies best suited for your company.
  2. Seek inspiration from motivational leaders and employees who have taken action.
  3. Be aware of other companies who have taken action to put mental health policies in place.
  4. Successful implementation of mental health policies and delivery of benefits relies on collaboration. Take practical steps to put this into place.
  5. Figure out where to go if you or your employees need professional help for their mental health concerns.

Most of these measures can be implemented whether the employees are at office or working from home. The most important step is to ‘Start taking action NOW.’ Employees have found innovative ways to stay connected with colleagues, who for many, double as best friends and form an important part of their social network. It is time for businesses to open a more humane side of operations and recognize that whether their employees are working from home or at the office, their mental health is as much of a tangible factor in their success as any profit margin.

Lending an Ear

Sometimes, all you need is someone to be patient.

To not judge.
To support.

To listen.

To be there.

Fifty years ago, mental wellness was a topic that was just starting to be researched, but was considered  taboo.

Twenty five years ago, dialogue surrounding mental health started to gain traction.

Today, people are slowly yet surely realising the importance of mental health and emotional well-being. Today, we are doing our best to fight the stigma that is associated with it. And now, more than ever, we need informed allies to help fight this long battle. Resources are being created to support those with mental health issues, yet there is still a long way to go.

We, at LonePack, understand the importance of listening and the strength that lies in supportive allies. LonePack was created with the mighty hope that efforts put into starting dialogue about mental health and normalising it would help people share their experiences, their stories and also reach out for help when they need it the most. And those efforts have now come to fruition in the form of our LonePack Buddy.

LonePack Buddy, simply put, is a peer-to-peer support system which provides a free, inclusive, and  non-judgemental safe space for you to talk about your concerns and worries.

This support system was created to establish a community of informed and trained allies who are more than willing to help you when you reach out.

Support in times of need Image Credits: Tim Mossholder

Just understanding that mental health matters is not enough. Action towards change has to start somewhere and we are taking that first step. The concept of LonePack Buddy might provoke a lot of questions in your mind – What are you doing with LonePack Buddy? How can any of us help those individuals who are affected by various mental health conditions? First of all, are you equipped to do anything? After all, not all of us can be medical professionals. But what we also realised is that not all of us have to be medical professionals to help.

A friend in need is a friend indeed Image Credits:Fabian Gieske

For multiple reasons, primarily due to the stigma and the associated costs, many people are unwilling to seek professional mental health care even if they realize that they need help. And this is where our Buddy comes in. Our goal is to act as a bridge between people seeking support and mental health care professionals (a sort of mental health first aid).

There are no profession, culture, ethnicity, or gender requirements that you need to start helping out. In fact, as we found out a few weeks after launching LP Buddy, people are less hesitant to share their worries when it comes to a friend or acquaintance, which is what Buddy aims to do: be a good friend to those who seek us out. Today, we have a number of ‘Listeners’ as we call them, from all parts of the world, helping us out with the Buddy program.

If you’re wondering how a Buddy can help, here are a few answer to that question, in the words of the Listeners, themselves:

‘A Buddy can help users in a personalised manner. Many users just want to be heard, and a Buddy can listen patiently without judgement. Others may require someone to guide them towards a new point of view which  they might be overlooking due to factors like stress, anxiety, or anything else weighing down their mind.’ -Padfoot

LonePack Buddy is a unique service for the Indian youth: it’s run by real volunteers typically within the same age group, who aim to provide a non-judgemental and patient space for everyone. One can talk to us about anything and everything under the sun, and we promise to listen and be supportive. Over the last few weeks, with most of us feeling cut off from our regular routines and support systems, we’ve really seen the need for a service like LonePack Buddy.’

-Snorkack95

When asked to describe the LP Buddy program, some of the words our Listeners used were, ‘Empathetic’, ‘Safe’, ‘Support’, ‘Real’, and ‘Trust’, which are all very true, because if Buddies have one thing in common, it’s hope. Hope that we are making a difference with our words. Hope for a better tomorrow.

Because as Listener ‘Sunshine’ put it:

‘Buddy is a literal representation of what Woody says; “You’ve got a friend in me!” And this friend won’t shy away when you talk about your struggles and at the same time will provide a space where you feel heard and safe.’

Because sometimes, all you need is for someone to lend an ear.

Join the cause and become a Buddy! Register yourselves on this link

If you want to know more, email us at contact@lonepack.org

Dissociative Identity Disorder: An Overview

What is DID?

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), also known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), is a severe manifestation of the group of psychological disorders known as Dissociation. DID is characterized by an individual experiencing a splitting or fragmenting of their original personality into two or more different ones.

This leads to a lack of clarity in a person’s thought, emotions, memories and actions.

What causes it?

Extensive research by organisations such as the American Psychiatric Association shows that DID is more often than not caused by severe emotional, physical or environmental trauma in a person’s past. These causes include physical, sexual, and mental abuse, the loss of a loved one, and life-threatening or near-death incidents, usually occurring around the age of 6.

