Their legal name, i.e. the name on their documents, is Dr. Ketki Ranade, but they prefer to be called KP. Having been with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, as a student, they are now Assistant Professor and Chairperson - Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work. A research scholar on gender, sexuality, and mental health, they have actively advocated for queer affirmative practices when it comes to mental health counseling and are dedicated to highlighting and subverting historical practices by psychiatric institutions to pathologize homosexuality and transness.
Our interaction with KP showed us their analytic and cautious side, which we should expect from a mental health practitioner. They believe the current representation of the LGBTQ community is a paradox, with increasing representation on digital and print media has led to changes in the law and some mental health institutions speaking up against conversion therapies and pathologizing homosexuality. However, it has been "one step forward six steps back" when it comes to the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act (2019), the Citizenship Amendment Act or the National Register of Citizens, which entirely disregard the queer and transgender community, and violence against women, sex workers, transgender people and so on.
Another paradox has been KP's coming out journey. Born and brought up in a liberal city like Mumbai, having gone to a relatively liberal institution like TISS, their coming out story takes place miles to the south. It happened "in a very traditional and heteronormative mental hospital with an attached teaching program, which still considered homosexuality to be a mental illness" and indulged in procedures like conversion therapy. In an environment that KP calls "hostile, homo-prejudiced and homo-negative" is where something in them wanted them to resist, and that's where their urge to articulate their identity was magnified. They also remember clandestinely passing on the number of a support group to a person who had been sent there for conversion therapy.
We noticed the use of the word homo-prejudiced and homo-negativity, and when asked, they said the term 'phobia' would refer to a mental health concern that requires care and evokes sympathy for the person who is suffering from it. Homophobia is an incorrect term used for people who choose to display prejudices and hurt members of the queer community.
As a student educator and a practitioner of mental health sciences, one of the roles I see for myself is to really make mental health systems respond more affirmatively to queer and trans people distress. We need support - community support and professional support.
KP draws a lot of energy, primarily from two fundamental aspects of their life. Talking about a bottom-top process, KP stresses the importance of her position as a queer educator, mental health practitioner, and the Vice-President of the Association of Psychiatric Social Work Professionals in bringing their lived experiences forward to the 'experts' and sensitizing the young people involved in social work, psychology or counseling, on how to deal with queer distress. Their other sources of energy and positivity are their connection to a queer feminist collective LABIA, which aims at "taking the lives on the margins and making them livable" by engaging with communities and the government.
Their contribution to raising awareness about the mental health of queer people also focuses on the mental health of queer children. Their book "Growing up Gay In Urban India" has a retrospective and psychosocial analysis of the lives of queer people during their childhood. The book discusses the lack of a social mirror for a queer child because they are already a minority, even within their own family. A queer child goes through a psychological, internal struggle because they can't identify nor align themselves with social expectations and have no language to explain their experiences. For KP, this gap needs to be addressed, with greater representation of these multiple realities in literature.
If I am seen as a woman, all the (societal) messaging is on how to be a good girl. If the idea of a woman is not fitting me, how do I find the language to express my experiences?
KP considers themself very fortunate to have been sharing the experience of the lockdown with a person they love. They say it has given them the time and opportunity to make the changes to the pronouns in their TISS profile and their signature and come one step closer to, as they say, "multiple coming outs." KP has spent their last 42 years with varying degrees of outness. The support system they had during these years has also differed. If asked about today, they can proudly say that they are part of a thriving community; they have been a part of LABIA for the past decade, which has given them a sense of belonging and people they relate to. Even though they have been aware and open about their sexuality since they were very young, they have come a long way since then when it comes to articulating who they are. Although they admit, being open about their gender identity has been a much more recent process. Even when they were young, they say that "I had this habit of wearing my father's clothes… and putting on dark goggles of my grandfather." They knew they were attracted to girls but didn't identify with the term 'lesbian.' Their journey with articulation has since evolved from identifying as 'non-woman' then 'gay,' and now, because of their interactions and their growth in experiences, they can say they are queer.
At the age of 41, I have found the language and term which fits me.