Breaking Gender Norms With Prarthana
Prarthana Prasad [she/her] is a queer video content creator who creates content that is authentic and conscious in order to provide a platform for the desi LGBTQIA+ community. She is the winner for the Editor’s Panel 2023 Cosmopolitan LGBTQIA+ Voice of the Year and is here in conversation with Muskan Rawat, a feminist and writer, in order to challenge all preconceived traditional gender conventions and norms.
Congratulations on being this incredible queer content creator while spreading awareness in this hour of need! And kudos on your efforts to deliver content that is kind, aware, and conscious. It is also the content you want to see, the content I want to see, and the content that so many others want to speak out against the traditional norms. What motivates you to speak up and use this platform?
Prarthana : As it was during the lockdown, a large number of Indians began to become acquainted with the various social media platforms. The majority of the Desi voices contributing to these forums and online conversations were actually cisgender and heterosexual
Despite my diligent research, I rarely came across any authentic Indian queer voices who not only lived in Indian society but also discussed their queer experiences here. So, rather than being inspired, I started out of a strong urge to create content and share experiences that I rarely got to see but was eager to know
We do see a lot of people from other nations, mostly the Western world, using these forums to show their queerness. I enjoy viewing their films, particularly on YouTube. But I gradually discovered how far removed their experiences were from mine. They had a lot more freedom to express themselves, while on the other hand, I belonged to a completely different culture and had a very different experience than them. Indian society is a lot more collectivist and conservative. Alas! Individualistic desires, like being authentic to your sexuality, are not even considered proper in most scenarios.
When I first began creating videos. I got an overwhelmingly positive response, and I’m so grateful to find so many people telling me that they relate to my experiences and share my thoughts. Other people wanted to see the same kind of content that I desperately searched for
•Everyone believes that patriarchy is a mind set, that we are born and raised in it, and that we will always function within its confines. And I, for one, have had my share of setbacks while being mocked as a feminist and for not simply complying with whatever right and wrong individuals think it may be during my high school days, not by my parents but by my very close peer group and classmates irrespective of gender, but that is a story for another time. As a vocal advocate for the queer community What has been your experience like when you talk about LGBTQIA+ community in your daily life, both on and off camera?
Prarthana : It took me over two years to get over my fear of backlash and online hate and to begin using social media platforms. I was aware of how there was a lot of resentment towards those who spoke out against the established orthodox values and ideals. We all know how harshly society can
perceive us, and I didn’t want to provoke a worst case scenario putting my physical or mental health in jeopardy.
I’ve never been too focused on creating awareness in the minds of folks unaware of the queer community. I never wanted to make content that appealed to the cisgendered, heterosexual masses.
I just wanted to create content for someone like me. Someone who was well aware of their own identity and just wanted to see experiences and videos and writing that was about them. In the sea of straight voices, just something that was different.
There’s already quite a bit of information on the internet to raise awareness and get to know the community. My primary audience has always been and will always be someone within the community. And because my audience is mainly composed of members of the LGBTQIA+ community, I don’t get as much negativity, but people always have something to say, and sometimes I do get negative responses from posts that reach a wider audience.
But overall, since the experience has been so positive, it has certainly had a significant and lasting impact on how I perceive things in general. It has given me a lot more confidence, and by filming these videos, I’ve come to realize how many other people are actually fighting the same battle and feeling the same way as I am. It’s helped me feel less isolated as well. The comfort and familiarity is definitely a give and take
• Nowadays, we see how the so-called ideal women are depicted in TV serials or other online platforms where the typical daughter-in-law of the family is seen wearing one of the most traditional attires, acing her life at work as well as fulfilling all those presumed duties as a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, and all other relations. What are your views on the stereotypical portrayal of cis-women and queer women in the media?
Prarthana: I do believe the portrayal of cis-straight women in media is changing, especially on streaming platforms. And queer representation is also progressing because at least it exists now. I don’t want to criticize it too much, but I do believe that the portrayal of LGBTQIA+ women is not authentic. There are many tiers, and these media companies only intend to appeal to the heterosexual population, which they claim makes up the majority of viewers.
Plots about queer women are usually quite stagnated. They might show a helpless woman who is unhappy in her marriage and seeks a connection with a friend. Or a traditional woman who will be pursued by this extremely contemporary, super modern, nasty woman who drinks, smokes, is gay, and has a lot of sex. It’s perfectly fine if they want to drink, smoke, be gay, and engage in sexual interaction. But I would like them to go beyond this stereotypical representation of modernity in women.
