Cover art by Vanshika Sugla, XII B
Featured artwork by Anannya Garg, XI C. The characters drawn represent pansexual, gay, bisexual, non-binary, transgender and asexual pride in this order.
On June 28th, 1969, Stonewall Inn, a private queer club in New York, the United States, was raided by the police. At this time, it was common for the police to regularly raid such spaces created for LGBTQ+ people, mostly under the name of confiscating alcohol if they did not have a permit. This particular raid had been planned by the police, who also went into the club undercover that night. However, this time, the queer patrons and people at the club decided they had had enough and went ahead to fight the police. This uprising, led majorly by transgender women, queer women of colour and drag queens, would go on to become a turning point in the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in the area. It started as a riot and continues as a movement as even now, over fifty years later, people face a variety of difficulties and discrimination because they belong to this community. Because of the Stonewall riots, June is commemorated as LGBTQ+ Pride Month in and outside the United States every year. On this occasion, we asked some students of our school to describe what Pride and Pride Month means to them.
Amidst this trying period, we find that time continues uninterrupted and has once again reached the month of June. This month is thirty days for remembering the struggles of and celebrating LGBTQ+ people since it was first declared so in 1999, the United States.
Personally, my journey began quite away from this context, in Delhi, 2018. It was one that instigated self-discovery and open-mindedness. Like many things, my journey, too, began with a conversation. A conversation with two people who were about a year younger than me. These two incredible minds held my hand as they led me into this world and still hold my hand to this day.
In my family, murders and riots are simpler topics of discussion in front of my ten-year-old brother than Pride. Gay and lesbian are treated as words of malicious intent and spoken only in whispers, if ever spoken at all. Before I sat down with those two young people, all I knew about the LGBTQ+ community was “gays and lesbians”. Can you hear it aloud in that shameful tone? On that day in 2018, I realised so much more about this community. I realised that it was about even more than love, it was about identity.
As the world progresses and population grows, there is an evolution in the general view of human relationships. What was once fuelled solely by the intent of furthering the family line with the conception of children has begun to be more concerned with happiness rather than the former. It is important to note that while this recognition and acceptance of relationships between LGBTQ+ individuals has come about recently, such relationships themselves have always existed. Recognition and acceptance. These are two words I hold to high esteem in my mind. Two words that are quite heavy as sadly, I cannot be sure whether they are what would appear if I talk to my family about my identity. Like any other child, my parents’ opinion of who I am could make or break me, and it is out of fear of the latter that this conversation has not been initiated. However, this fear is not unilateral. Fear of the unknown is what drives people to misunderstandings and looking at queer people with disgust.
In society, the concept of relationships and marriage tends to be fuelled by elders who desire grandchildren and large families. If someone’s idea of relationships falls out of this narrow spectrum, they are considered to be abnormal. Why is the desire to pursue happiness and prosperity branded as abnormal in this world? One might argue, and I have had this conversation with my parents, that it is “not a part of our culture.” What is culture? “The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society,” as the Oxford dictionary says? Culture is entirely and utterly personal, as no two people may experience it in the same way. Ideas and social behaviours can only be taught, to a certain extent, through language. However, it is through the medium of language that ideas are cultivated individually.
Culture is not inherited or rigid, it is compounded by experiences and thoughts at an individual level after exposure at the social level. Even in one family, culture cannot be the same, so how can we assume that culture is shared by an entire nation? The enforcement of culture falls hand-in-hand with the enforcement of heteronormativity. It is not right to assume that, if my mother and father are heterosexual and cisgender, I am too. Their experiences do not define me, and neither does their identity. My individual search for who I am should not give anyone the privilege to brand it as a “phase”.
It is heartening to see that my friends, all of whom are close to my age, have accepted me for the person that I am. They do not try to push me into the boxes of gay or lesbian, which the LGBTQ+ community is at times reduced to. The open-mindedness of my generation is a testament of the change which is slowly occurring in our population and it is nothing less than beautiful. However, my generation will not be in the law and legislation making positions for quite a few years, that is still in the hands of those older than us.