Who does it affect?

DID occurs very rarely; studies show that it affects 0.1% to 1% of the general population. But when it does occur, there is no age bracket or cases of medical history within which patients fall. DID can affect anyone, living at any place, of any age, or with any background. The onset is commonly observed to be during childhood, but the symptoms may take years to manifest, making it very difficult to diagnose and treat the individuals.

However, it is also commonly agreed-upon by medical professionals that females are more susceptible to this disorder than men.

How can you recognize it?

The following symptoms have been recognized and grouped among individuals with DID:

  •       Eating and Sleeping disturbances
  •       Amnesia
  •       Hallucinations
  •       Self-injurious behavior
  •       Prolonged headaches and migraines due to irregular sleep patterns

One other symptom that is observed is an alternation of personalities; a radical shift in thoughts, behavior and emotions, due to the emergence of the different ‘alters’.

Methods of Treatment

  • Psychotherapy: Also called ‘talk therapy’, it is designed to work through whatever triggers the DID.
  •  Hypnotherapy: Clinical hypnosis can be used to help the person access and deal with repressed memories and feelings that are potential causes of DID.

Another effective form of therapy is encouraging the affected individual to indulge in the creative arts, music, or exercise; anything that can help to reduce stress in a positive way.

Misconceptions about DID

Multiple personality disorder, as DID is more commonly known, has been featured time and again in novels, television series, and movies, the most famous of them being the character of Gollum in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, and Alfred Hitchcock’s blockbuster hit, Psycho (1960). While it makes a good premise for pop culture, the severity of this mental illness is often disregarded and misunderstood.

Though most fictitious characterizations show one or more of the personalities as being ‘good’ or ‘soft’, and some as being ‘violent’ or ‘psychopathic’, in reality, one can never predict the nature of the ‘alters’. So it is best to seek professional help when dealing with a person with DID. 

How can I help?

You can help the patient by recognizing the symptoms at the right time and taking immediate action. DID is a very serious condition that needs to be treated as soon as it is diagnosed.

You can find out more here:

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/dissociative-disorders/what-are-dissociative-disorders

https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/conditions/dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder

https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Dissociative-Disorders

 

 

How to Be a Good Ally to the LGBTQ+ Community

The world is a beautiful place, filled with people of different age, race, religion, economic class, able-bodied status, gender, sexual orientation, etc. These infinite identities, in their various combinations, are the ones that make our everyday experiences unique and powerful.

In the case of gender and sexual orientation, over time, our ideologies have become conditioned to be more accepting of familiar binary identities while often disapproving those who identify beyond the binary. Identifying differently is not something that is up to choice and is simply the way they are. It is nothing uncommon and there are ample examples of non-binary identities throughout history and even mythology

While there has been a slow and growing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, they continue to face different forms of prejudice. This often forces the community into living a fearful and closeted life. Everybody, regardless of their choices deserve to live a life that is free of discrimination, which is why becoming an ally and standing up for what is right is of great significance and importance. An ally is a person who is genuinely concerned about the well-being of the LGBTQ+ community and strongly advocates for equal rights and fair treatment. While there is no such thing as a perfect ally, here are a few tips on how to be a good ally.

1. Understand Gender, Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression

  • Do not confuse sex, gender and sexual orientation. Recognize the range of identities that a person can associate with.  To know the difference between sex, gender and sexuality and to learn more about the various identities, please check out our blog article, Infinite identities – understanding sex, gender and sexuality.
  • Try to do your own research. It is unfair to ask the LGBTQ+ community to justify their identity for your better understanding.
  • Always use the appropriate pronoun to address people. If you are unsure of what to use, ask the person how they might want to be addressed. Also, get to know when/where it is safe to use the chosen pronoun. ( e.g. In front of the family / at their workplace)

2. Do listen when a person talks about their identity

  • Talk inclusively about sexualities in your everyday conversations, to make it easy for someone to know that you’re a safe person to share their identity with.
  • Be aware of the process of opening up about one’s identity and realize that the process is not a one-time thing and is unique to each person. It is okay to ask questions but make sure they are posed in a sensitive way.
  • Appreciate them for having the courage to tell you, do not judge them, and most importantly respect their confidentiality.

 3. Speak up for the Under-represented

  • Speak openly about the LGBTQ+ people in your life, if they have opened up and are comfortable with it.  Again, be aware of when/where it is safe to do so.
  • While social media is a wonderful tool for education and building community, take online activism further into real-life scenarios. Anti-LGBTQ comments are very hurtful. If you find yourself in a situation where such discrimination happens, speak up and say that you find them offensive.
  • When people speak up, it helps educate others and also reduces instances of intolerance from repeating again in the future. It will also give others the courage to stand up against discrimination.

 4. Check yourself whenever you’re “performing” as an ally

  • We have to acknowledge that we can still do harm, even when we’re trying to do good. Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes while getting to know the LGBTQ+ community. 
  • If you mess up, do not beat yourself up for it. What is more important is to learn from them and move forward. Apologize for your actions and aim to do better next time.