A lot of the time, queer women are presented in a very feminine fashion. Their clothes, their hair. The fact that she has to have this traditionally feminine veneer is, in my opinion, yet another step towards appealing to the male gaze. Perhaps they want to adhere to the stereotype that lesbians don’t necessarily look like men, which is fine because a lot of feminine women are queer. But the almost complete erasure of masculine women in the media is worrying because it makes it harder to express oneself outside feminine expectations. There are so many people who don’t fit with these gender stereotypes in real life and usually have little representation to relate to
What’s unfortunate is that the cause of someone’s queerness is usually linked with that person’s tragic backstory or childhood trauma rather than it being an intrinsic part of themselves. This portrayal according to me is mostly done for shock value. A miserable queer character sells better than a happy one that’s already satisfied with their lives.
Queerness and misery go hand in hand in a lot of people’s minds but we should never forget that it is this portrayal which is flawed
• What is the significance of including pronouns in one’s bio? How does it facilitate the cause?
Prarthana: One’s pronouns are an integral element of who you are and how you should be referred to by the outside world. It’s crucial how you address someone because these pronouns are used in place of your name, and there are many people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, so forcing heteronormativity down their throats is wrong. There is also this preconceived assumption that you must be either a man or a woman which is not true. Gender is an array of hues and colors with extreme masculinity and femininity on either end. Most of us fall somewhere in between. For a lot of people who identify as non-binary, they neither fully identify as man or woman. They identify as non binary.
Not using someone’s correct pronouns is not fair to the person who has gone through this kind of dissonance with their gender identity. And no, they aren’t just making it up in their heads. Just because you don’t feel the same way doesn’t mean it’s untrue or doesn’t exist for the other person.
It’s not that gender dysphoria isn’t real; it’s just that other individuals have the privilege of not experiencing it.
Having pronouns in our bio is an effort in this social media-infected world to simply be a little bit kinder to people and prevent any misgendering. All that’s needed of us is to just respect them.
Constantly misgendering someone all the time leads to a lifetime of isolation, misery, and sorrow. It is the same as always being despised and erased by the whole wide world. It’s fine if you don’t understand the concept of gender not being tied to biological sex or gender not only being a binary option between a man or a woman . We’ve been taught this our entire lives, and unlearning it takes time. But you don’t have to comprehend it to respect their decision.
It makes them feel more included, heard, recognised, and more like they belong and should at least be respected
We at Pratisandhi are working diligently to become more gender inclusive; what are your suggestions on how organizations involved in sex education can become more inclusive?
Prarthana: Pratisandhi, according to me, is already at an advantage because it is talking about what is considered to be a very unconventional and taboo subject. It is already moving in the direction of forward thinking and progressive thinking, along with being pro-women and pro-LGBTQ+, which should be a natural course of action for many organizations. Because there are so many circumstances and ways in which the two partners involved can have a sexual interaction or encounter, it is important to highlight the considerable shame that comes with the word “sex” itself.
Inclusiveness should occur gradually and naturally, potentially by including more people belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community to the team so that you can have voices with different perspectives.
Muskan: I am a writer and a member of the editorial team of Pratishandhi, and being inclusive in the terminology and language might be difficult at times. I mean, I don’t want to offend anyone, but it can be difficult to refer to something, especially while writing, and I try my best to avoid it, but mastering the art is what I personally find difficult.
Prarthana: It is enough that you are aware of it and are attempting to make a difference through it all. Language is very subjective field to work upon and can be tricky at times, but I believe it is also not designed for this type of conversation, and it’s not our fault; it’s how society has been set up, and even I make mistakes because gender and language are two very vast things, and that’s perfectly fine. As long as we continue to put in effort to make more changes to make our writing and sharing more inclusive, it’s worth the effort in the short term and long term. There’s truly no other way to move forward.
• What has your experience been like with this community, and what are some of the challenges or experiences you’ve had as a part of the LGBTQ creator community?
Prarthana: What I believe is that the LGBTQIA+ community is a rather small creator group. A lot of members of the community are also bloggers, and they create content about various topics such as lifestyle, beauty, travel and a variety of other topics.
While this is absolutely wonderful and truly revolves around our slogan “Be yourself” , it was challenging for me to comprehend. I wanted to do the inverse, which is to create content that is solely on the queer side of my life, because there are already very few platforms or spaces for us to communicate our queer and desi lived experiences. But it has surely been a delight to meet everyone I have met, but I would love to see more folks from the LGBTQIA+ community voicing out their opinions and sharing their experiences in the future.
So here’s a fun question: What has been your most funniest dating experience ?
Prarthana: Me and one of my ex-girlfriends, when we were in high school, actually dated the same guy, and it’s funny because we really do have a lot in common.
To conclude last but not least, a message you want to convey out loud with respect to breaking social norms as #Prarthana says.......
Prarthana: As everyone’s experience is different, I am not in a position to give anyone advice, but there is something I’d like to share. When you’re going beyond society’s idea of right and wrong and trying to live your life the way you want to, remember that you are really just doing it for yourself. Because at the end of the day, you have to live your life according to the choices you have made. Not your friends or family or relatives. So make sure those choices are your own.
They will not have to deal with the consequences. You do! So prioritize yourself and do what you need to.