It is disheartening for me to see the backward attitudes of my elders on display time and again. During a conversation once, I had interrupted a member of my extended family who was referring to a hermaphrodite as transgender and felt the cold crushing silence of adult judgement on my shoulders. Later in the car, I was told what I had done was wrong. There was no effort to try and understand the difference between the two, no attempt to comprehend why I had done so. When my parents did not care in understanding the difference between these two terms, what chance did I have in making them understand these other ideas?
When Pride month began, I expressed my excitement about it at the dinner table before my brother, attempting to explain to him why it was taking place. To this, my father just said, “why is it something that should be celebrated?” To my disappointment, I could not answer him. I never prepared for such a question as I had forgotten that my parents and I don’t have the same experiences and exposure. I believed it to be a unanimously accepted source of unadulterated joy that the expression of identity was not something that had to be hidden behind closed curtains anymore. While I thought it was something to celebrate, they thought it was unnecessary.
A day later, when I entered with a well-prepared speech, the entire room filled with an aura that read “you aren’t in a position to educate your parents.” The only person in my family who I feel comfortable talking to is my older sister because she has never made me feel like there’s something wrong with my identity. I have extended this support to my brother because I want him to believe the same for me. You don’t have to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community to extend a hand to its members. It is not important to express your support through public displays or manifestos as much as it is to understand, at a fundamental level, why you should be supporting them.
Today, when this large community stands for love, solidarity, and Pride in one’s identity, being against it is being against the basic human right to exist. I, and everyone else from this community, will not change to be accepted. Although there are differences that exist between those who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community and those who aren’t, it should be recognised that differences exist between every single human being on this planet. These differences are what make the world a breathtaking and diverse place. Accepting these differences will mean stepping into a new world together where not a single child is afraid of being who they are.
What is Pride?
It is a celebration.
It is unity, it is diversity.
It is everything, it is nothing.
Pride, noun, second definition: confidence and self-respect as expressed by members of a group, typically one that has been socially marginalized, on the basis of their shared identity, culture, and experience.
Dictionary definitions only hold true for the pedantic.
Is Pride also a party?
Is Pride also violence? Is it also murder, suicide, hiding, running, hatred, inferiority, ego, humiliation, disappointment, unnatural, abnormality, shame, silence, shouting, shooting, violence, violence, and more violence?
Pride was a protest, is a protest, might always be a protest.
Pride was a celebration, is a celebration, will always be a celebration.
What is Pride to you?
Is it something you see on the news, colourful and happy,
Until your parents switch off the television and ask you to go study?
Is it the dead faces of the people you knew,
Shot simply for being who they were?
Is it the beggars on the streets, clapping and tapping at your window,
You intrigue at their bright lipstick and salwar kameez with torn purses and smudged eyeliner,
Until your driver locks the doors of your car and rolls up the windows?
Pride is looking up “Am I L/G/B/T/Q/+ quiz” and feeling your heart beating faster,
As you go
Line by line,
Option by option,
Each syllable resonating somewhere within you,
The pieces of the puzzle come together, or are they?
It is lying in the darkness of your room, thinking.
Thinking over and over and over,
This is not normal. This is not normal. This is not normal. This is not normal. This is not normal.
Rolling over and over, tired. You just want to go to sleep.
Is Pride also denial?
Is it hitting your head against a wall while repeating “I am not like that”?
Is it thinking about not thinking about it?
Is it refusing to put a name on it?
Is it drowning out every question and answer because of that one time you thought about that one person of the same gender in that one specific way?
Is Pride, then, silence?
Is Pride also shame?
Pride is the pin-drop, panic-stricken, terrifying silence after you say you want to tell your parents something.
Pride is the cold dread that slips down your spine when the silence stretches on for longer than necessary.
Pride is the instant relief of their tolerance.
Pride is also the slap of a once-loving hand.
It is the hopelessness of a rendered homelessness.
It is the beating of honesty, the backlash of transparency.
Pride is the consequence of living your truth.
Pride is not a personality trait to be flaunted.
It is not an ignition to a superiority complex.
