While conversations on gender and sexuality are more mainstream than ever, they can get intimidating even for someone who wants to be an ally. In a bid to address this, Dr Pragati Singh, founder of the five-year-old community for asexual persons, Indian Aces, is organising a week-long Gender, Sexuality, and Asexuality Fest in Chennai, with the support of PlanetRomeo Foundation, an independent non-profit for the LGBTI community.
From workshops and a meet-up to counseling sessions for those aged 16 and above, the fest is one of many organised by Indian Aces, one of the largest communities for asexual persons in India. Earlier held in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru, Chennai will host this event at Wandering Artist in RA Puram from July 1 to July 8.
The attractions include a week-long exhibition, Platonicity: a speed dating/meet-up opportunity for persons across genders looking for non-sexual relationships, as well as a crash course of sorts in LGBTQIA+ issues which will focus on the foundational concepts of sex, gender and sexuality. While the meet-up and the workshop will be held over the next weekend, the counseling sessions will happen on the weekdays, on appointment basis.
Dr Pragati, has worked in the fields of maternal, child and reproductive health, and has also presented her research paper on asexuality, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, at the World Association for Sexual Health. She is also an ambassador with the American Sexual Health Association.
Speaking to TNM, Dr Pragati says that the response they have received for the event so far in other cities has been encouraging. â€śThe majority of those who attend are a younger crowd, typically under 40. But we have also had participants at the workshops who are up to 60 years old, and they have been very participative. What is also encouraging is that I have seen a 50-50 ratio of men and women at the workshops; other organisers have said that as many women generally donâ€™t turn up for such events.â€ť
Another pattern that she has observed across workshops is that people have not always thought about gender, sex and sexuality in a segregated manner. For instance, if one is transgender, it does not mean that they canâ€™t be straight. In her workshops, Dr Pragati tries to explain these concepts.
Dr Pragati has also observed that people presume that these events are only for queer persons. â€śWe have doctors, and activists coming and speaking. Most people tend to not think about gender and sexuality issues unless they are being affected by it. But I believe that it is a very interesting and affirming intellectual exercise for everyone to learn about these concepts,â€ť she says.
Elaborating on the counseling sessions, she says that these are peer counseling exercises, not mental health counseling. Majority of the people who participate are those who have concerns about their own gender and sexuality. â€śA lot of it is listening. After that, I use a tool that I developed which asks them questions that compels them to think about gender, sex and sexuality in a segregated manner. Essentially, it makes them think about these things in a way they havenâ€™t before,â€ť Dr Pragati says.