Vandita Morarka interviews Koninika Roy, an Advocacy Manager at The Humsafar Trust, as part of our ongoing Freedom Series on The Health Collective.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I am 24 years old. I am an advocate for LGBTQ rights, and a workaholic who is convinced no amount of work is ever enough.
What are you comfortable sharing about your journey? Is there a coming out story? What kind of obstacles/ challenges did you face?
To be honest, I have been very privileged. While I never faced any form of violent abuse, I did have to deal with a lot of internalised homophobia. Coming out to myself was the hardest part. I told myself all those things that homophobes tell people: ‘This is just a phase’, ‘This is because you are in a women’s college’, ‘You just haven’t tried it with men’, ‘You can do it for now but ultimately you will marry a man’. It took a lot of reading and a lot of time to get comfortable with being queer. That was my biggest challenge.
ALSO READ: BEING GAY AND ‘MANNING UP’ IN THE MEDIA
When I was realising my sexuality, I was at a very vulnerable stage in my life because my family was going through a rough patch.My parents were having trouble in their marriage and as young adults, my sister and I were in the mix, dealing with our sets of issues. I felt that at that time I should not add to my parents’ misery by telling them about myself. Hence I hid my relationship and my sexuality for a year. During this time, I also went to study in the UK for my Masters in Cultural Studies. This was a good enough escape. I avoided telling them anything or speaking to them for the longest time.
However, this was short-lived. It got to a point where my mother had to Skype me and say, “I know what you have to say, why don’t you just say it?” I did come out to her then. Apparently my family had dealt with the issue of my sexuality on their own level. They were going to a counsellor anyway, so they spoke to the counsellor and made sure they understood how to support me.
Are there any personal anecdotes along the way that you particularly remember and would like to share?
I remember that I felt my then partner and I were the only bisexual people in the world. But, I went to the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival and saw a sea of LGBTQ and allies, and felt for the first time that we are not alone. That was empowerment of another kind. My second instance was meeting the women from the LBT support group, Umang, affiliated with The Humsafar Trust. That was when I knew I wanted to give back to this community.
What was it like a child and what is different now?
I was not out to myself in my childhood. The only way I had heard of the word lesbian or gay was in a negative frame. That shapes the way you think of the community. I don’t even remember the instance when I heard it first or why it stayed with me. I remember feeling awkward hugging people of the same sex or talking about people of the same sex as attractive even though I felt that way.
Has your sexuality shaped the other spheres of your life? If yes, how?
Yes, I work in the field of sexuality education and advocacy so my life is shaped largely by my sexuality. It affects my relationships with my partner, my workplace, friends, community and family. My community has become a family of choice for me. Where I’ve found people who support me, rely on me and trust me in a way not less than family.
How has it impacted the work that you do?
My sexuality has affected the way that I see the world and my sensitivity to other issues. While I do feel that everyone has that one struggle that they fight in their life, my struggle with sexuality has opened my eyes to the struggles of the different intersectional issues too such as disability, age, caste, religion, class and gender.
How have you dealt with the stigma often seen in the Indian context with persons of non-heteronormative sexualities?
I advocate for rights for the LGBTQ community, so my job requires that I speak to people who need sensitisation. This includes doctors, lawyers, policemen, educational institutes, corporate offices, and families of LGBTQ. It also includes empowering the community through building supports spaces. I have been part of numerous events and activities through our support groups Umang and Yaariyan (an LGBTQ youth support group) to empower youth to come out and talk about their issues in the public. I also manage cases of violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community, by supporting with counselling or legal support, if required.
Has there been an impact on your mental health as a result of battling these societal biases and stereotypes? If yes, what support have you had/wish you had? Any resources you would want to direct our readers towards?
Yes, I do believe that there are very few spaces where people who work in this field can access support. For instance, if a client from the community wants to access mental health support, they can do so for free at our clinic in the Humsafar Trust. But I, also a queer person, cant because it would be a conflict of interest. This is where resources, projects and budgets fail the community. I do wish there was better management of burn out of activists in the community.
ALSO READ: MENTAL HEALTH AND THE QUEER COMMUNITY
Who has been your support system? And how important is it to have a support system?
My friends and family have been my support system. Right from handling my mental health issues of anxiety and depression, to having an old-fashioned venting session, my community family and my biological family have been supportive and caring. Without them I would have no grounding, so it is definitely crucial to carve out that support system and to have a village to back you when you fall.
Is there some anecdotal or statistical example of discrimination faced by non heteronormative persons that you want to share with our readers?
Indian society lays a heavy weight on women’s sexuality- that of honour and prestige. Hence, women acting of their own free will presents a threat to not only the family structure but to the fabric of society itself. There have been reports of women being battered, abused, held under house arrest or forced to marry by families. Yet, there is little to no funding directed towards LBT rights and issues. Not even by women’s rights groups. While gay men and transwomen/ hijra persons have received bulk of the funding thanks to HIV programs, LBT have been left behind. Twenty years ago lesbian couples committed suicide* because of lack of acceptance and twenty years later too, it is the same story. This needs to change. Soon.
Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know feels desperate or suicidal, please reach out for professional help and know that you are not alone. You can access a list of helplines here.
What is some advice you would give your younger self? Or advice you would give a younger person in India in 2018?
Love yourself, nobody else will love you more
Keep a diary
Build a village. Always. Never invest so much in one person that you lose yourself
*1) Sexual orientation is reported to be a risk factor for suicide, with increased rates of suicidal behaviour of 2–6 times among youth who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Source: Sadock BJ, Sadock VA. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2007. Kaplan and Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry; p. 688. Referred here from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4711233/#ref44.
2) Nearly half of bisexual women are stated to have considered or attempted suicide. Source: SF Human Rights Commission via Huffington Post
You can reach Koninika at @koninikaroy on Instagram and at @koninika_roy on Twitter.
Watch out for more in our special series on The Health Collective. And don’t forget: We want to hear from you, and include you in our conversations and coverage. Do reach out with your thoughts and comments.
Feature Image By Steve Johnson on Unsplash