It is not an eccentricity that gives you edge.
It is not a drunken achievement that makes you “wild” or “quirky”.
Pride is built by the bare hands of those who threw bricks and then threw hands at the police.
Pride is the unanimous, unannounced safe space, the comfort of having your people close to you.
Pride is torn down and belittled by bigots, prejudices, colonial hangovers, archaism, old men in positions of power.
Pride is the name of every life that has been and is still being ripped from faultless hands.
Pride is countless pricks from the shards of glass that are every scornful look, every lingering stare, every shrug of discomfort, every intentionally unhidden word of disapproval.
Pride is the pain of millions, bleeding out in the streets, bleeding out at home, bleeding out into their lover’s arms. Bleeding out, running dry, a collective red that flows into the rainbow, posing an incessant challenge.
It is the willingness to get up every time you are knocked down, willingness to be knocked down, willingness to get up again, over and over and over because it never stops.
Pride is persistent. Pride is eternal. Pride is a flame that refuses to be put out.
~ Samara Sahi, XI E
Pride month for me is a time when I can be purely happy about belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. It wasn’t always like this. For most of us, it has been a long road to finally embracing ourselves. When I was younger, I member always feeling uneasy about anything that had to do with the community. I turned away from any conversation with the word gay in it and cringed when I saw anything more than the obligatory sliver of LGBTQ+ representation on tv. “why does this have to be everywhere?” I thought, “why do they have to make everything gay?” Funnily enough, this argument is what I cringe at now.
Of course, everything was far from being gay. I just felt uncomfortable with anything related to it because inside I was so scared of what I might want myself. It was difficult to face and so, at any chance, I just ran in the opposite direction. Even when I started taking interest in fiction with same-sex couples, I always stopped to tell myself that I didn’t want anything such for myself in real life. That I was just reading it for curiosity which, in itself, is a completely valid argument. But I said it to myself far too often for someone who didn’t care at all. I think its one thing to google “lesbian movies” and another to have to pause every five minutes of watching one just to regulate your breath and have some haphazard inner-dialogue. When I was watching my first such film and the two women leads started becoming more than friends at last, I switched it off and cried. I find this funny now, but I still haven’t completed the movie, probably in fear of reliving that sheer anxiety.
This incident came some time after the first time I remember consciously taking notice of a girl. I was on a holiday in a place where all my friends had asked me about the boys I saw. When I thought about this girl that night, I remember feeling really bad about myself. However, I turned this around to convince myself that I was jealous of the way she looked. I kept thinking of things that I thought were wrong with me, how I was unattractive, to avoid simply facing how powerfully I felt drawn to that girl I saw smiling for a picture on a street.
The question “what is wrong with me?” Was one that would accompany me throughout my journey to figuring out my sexuality. Something was missing but I couldn’t figure out what, and I always took this to be something wrong. This was because deep down, of course, I knew what it was and I thought it was wrong, that’s why I couldn’t face it. I wasn’t homophobic at this point. I didn’t mind anyone else who was gay. In fact, whenever the topic came up, I felt myself almost empathising with the person. I thought, “oh that’s hard,” right before I to reassure myself with a “thank god I’m straight!” I was so deeply in denial.
The day I realised that it wasn’t wrong for me to be one of the LGBTQ+ community was the day that I came to terms with the fact that I indeed was. It was that day when I finally told myself “nothing is really wrong with me.” I don’t think I can describe how liberating it felt. Coming out always begins with telling yourself. This has also been the most difficult part of my coming out process, so far.
I went through so much in lying to myself that I wasn’t gay, I can only imagine what it is like for those who have to do so for the people in their lives as well. This is precisely why Pride is important. I’m excited about Pride Month today because I couldn’t be two years ago. It is a happy reminder of something that I didn’t dare let myself think of at the time. My journey to allowing myself to celebrate Pride is something to be proud of itself. My story, of course, isn’t near over. I still have to come out to everyone new that I meet. I’m still scared to some extent. Scared of a day when this will be something that is used to hurt me and scared today that someone will walk into my room and want to see what I’m writing.
