Conversations about gender and queerness at a Bangalore school

I am a bit embarrassed that it took me so long to blog about this but one of my happiest memories from 2018 was a long weekend in Bangalore at the Neev Literature Festival hosted by a school called Neev Academy.

On September 27, I facilitated a workshop called LET’S TALK GENDER for 80-odd participants who were school teachers, librarians and college students. At this session hosted by the Neev Literature Festival, we opened with personal sharings around why there is a need to have sincere and wide-ranging conversations around gender in our schools.

Soon after, we engaged in a critical reading of the Gender Sensitivity Checklist for Schools published by the Central Board of Secondary Education, and brainstormed about concrete interventions each individual could make in their own spheres of influence. From installing machines dispensing sanitary pads and celebrating women’s contributions to history and science and from building gender-neutral washrooms to using preferred pronouns that resist misgendering — it was a wide range!

We also discussed some practical ways to challenge body shaming, patriarchal norms, toxic masculinity and practices that institutionalize heteronormativity. I’m glad that the festival was open to this. It is no longer tenable to have conversations about gender that exclude queerness and intersectionality at large.

On September 28, I facilitated a writing workshop with students, all of whom were teenagers. When technology is bridging borders and cultures are colliding with each other, what does it mean to embrace diversity but also find your own space? That was the theme of the workshop. My aim was to get them thinking about identity, belonging, roots and global citizenship in a fun, engaging manner by exploring the power of words.

I used two texts to spark off reflection — the autobiographical essay ‘Love is Possible’ by Vikram Kolmannskog and the Nobel Lecture delivered by Malala Yousafzai in December 2014. Between the two of them, they write about gender, nationality, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, history, language, race, family, cultural heritage, their own dreams and other factors that have shaped their understanding of who they are.

The workshop participants were invited to engage with their own life experiences in relation to these identity markers, and write autobiographical pieces. I enjoyed working with them.

One of the participants sent me an email saying, “This workshop gave me the opportunity to actually look within me and discover who I am. It was for the first time that I actually took the effort to try and discover who I am and where I belong. My true identity was something that I never really thought about, paid too much attention to or gave too much importance for before this workshop.”

Writer, educator and researcher

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