Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin is most often found speaking out – or writing – about the subjects they are passionate about: whether that’s sex workers’ rights, sexual health or global queer liberation. A recent Cambridge grad, they’re now firmly enmeshed in London’s activism scene as a trustee with non-violent LGBTQIA+ direct action group Voices4 London, an adviser at relationship and sex education initiative Split Banana, and politics editor at independent magazine Bricks.
In an era where centuries of queer struggle and history have been boiled down to palatability and Pride merch, all while pressing issues such as trans healthcare and racism within the LGBTQIA+ community continue to be overlooked, Prishita’s work is a much-needed wake-up call. “Queer rights were built on clashes against systemic oppression,” they explain. “Rather than allowing this message to be diluted by respectability politics, queer activism needs to consider the needs of the most marginalised individuals.”
And while Prishita fiercely rejects the pressure for queer people to assimilate into wider society, they know that there’s still work to be done in the LGBTQIA+ community as well – something that they raise awareness of through their advocacy and on social media. “White cis individuals, even in queer communities, need to remember that just because they’re oppressed doesn’t mean they can’t oppress other people,” Prishita says. In order to ensure that queer spaces and organisations are really making progress, it’s a matter of checking your privilege and ensuring that everyone’s voices are heard. “Activism needs to be intersectional in order to achieve liberation for everyone, rather than just a seat at a very narrow table at the top,” they say.
Below, we catch up with Prishita about queer activism, the importance of intersectionality and the place of Dr. Martens within the LGBTQIA+ community.
When did you get involved with community organising?
In June 2019 I was planning on going to London Pride, but knew that I didn’t want to go to corporate Pride. I found out that [LGBTQIA+ direct action group] Voices4 London was starting up on the day of London Pride and that they were taking part in a protest march called Outsider Pride that was being organised by The Outside Project and African Rainbow family. I went and joined in and it was incredible, I felt more a part of the queer community than I’d ever felt before. I found this energy and buzz there, but also true passion and care for each other. I really wanted to get involved with organising so I got involved with Voices4 London from the get-go. I helped structure the group and figure out what we needed to do and where we were going to go next. Since then, we’ve continued to collaborate with The Outside Project, African Rainbow Family and a number of other organisations. It’s really important for me to work with the community to raise people’s voices and provide mutual aid and support.
Tell us a bit about what Voices4 does and the ethos behind it.
Voices4 was started in New York in 2017 by Adam Eli, in response to the massacres of gay people in Chechnya. The idea of the group is that queers anywhere are responsible for queers everywhere. That we’re a queer community across borders and we have a responsibility to take care of each other and use our relative privilege to speak up for those who are being persecuted and marginalised in their countries and around the world.
How does your work as a journalist complement your activism?
In the mainstream media, the real voices of queer people, especially trans people, and non-binary people aren’t centred. There’s a lot of debate and conversation about people’s lives and about the queer experience but, most of the time, that doesn’t actually amplify the voices of queer people themselves. Having access to platforms, I can act as a channel to amplify the voices of queer people, sex workers, people of colour and other people who are marginalised within the media.
As a community organiser, what does community represent to you?
Community to me is a place for healing from past trauma and a place to come together in solidarity with one another, to care for one another and to fight for a better future for all.
There’s been a lot of long overdue discussion recently about how mainstream queer activism needs to change to better serve the community. From your perspective, why do queer communities need to need to get respectability politics in order to progress?
Queer people need to move past asking for heteronormativity and palatability to fight towards global liberation for all queer people. Queer rights were built on clashes against systemic oppression. They were built on the most marginalised members of our community in the forefront fighting for our rights. Rather than allowing messages to be diluted by respectability politics, queer activism needs to consider the community and the needs of the most marginalised individuals.
And why is it important that activism be intersectional?
Activism needs to be intersectional because the needs and the rights of the most marginalised individuals in our communities should be put to the forefront. White, cis individuals, even in queer communities, need to remember that just because you’re oppressed doesn’t mean you can’t oppress other people. There are so many layers to privilege and activism needs to be intersectional to be able to be to be able to achieve liberation for everyone, rather than just a seat at the very narrow table at the top.
Online, I’ve seen you speak about your experiences of gender and being non-binary. What are some of the biggest misconceptions about non-binary identities?
This idea that non-binary identities and non-binary individuals sit exactly in between male and female binary identities. For most non-binary people, their identities don’t exist within this binary spectrum at all. Some people see themselves as inhabiting a number of spaces in a large, colourful circle around the binary gender identities. Some people prefer to say that they don’t have a gender at all. We really need to move past this misconception that we sit somewhere in the middle.
I’ve also seen you use the phrase “queer existence is resistance” on your social media, which is such a powerful saying. What does it mean to you?
Queer existence is resistance because queer individuals exist in a world that tells us that we shouldn’t exist. We have existed for as long as humanity has existed and the individual rebellions of inhabiting this space as freely as we would like to is resisting against what society tells us is the norm. To be who we are inside, that in itself is resistance.
Dr. Martens has always been associated with politics, activism and the underground so I’m wondering, what’s your Dr. Martens story?
Dr. Martens are obviously the shoe of the queers. It’s very much this aesthetic cliché that all queer people, especially bi people, wear Dr. Martens. We always make jokes when we’re at a house party and everyone takes their shoes off, like, “So many Dr. Martens, I’m never going to find ours in here.” The queer community, because we have such a need for belonging and for that sense of family, finds little queer culture and aesthetic moments so we can clock each other in public and Dr. Martens are one of the ways in which we’ve tried to do that.
Let’s talk about the sandals you’re wearing: the Dr. Martens Voss Fluffy. What makes them special?
They’re so cute, I love it. They’re really, really comfy and I love the fluffy leopard print front. I can’t wait to wear them in the summer.
As someone that’s busy pounding the pavement making positive change, is the sandal’s wearability and practicality important to you?
Generally, I think shoes can have a poetic, symbolic meaning of moving forward in life and getting things done. If you apply it to my life, I obviously have a lot of privilege in being able-bodied and having that connection to my feet and footwear in allowing me to walk and run. Footwear means a lot when it comes to walking, marching in protests, or going to and fro and getting things done.
Shop Dr. Martens Sandals at drmartens.com.