It is necessary to celebrate Pride until no one’s LGBTQ+ identity is the reason they feel pain. Until none of us feel lucky or even guilty, as I often have, just to have something that my cis and straight peers can take for granted. We aren’t proud because being LGBTQ+ is something to be proud of in itself, it is simply equal to being cisgender and straight. We are proud because we keep going despite not being treated as equal, be it written in the law or people’s minds. We are proud to be who we are because it was the reason we were ashamed once.
Pride isn’t limited to parades. It isn’t just a month long affair. It is something to be celebrated everywhere and everyday. I haven’t ever touched the flag or raised a declaring sign, but I feel Pride in my childish joy upon seeing a rainbow in the sky or listening to a ‘girl in red’ song. It is important to know that Pride comes in all forms. Yes, I wear Pride as I put on a flannel shirt but I also wear it with a skirt and make-up. After coming to terms with my sexuality, I felt the pressure to conform to gay stereotypes. Whether it was to feel like a part of the community or to tell people who I am with my appearance itself or something else entirely, I’m not sure. Its weird that while so many LGBTQ+ people change things about themselves to hide their identity, I found myself doing the same to try and show it. It felt good to let go of the traditionally feminine standards that I had aspired to earlier, but soon, I found that I was doing the same once more to look androgynous. I still engage in this sometimes, but I’ve realised that forcing myself only does harm.
The very concept of “looking gay” or any such other identity is rooted in the homophobic idea that gay people are completely different from straight people and so on. Just as it is unfortunate that people don’t diverge from conventional gender roles in their fear of encountering homophobia or transphobia, it is unfortunate that others yet feel the compulsion to do so in order to show that they are LGBTQ+. We have incessantly felt the urge to first blend in and then stick out because to belong to this community automatically means to be different in a hetero and cis normative society, where both are regarded as undesirable. Getting to know more and more people with such identities and seeing more representation on all platforms, I have learnt that the LGBTQ+ community is actually far from the few conventions that we are often reduced to. We are a community of diverse individuals, just like every other person on this planet. We are similar to everybody else because of our differences. It isn’t true that all and only LGBTQ+ people fall out of the traditional gender and behavioural norms. A reason why we often feel more comfortable than others in expressing this part of ourselves is because we already know that we are going to be seen as abnormal by many for being LGBTQ+. It is sad, for those who belong to the community and those who don’t alike, that being treated as an outsider is what pushes many to embrace what comes naturally to them.
This is why, ultimately, Pride to me means celebrating these parts of ourselves fully. To be free of any standard of what is normal, free of set categories, be it in mainstream society, within the community or in a space that integrates both of these. Pride is a place where everyone is welcome and encouraged to be different in whatever way they may be. Most primarily, Pride is a state of mind that enables you to be comfortable with who you are, even if you don’t know who exactly that is.
It is important to know that sex and gender are not one and the same thing. While sex is biologically determined, gender is something that we associate ourselves with in our minds. Gender is psychological and social whereas sex is simply related to our body parts. As it is gender that affects a person’s mental wellbeing and the way they are seen day-to-day by society, it is something they should have the right to decide. Gender identity is something that only someone can determine for themselves as they know what is going on in their mind, rather than by a doctor when they are born or by other person in a position of administrative power. It should also be understood that neither of these are binary or fall into two distinct categories. While a large number of people are born either male or female and categorise themselves into the same, there are some who are born intersex, there are some who like to identify themselves with both, neither or a separate gender category altogether. Such individuals can be collectively referred to as gender non-conforming.