Being an ally is about embracing the differences and looking past them to create a better world. It is choosing to strip down all the different labels and to remember that we are all human. It is about being Otis to Eric [1] and Captain Holt to Rosa [2]. While one person by themselves cannot change the world or undo the past,  one can do their best and that’s good enough. 

 Here is a list of other resources, that you can refer to help you become a better ally:

 

REFERENCES

1 From the Netflix show, “Sex Education

2 From the Netflix show, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine

https://www.oprahmag.com/life/relationships-love/a28159555/how-to-be-lgbtq-ally/

https://engage.youth.gov/resources/being-ally-lgbt-people

https://buffer.com/resources/lgbtqia-resources/

https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a27703265/how-to-be-lgbtq-ally/

LGBTQIA Resource Center:  https://lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/educated/ally-tips

A look at LGBTQ issues – Relationships, Religion and Access to Resources

‘Who am I?” – This question has haunted thinkers and philosophers forever. We attach an identity to a person and aim to form a generalized opinion of the mass through this segregation. However, each person has multiple identities – a woman, a biracial person of color, a brother, a social worker, a queer man… the list is endless. It is when we feel supported and recognized in every aspect of our collective identity that we feel accepted as a person. This realization, that each of us have something or the other in common and that we are ‘brothers’ through some shared identity, allows us to empathize when we see others being shunned for their sense of identity, for example, being LGBTQ+.

The LGBTQ+ movement is focused on getting EQUAL rights, to overcome the disadvantages they face on a daily basis and to earn a place of respect just as any other person could but without hiding their gender or sexual identity. The road to equality and acceptance isn’t always the same for people of differing identities. Sometimes, it is an uphill struggle with no reprieve – especially for minorities and disadvantaged groups. This fact, in any way does not discount that it might be difficult for a person not belonging to these groups, but only that there is an added hurdle of discrimination that cuts deep into the progress by someone who is LGBTQ+.

This is evident in major aspects of any person’s life – relationships, religion and access to resources. In all these areas, scientific studies conclusively state that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to face hurdles and have less success in achieving a fulfilling life.

Relationships

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Even in countries with a generally progressive view on LGBTQ+ rights, people belonging to the queer community are far more disadvantaged and having a lifelong relationship with a partner remains a distant dream. A 2013 Survey of LGBT Americans shows that only 16% of LGBT people, mostly bisexuals with opposite sex partners are currently married compared with about half the adults in the general public. We can safely assume that the numbers are even lower in conservative and religious countries such as India. Acceptance by family is another major aspect to the problems faced by LGBTQ+ people. The stories of prosecution and attempts at conversion therapy of LGBTQ+ youth who have come out to their family deter the many others still deeply closeted. It is cruel that even their family is no place of solace from the continuous stress and trauma owing to the fear of judgement from society. 

However, there is hope. The trend in urban India shows that there is an uptick in the activism and awareness surrounding LGBTQ+ issues. With the repeal of the colonial-era law criminalizing homosexual relationships, the support on social media and general public has increased. This move in India has also inspired movements in other former British colonies to throw out this outdated law. Support systems form an essential building block in the foundation of LGBTQ+ relationships. Many LGBTQ+ people’s accounts show that they received support and help from online platforms anonymously, opening up an avenue for closeted LGBT people to seek a sense of community. Hopefully, this social acceptance can also translate to more and more families accepting their children’s sexual and gender identity.

Religion

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Faith and hope can come from more than one place. Spirituality and religion can impart a sense of belonging and must be a safe haven for everyone who wishes to practice it. ‘For a member of the LGBTQ+ community , however, that avenue is also riddled with danger. The outlook for homosexuality’s acceptance in Indian religions is grim. Most religions either oppose or remain mum on homosexual relations and this lack of basis in written tenets alienates the LGBTQ+ population from following religion. This is exacerbated by the fact that most liberal religious leaders do not raise their voices for fear of prosecution. 

In our blog article, The Language of Love, we discuss how homosexuality and gender identity aren’t radically new concepts in the context of Indian history. This attitude is slowly changing; in an article published in Indian Express, there are examples of how acceptance by a local church father, temple priest, or Muslim cleric can make an impact at a wider level. As stories such as these are adopted and shared by the media, more and more religious leaders might step up to the need of LGBTQ+ people’s concerns in Faith. A study by GLAAD, Missing Voices, reports that mainstream media outlets were disproportionately reliant on anti-LGBT religious voices and provide a skewed outlook of general opinion. As an example of proof to the contrary, Catholics support marriage equality at 54%, which is higher than the U.S. national average. Faith and Spirituality must be non-political, open, and accepting to all, for it is a sanctuary for the emotionally and spiritually wounded to open up and that is not possible when there is fear of judgement.