Our country lacks a proper framework of rights and laws for transgender and gender non-conforming people. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha of India in November, 2019. Contrary to the name, multiple facets of the bill have been noted as going directly against the rights of transgender people in India, as recognised by many trans rights activists. While the bill provides protection against discrimination against trans people, it neither states any punishment for this nor includes any reservations that are required to help the majorly oppressed trans community move upwards economically and socially. The major problem with the bill is that it doesn’t allow a person to decide their own gender identity. Instead, it requires them to first contact their district magistrate to issue a certificate that they are transgender. In order to be assigned male or female as they identify, they will have to undergo an immensely expensive and painful sex reassignment surgical procedure. Then, the district magistrate will review their medical documents and decide whether they are eligible to be recognised with their choice of gender assignment by the country. This is harmful because, as explained earlier, sex and gender are inherently different. One should not imply the other. Reassignment surgeries are a difficult process that a majority of people don’t have the means to get done. Additionally, this bill punishes all kinds of abuse, including rape, of transgender people by only half to two years in jail, which is extremely insufficient for such crimes. This is discriminatory against and promotes the mistreatment and abuse of trans people, blatantly going against their rights.
The following creative writing is from the perspective of a gender non-conforming person, talking about how people who fall outside the gender binary very much exist today and have always existed.
I am not a man. Not a woman. Not “in-between”. I am the most visible among the crowds, yet I am unseen.
I am what birthed the union of the entire atmosphere and the light of the stardust; I am the purple haze of the universe. I hold within me millions of stories and histories that you could never begin to decipher.
I am the closest to God you will ever have in flesh. I am the synthesis of all the energies of life. I am both the root and the womb of all creation. I am nature’s most beautiful coincidence.
The men in your life shove their pride down my throat; the men in mine threw me out of their homes.
I have no childhood, no age. I was dropped out of the belly onto the streets. But now, I am rising above and beyond my name; beyond the role you have forced on me. My reality is too petrifying for you to believe I exist. Because you know it was you who silenced my being. I am no longer trapped in my own body. I did what you all could not. I freed myself; embraced myself; compensated for the hate you’ve given me. I have no family, no home, and no shame. I am not ashamed to be born; not ashamed to be myself. My taali is the sound of an explosion; the amalgamation of limitless courage and faith.
I am fire, loving enough to give you warmth; wrathful enough to burn your entire city down. I am the ocean, calm, quenching your thirst with my serenity; catastrophic enough for you to drown.
I am both the father and the mother; both aloof and active; both fearsome and gentle, since two halves make a whole. I thought I was a girl; I was told that I was a boy. Turns out I’m a thunderstorm.
I am hanging halfway between heaven and hell, God and demon, life and death, fiction and veracity. I am nature's order, not against it. I am all the colours of the rainbow. I am the culmination of God’s creativity.
This is not a “phase”, I’ve always been here, and I am here now, here to stay. I am beyond all trivialities. I am so much more than you could even begin to estimate, and you dare to suggest that all that I encompass must find definition within binary.
~ Soumyaa Somatra, XII A
LGBTQ+ Lives: An Ephemeral Tale
There was a person, they were born, and they died. That is the story. The rest is simple detail. Details, of course, differ in their telling.
The general outline runs thus: this child was pretty much the same as any one of us. They went to school, maybe college if they managed to live that long. Then they decided that they, much like anybody else, had the right to be themselves. For some it was a tough decision and for others it was as easy as falling asleep. Then, one by one, like a spider devouring ensnared flies, we, as a society, ate them whole. Consider the imagery, reader, before we move on. See the many headed hydra sinking its teeth into your flesh. There! There through your shoulder is a fang. There on your stomach are a thousand wounds.
Let’s call this child Matthew Shepard, for the sake of the story. He was born, led a pretty quiet life, and then, at the age of 21, he was beaten again and again till his skull was fractured and the only areas on his face not covered in blood were those washed by his tears. Why? One could call his attackers particularly homophobic, but the truth is far simpler. It was society acting through them. It was the prevailing will of the sheer weight of a culture that manifested itself in those young boys who killed him. Make no mistake reader, the human life is far too strong and immutable to be taken by just a few. The year? 1998.
Let’s further this argument, and rename our child Lawrence King. He has not even graduated highschool, and the year is a mere decade ago. He lives in liberal and gay-friendly California. He goes to school one day, and is shot and killed by his classmate, the relationship between them not unlike that of you and the person sitting on the next desk. Reader, here is his picture:
Judge for yourself whether he deserved to die. Live with that decision.