Access to Resources

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Deprived of meaningful connections through relationships or religion, it is sad but not surprising to find that this has a direct impact on the mental and physical health of LGBTQ+ people. This issue is compounded by the fact that to access resources, a gay or lesbian person has to overcome hurdles of substantial proportions. Financial independence can be a strong factor in the decision to come out of the closet. A curated study by the World Bank in India, finds clear evidence of stigma and exclusion for LGBT people in India and that this stigma has a possibly substantial economic impact of lower productivity and output because of employment discrimination.The situation is far worse in the case of health resources. In an exhaustive guide and resource kit published by the U.S. Department of Health, it is stated that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to contract physical illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and obesity and mental health issues such as suicide and substance abuse. 

However, In the same guide, it also finds that culturally sensitive mental health services have been shown to be more effective in the prevention, early detection, and treatment of these conditions. At the height of the gay rights movement in the U.S. the fight for access to resources to combat AIDS was a strong motivator. Providing these resources contributed significantly to improving the overall health of the population and bringing about awareness of the deadly disease. A research study published in World Development which analyzes economic data from 132 countries from 1966 to 2011, finds that there is a strong sign that economic development and LGBT inclusion are mutually reinforcing. Just one additional point on an 8-point scale of legal rights associated with a whopping $2000 per capita GDP increase. This shows that there is a strong basis for governments and industries to fight against LGBT discrimination and secure their rights in the workplace.

Open LGBTQ+ people are a minority. The majority of the population might feel inclined to not support their rights or that their problems are exclusive and trivial to a straight person. The research and data however paint a picture to the contrary. Inclusion of LGBTQ+ people has a direct positive impact on the overall health and economy of a nation. If data and statistics aren’t enough to convince you to be a supporter of their rights, we must look past the identity of a gay man, a lesbian woman, a transexual or queer person and see that they too hold an identity that you might associate with; a college student, a sister, an Indian, a neighbor in your community. It is through this shared identity that we must motivate ourselves to be compassionate and empathetic to their cause. Only through this attitude of acceptance and approval can we truly become open and accepting to our own identities and those of others’.

The Language of Love

While many assume that homosexuality and homoeroticism are Western concepts that diluted Indian traditions, there has long been a question of how and from where these seemingly radical ideas originated. And even though Indians can’t possibly take all the credit, we have had a fair share of gender-fluid characters and relationships in our history, mythology, and literature.

Contrary to popular belief, our ancestors were extremely far-sighted and liberal. I’m not talking about our parents and their parents or even a generation before them. Think older than that. Let me help you out; picture the oldest generation of your family who you know of, go back three generations, and you might be where I’m at.

I’m talking about Moghuls and Sufis, and going further than that, even gods, angels and demons.

Yes, you heard me right, we have homosexual and transgender gods across the Hindu pantheon. Ardhanareeswar, the perfect combination of God Shiva and his wife Goddess Sakthi, is the patron god of many transgender communities in India. We also have a god born of a union between a homosexual couple. Lord Aiyappa (who is ironically celibate), is said to have been born between Mohini, a female avatar of Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva.

Hard to believe? Let’s step into solid history, then.

‘When I see my friend I am abashed with shame,

My companions look at me, I look away sans aim’

(Babunama Translated from Turkish by Annette Susannah Beveridge)

There are many accounts of Babur, the man who single-handedly brought the Moghul dynasty to the forefront of Indian history, being bisexual. In fact, Baburnama, his poetic autobiography, mentions how we was once attracted to a man named Baburi, and how he became lovesick even after he got married to his first wife, Aisha Sultan Begum.

And while we’re on the topic of poetry, let’s not disregard Rumi, the great Sufi poet, whose verses blatantly disregarded the idea that love and sexual desire were taboo.

When someone quotes the old poetic image

about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,

slowly loosen knot by knot the strings

of your robe.

Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,

don’t try to explain the miracle.

Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.’

(The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks)

 

Still need rock-hard proof?

Look no farther than the Khajuraho temples in Madhya Pradesh. Built sometime in between 960 AD and 1050 AD by the best sculptors in the Chandela dynasty, this Jain temple complex has explicitly sexual figures and sculptures that would put the Fifty Shades Trilogy to shame! The most surprising thing about these temples? A good part of them pays homage to homosexual love.

And it’s not just Hinduism, Islam and Jainism; homosexuality and homoeroticism exist in practically every culture in the world.  But so do prejudices and condemnation.

For example, ‘Love hurts,’ is a popular opinion.

‘Unrequited love festers and wounds,’ is also accepted by many.

But something that hurts even more? Not being able to show your love.

It’s taken us 72 years to rid ourselves of our old-fashioned beliefs and practice acceptance by doing away with Section 377. And in those 72 years, a lot of us have suffered because of what others deemed ‘wrong’ and ‘impure’.

How many of us have had to bury our feelings deep inside because of our fear of what society would say? How many of us have felt depressed and wounded because of that repression of our love? How many times have we wished that we had never fallen in love with that particular person?

But let’s face it; society is flawed. It is an imperfect system created by humans to regulate and control each other’s activities. From love that defies the ‘rules’ to lower-than-acceptable marks in your boards, society will keep judging you. There’s no point in worrying about it and spoiling your health and future.

Mahatma Gandhi once wrote, ‘Where there is love, there is life’. Accordingly, love is one of those things that will transform your life. Love, by itself, gives you happiness and peace. Apart from that, biologically speaking, the feeling of love releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical that your brain releases when it feels rewarded or happy, which also eases the negative emotions of sorrow and stress.  And all this happens despite your beloved being older or younger than you, or the same gender as you, or of a different religion, caste or race than you.

Of course, there will always be that fear of judgement from your own family and friends, but then again, what you need to ask yourself is this: Is your love worth all the stress and the effort? If the answer is yes, we suggest you pick up a rose, climb a balcony, and pull off a Shakespearean romance.

After all, what’s in a gender?

Team LonePack wishes you happy life filled with love and prosperity!

LonePack Conversations – Discussing the ‘Meh’ with Bhairavi Prakash

When you don’t have words to describe the feeling of emptiness, anger, frustration, you just go ‘Meh’. It’s an emotion that says a lot without saying much.

In this episode of LonePack Conversations, we discuss this feeling and how to tackle it, among other initiatives from Mithra Trust with its founder Bhairavi Prakash, psychologist and public speaker.


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Karthik: Good morning, Good afternoon, Good night, whatever time it is, wherever you are listening to this episode of our podcast, LonePack Conversations, where we shine the light on mental health experts and organizations and give a voice to connect with all the impactful work they have been doing.

My name is Karthik and in this edition of LonePack Conversations, we are joined by Bhairavi Prakash, a Bangalore based psychologist, founder of the Mithra Trust and public speaker. Hello Bhairavi!

 

Bhairavi: Hi Karthik! And, I am from Chennai and Bangalore based by the way. Lockdown in Chennai but I am not in Lockdown in Bangalore.

 

Karthik: That’s interesting!

Alright, Can you give a brief introduction of yourself and the work that Mithra Trust does?

 

Bhairavi: Sure, I’m a psychologist as you said. I studied in Chennai. I went to Women’s Christian College here and I have been in this field for about ten years now. I have worked on everything from corporate mental health, setting up school mental health programs, to working on artificial intelligence in mental health and things like that. Then, I ended up founding Mithra as an NGO. 

The idea of Mithra is to give mental health information and tools and spread awareness in a way that a friend would. I found that everything around mental health was very scientific or it was very medical. It didn’t have that personal connection or personal impact. 

A lot of the work that I do is based on my own stories. So, mental health issues that I have faced myself or having lost a friend to suicide or just things that happen in life that impact you but you don’t realize at that time that it has impacted you.

 

Karthik: Wow! That is quite impactful to know.

So, I find that there are a lot of parallels and synergies between what LonePack does and also what Mithra Trust does. So, what was your inspiration to founding this organization? and, how is the work that Mithra Trust does unique?

 

Bhairavi: I’d done so much in mental health but Mithra is the first area that looks at it in a very friendly way. So, I am not talking as a psychologist to people. The tools that we provide are actually tools that I need for myself. So, Mithra just began as a way of looking at what are the things that I needed at different points in my life and making that accessible. 

One of the first things that we did when we launched Mithra was this series called ‘What to say’. It is such a simple concept. How many times have you been on the phone where somebody is crying or someone is really upset and you don’t know what to say to them? So, my whole thing was, How can I help you be a better friend and How can I help you be a better support system and that’s how ‘What to Say’ started.

We launched, ‘What to Say’ for somebody who wants to take their own life and we have done series covering so many things, anxiety, depression, grief, over-thinking, heart-break, how to apologize, all the way to abortion, miscarriage and sexual assault. I keep asking the Mithra community on Instagram, “What do you want help with?” and based on that we come up with a lot of the content.

Mithra is an organization that I have created basically to help me and is helping a lot of other people… So, I think, in that way, it is very unique.

 

Karthik: Yeah… What you say about, when you’re in a situation, you always misinterpret things or you have the right intentions in mind but you come out and say something that is hurtful to others. So, that series is really quite useful.

So, one of the signature initiatives of the Mithra Trust is The Meh Kit and it has been featured in The Hindu. For people who haven’t heard about this, What is the ‘Meh’ and how does this kit help people tackle this feeling?

 

Bhairavi: The Meh, again is so personal. The Meh, is what I used to say when I didn’t have words and somebody asks you, “How are you doing?” and I’d be in the middle of a depressive episode and I couldn’t explain what I was going through. For them, the Meh could have been anything from feeling overwhelmed to feeling bored, disinterested or very sad but at the end of it, you just know that the Meh means “Not Okay”. So, the minute says ‘Meh’ you know that they are not okay. The Meh is just that overall feeling of being not okay and you say it with a shrug and you feel it with your whole body and you are, ‘Meh’. So, that’s where the Meh came from. 

The Meh Kit, the first one that we have done is called “Riding out Depression” and the idea was how do you help somebody have the tools to understand their own lows and the tools to help them ride it out themselves, the tools to help somebody help themselves. It came from a friend of mine who wrote to me saying, he was a very very dark period and he wasn’t okay and he didn’t want to go to a therapist.

So, I told him that I can’t replace therapy and I am not going to do that but what I can do is that  get you ready if at all you decide to go to a therapist, to make you feel a little bit better and understand what you are going through. It was a series of conversations and all of this was through email. The minute I saw how well he did with that, I was, like, “How can I make this accessible to other people?”. So, basically the idea of the Meh Kit is to unpack different types of emotions that you go through different thoughts that you have and to understand that. 

So, the idea is to, one, give people information of what it really feels like and two, give them the space to understand it on their own time and three, give them the tools to deal with it when they are ready. It has everything, from the ‘What to Say’ statements to explaining this whole depressive episode through a series of comics. We used really warm colors, because when you are in that state of not feeling okay, you feel like you don’t deserve any kind of love, affection or warmth. So, the minute you see this kit, in itself is overwhelming love. Lot’s of people have written saying it’s like a hug for me.

 

Karthik: It is true that lot of us when we phase through this feeling of being stuck and not able to process our own thoughts, we get bombarded on Instagram with plain messages of happy, positive thoughts. There’s always this precise and surgical way of analyzing your thoughts and how to move forward in a very rational fashion, and this kit really does a good job of putting you through those steps and clearly explaining to yourself and moving yourself forward through this entire process. So, that’s great!

Let’s diverge for a bit and try to address the current situation with the Corona Virus, the quarantining and the lockdown. So, how do you think this feeling of ‘Meh’ exhibits itself in a person during this time and as a psychologist, what do you think will help people to get out this feeling.

 

Bhairavi: I’ll give you the answer to this question based on the conversations that I have been having with people.

People come in because they are feeling anxious, overwhelmed and they are really worried and dealing with uncertainty. There’s just a lot of fear. They are very tired. They want to be productive. Some of them are very grateful that they still have jobs but they are not able to do it. Others are very worried about parents and family being away from home, still others are very irritated about the fact that everybody is together all the time and they don’t get their own space. So, there’s all of this that is happening within one virtual space that we are holding.

What I saw is, four distinct phases, which kind of merge together. First, people kind of feel, at the start of the lockdown especially, they felt like, “What’s the big deal? They feel almost comfortable with it, almost like a summer holiday. Second, any small uncertainty gives you massive frustration. Any small thing that happens, you find yourself reacting in a very big way and not able to understand why. The third is when you feel that you are getting things back on track. You seem to have a plan. You’ve started working out and doing Yoga, have mindfulness and things seem to be a little bit in control. These three things people go through during hours or days. This constant cycle of “I’m not okay.”, “I don’t know what to do.”, “Oh my god! I am getting better.” and then again. That’s something that I saw very clearly.

The overarching thing in all of this was just feelings of guilt. “Why should I be feeling so bad when, the migrant workers, how much they are walking, how much they are being bullied by the police. They have it so much worse than me.” So, I am feeling bad that I am not feeling okay. So, this level of not allowing ourselves to feel. These are people who know it and have been doing the work, who’ve been part of therapy. Even they had trouble doing this.

We need to recognize that all of us are going to be impacted and we need to give ourselves the space to recognize that. But, understanding that it has an impact on us doesn’t take away from the very real pain that somebody else is going through. So, it is not about comparing pain. When you compare it to a physical pain, like a stubbed toe, it doesn’t make sense, “Please cry out. Of course, your toe is in pain. Is it bleeding? Does it need ice? You need to rest.”, you automatically figure out so much ways to support. 

 

Karthik: When something is right there in front of our eyes, we give it more attention whereas when it is something in our mind, we do not express it. We are not giving ourselves the permission to feel bad or take a moment and heal.

 

Bhairavi: So, for me as a psychologist, the only thing to everyone in this world right now is think of your own mental and emotional pain that you are going through, like that stubbed toe, try to identify what it is and give yourself that feeling and the permission to feel that pain. That’s the biggest thing you can do for yourself.

 

Karthik: It’s also the biggest step you can take towards healing.

On your website, there are so many useful resources, you can head to mithratrust.com for accessing those resources, I saw there were the ‘Virtual well-being’ sessions, the ‘What to Say’ series and the ‘Meh and me’ series. The last one, ‘Meh and me’ series, I was particularly intrigued by that because it talks about mental health issues in men which is scarcely addressed. Why do you think that is the case and what can men do, who are undergoing mental health issues or who just want to help, to get out of this cage of not being allowed to feel, not being allowed to have mental health issues?

 

Bhairavi: ‘The Meh and Me’ series started off in November. In November, you have health month for men, Movember, where men grow mustaches and that is what it’s known for. We thought, Let’s try to bring in an interesting concept, where we ask men to submit stories and keep it anonymous. We posted them on Instagram and a number of people said, “If you hadn’t told me this was a man, I would have just assumed it was a woman.” 

One, men don’t talk about it and you don’t acknowledge or associate men with having feelings like that, expressing them and going through pain. That is a huge part of our society, just the way that boys and girls are brought up. That is what you see right? You don’t see someone who is in tune with themselves. You don’t see someone questioning and understanding what’s happening, or even talking about it.

So, The whole point of the ‘Meh and Me’ series is to, (have a platform where you ask), “Tell us about a time where you weren’t feeling okay and were ‘Meh’. What did that feel like? And then what happened?” It’s just to show people that this is a simple format and we have men and boys of all ages to submit what they are going through. So, people started feeling so good about it that we extended it. It’s no longer for that month, November, but become a regular series that we do now.

 

Karthik: The stories were quite moving. I went through a few of them. To see that it is not only me, me in my four walls, We’re all in this together and the sense of community is quite liberating. 

Mithra Trust has done some great work in bringing awareness to mental health. So, what are some initiatives that we can expect to see in the future that you guys might do?

 

Bhairavi: Right now, with the lockdown, we did the whole thing about ‘Connect Within’ where we sent messages to people everyday on Instagram saying ‘Take a few moments to pause, to breathe and to think thoughts of kindness, hope, compassion and gratitude.’ We have taken it a step further now. This entire week is part of Mental Health Awareness week. The theme was kindness within you. So, we have been doing these activities around kindness. 

Going forward, we are doing a lot of work on building something for young people, something specifically (for them), because I think, school students, they have so much of uncertainty. Everything that they worked towards, all of their dreams, or they have gotten into college, and now, they don’t know what’s happening.

That feeling of how you deal with all these things, the things that you have been working towards and now don’t mean anything. To bring a framework and a sense around that, we are doing work on resilience, and within resilience engaging in this concept of gratitude, kindness and compassion. That is a series that we’ll be launching in June. It’s gonna be a webinar-discussion series. 

‘Let’s discuss the meh’, is primarily a discussion series. ‘Doodles for the meh’, is a series where you sit and you are provided a tool, you are taught how to doodle while you observe your thoughts, emotions, while you connect to your breathing and you kind of let out the emotions through the doodle and bringing in resilience for the meh, next.

 

Karthik: The second example, doodling is quite a favorite of mine and lot of us try to bring it out in a creative form of all our issues, we try to express them, and it’s important to have a platform to have that exposure and getting it out of your system.

It’s been a pleasure to have you in this edition of LonePack Conversations and as we close out this episode, what would be your message to leave our listeners with and where can they head to find more about the Mithra Trust.

 

Bhairavi: My message to everybody is to acknowledge the Meh, acknowledge when you are not feeling okay. There are so many great resources, the fact that they are listening to the LonePack Conversations, it means they are giving themselves the permission, the time and space to engage with these conversations. I think you guys have been doing an incredible job with this. Even with the letters of positivity, it is something nice to look forward to.

If you want to find out more about Mithra Trust, just jump on Instagram, @mithratrust. 

 

Karthik: Alright! Let’s close out this edition. Thank you for joining us and have a good day!

 

Bhairavi: Thank you so much Karthik!

 

Infinite identities – understanding sex, gender and sexuality

“Wahhh…” A newborn cries as it leaves the mother’s warm womb to face the baffling world. The doctor joyously announces, “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy.” The baby is identified by the pronoun -she or he, based on which the life of an infant is mapped out. From the clothes they wear to the toys they play with, from the emotions they can express to their probable profession, the seemingly distinctive categories of male and female becomes a pertinent determinant.  Further, our society traditionally expects that only a man and woman can be attracted to each other. Sounds familiar, right? But just because we are conditioned to look at things a certain way, it doesn’t tell us the entire story! It is now time to move beyond the binary vision that makes us comprehend the world in black and white, or in this case pink and blue. When we perceive things through a prism of possibilities  rather than  a non-dichotomous lens, the rainbow of sex , gender and sexual identity  emerges. Wait, what? don’t they all mean the same? Absolutely not! Come, let’s try to unravel them one by one-

‘Sex’ entails physiological characteristics like genitalia, chromosomes, hormones, and genes that we are born with. But guess what? Our biology can blur the line of distinction between “male” and “female” bodies with the diversity and variation it offers. Yes, intersex individuals have physiologically reproductive traits that do not conform to the “typical” sex assignment. No, there is nothing faulty or unhealthy about an intersex identity. So, do our genitals dictate our ways of being? To answer this, let us put the spotlight on the term ‘gender.’

1) Gender–biologically determined or socially constructed?

 An increasing line of evidence shows that the experience of gender is a complex interplay between nature and nurture. A meta-analytical study by Todd et al. (2017) revealed that a preference for “male typed” toys or “female typed” toys cannot only be attributed to cultural expectations but also biological predisposition. Despite variations in the geographical location of the study, culture setting, provision of gender neutral toys, presence or absence of adults and the year of publication, there remained a significant difference in toy preferences among girls and boys. These differences remained consistent across countries that rated high on gender inequality and those that scored low on the dimension, suggesting an innate influence on the toy selecting behavior. However, fundamental differences embedded in biology should not confine individuals to a particular way of thinking, feeling, or behaving. Our intrinsic differences are plagued by rigid gender norms that society propagates. This is where the social forces of gender steps in.

Rhoda Unger (1979), a feminist psychologist illustrated that the terms ‘sex ‘and ‘gender’ are not synonymous. While sex suggests biological differences, gender is a socially established role arbitrarily allocated based on this biological distinction. We let the labels, female and male, guide our everyday behavior and choices across situations through the process of socialization. “Why are you weeping like a girl? Learn to play it cool (it doesn’t matter if you are dying inside).” “Who is this horrible driver? Must be a woman.” These are the voices of the everyday gender roles and stereotypes that we subscribe to. We invariably assume someone born as a male to epitomize “masculine” qualities associated with being assertive, unemotional, dominant, and daring. On the other hand, someone born as a female is expected to embody “feminine qualities” recognized as sensitivity, dependency, gentleness, and passivity (Williams and Bennett, 1975).  However, instead of regarding “masculinity” and “femininity” as two ends of a pole, androgyny implies a union of both. On the Bem Sex Role Inventory, designed by psychologist Sandra Bem (1974), high scores on femininity don’t necessarily mean low scores on masculinity. Yes, one can score high on both the dimensions simultaneously! In other words, you can express your gender in ways that renounce the rigid dichotomy of “man” or “woman.” This also brings us to the next concept.

2) Gender identity

Gender identity is one’s self-conception or internal sense of who one is based on their association with “feminine” and “masculine” gender roles.  A transgender individual might feel that their biological sex doesn’t do justice to their subjective experience of gender, elucidating that we are more than our anatomy. Our identity brings with it a universe of possibilities, existing across an infinite continuum. Gender diverse individuals can move across this spectrum, feel they belong somewhere in between, or choose not to associate with any gender at all.  They may identify as non-binary, gender-queer, gender fluid, agender (to name a few), or not label themselves at all. What matters at the end of the day is that self-expression can be myriad, varied, colorful and yet valid!

Sexuality

The discussion around multiple forms of expression remains incomplete without addressing sexuality. Our sexuality is the romantic, emotional, and /or sexual attraction (if at all there is any) towards others. Just like the rest of the concepts discussed here, there are no prizes for guessing that sexuality too exists on a spectrum. Alfred Kinsey (1948), devised a rating scale that ranges from exclusively ‘heterosexual’ to exclusively ‘homosexual’ (the term is outdated and considered offensive. Avoid using it!). This suggests that people can experience their sexuality in ways extending far beyond our listed categories. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, bi-curious, asexual, aromantic demisexual, and pan-sexual are just a few of these diverse identities, each adding its own unique hue to the rainbow. 

While many individuals wish to express themselves in unique ways, they continue to face discrimination, injustice, and isolation because their identity doesn’t align with society’s definition of “normal.” A recent study conducted by UNESCO (2019) tried to understand the experiences of participants (18-22 years) who identified as members of the LGBT community in Chennai’s educational institutions. The results divulged that 60% of the respondents had faced physical bullying and 43% sexual harassment in school. Consequently, they suffered from depression, anxiety, and were more likely to drop out of school. How do we challenge this status quo? The way forward lies in questioning the hetero-normative narrative that promotes strict gender binaries and advocates heterosexuality as the norm. The essence of a pluralistic and inclusive culture is in celebrating differences and accepting all forms of expression as legitimate.

While navigating the evolving constructs of gender and sexuality is an ongoing process, may you define and redefine yourself in unbounded and unapologetic ways, breaking free from the pigeonhole!

                                              You told me the box is where I belong

But I could hear the rainbow call me, all along

You told me my identity is something to hide

But in being myself, I take immense pride.

Citations

  1. https://www.genderspectrum.org/articles/understanding-gender
  2. https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontosociology/chapter/chapter12-gender-sex-and-sexuality/
  3. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=pNUkDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=sex+and+gender&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi4iO6kwuPpAhUGOSsKHZ2YCHQQ6AEIQjAD#v=onepage&q=sex%20and%20gender&f=false
  4. https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/what-is-heteronormativity/
  5. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/lgbt-bullying-in-schools-takes-heavy-toll-reveals-unesco-report/articleshow/69718451.cms
  6. https://qz.com/1190996/scientific-research-shows-gender-is-not-just-a-social-construct/
  7. https://www.healthline.com/health/different-types-of-sexuality#d-l