Now, lest I be accused of using the stories of those young and vulnerable souls who were crushed under society’s failures to guilt trip the reader, let us take a final example. Her name is Sarah Hegazi. Say it slowly, reader; feel the syllables rolling around your tongue. She lived in Egypt, and raised a rainbow flag. Rainbows, the symbol of hope. The bright and joyful things after a thunderstorm. Here, the catalyst that led to her imprisonment and torture. Several others like her were raped. She fled to Canada and sought asylum. Unable to live, she committed suicide. But was it really by her hand that she died? Or was it her jailors who struck the fatal blow? Shouldn’t some of the credit go to the spineless authorities who made these policies in the first place? Surely you contributed too, by buying Egyptian petrol and funding them? Take a moment to ask yourself these questions. You may have noticed that I’ve not mentioned the date yet. I shall keep you in the dark no longer. June 14th 2020. That’s not all too far away. Recall what you were doing that day. Remember the movies you watched and laughed at as the life faded from her eyes.
Remember reader: you are linked to these. In your own country, the number of people killed last decade is in the range where a few thousands here or there make no difference. Think about it: have you ever made a joke about somebody acting 'too feminine'? Have you ever used the word gay dismissively? Have you ever, maybe unknowingly, contributed to the death of a stranger who might have overheard you? Problems are easy to dismiss when they're far away. This permeates your family, reader. The deaths in Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Haryana, and countless others could have been caused by someone you knew. By someone you once met while shopping. By someone you admire. Tread cautiously here reader, lest these words hurt you, and then realise that there are those who must walk so carefully that their heels never reach the ground.
A person was born. They died. That is the story. There is another one to tell before I finish: Three people died. You read their story. You forgot it.
~ Uday Ahuja, XI D
The Love that Dare Not Speak its Name: A Curation of Queer Media
Why are we where we are today? A few millennia ago we had everything. Equality, respect, dignity, you name it. The moment any group loses touch with history, however, it all falls apart. This month, as we remember and celebrate and laugh and cry and come out, let’s read and watch and know who we are.
Let's start off with the classical era and a very influential book. Plato’s Symposium. In it, he argues that homosexuality is a benchmark of civilisation. For poetry, we have the great lyric poet Sappho, from whose birthplace we get the word lesbian.
Moving on, we skip a millenium and a few thousand kilometres to arrive in feudal Japan, where the eponymous protagonist of what is widely considered to be the world’s first novel, the Tale of Genji, has a bisexual protagonist.
Barely two centuries later, a french poem about two female lovers, Yde et Olive, is written. It shows divine acceptance of lesbianism and is subsequently censured and censored.
We come across writings from Casanova, Walt Whitman, Lord Byron, and so many more. They are of little more worth in this context than those of the homosexual scientist, Isaac Newton.
Now, these fragmented pieces across history are all well and good, but due to prosecution and many attempts at destroying immoral books, they cannot build a single literary tradition. So though we read them as proof that we have always been there, we start our true search in the gothic horror tradition of the late 19th century. Both Carmilla and the more famous Dracula contain ‘homophile’ (relating to homosexual) themes. Moving past works like The Immoralist by André Gide, The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Imre by Irenaeus Prime-Stevenson, and famed author Marcel Proust’s magnum opus In Search of Lost Time, we arrive finally at a novel which clearly seeks to bequeath a legacy — A Death in Venice. It, perhaps along with Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, is the only ‘must read’ in this analysis.
After this, there is a proliferation of queer representation in media. Films in bollywood; Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan, Fire, and Aligarh all foster same-sex relationships. Movies like Hedwing and the Angry Itch and The Danish Girl address struggles with identity and transitioning sexes. Love, Simon, based off the book Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, and Handsome Devil are heartwarming coming-of-age movies, dealing in the acceptance and growth of a sexual identity. The Norwegian web series Skam explores teenage struggles of identity and friendship amidst societal expectations and personal battles. Moonlight is a story about being on the crossroads of black, gay, and poor, a story that explains how identity is not built on only one of your identifiers. Carol is a romance that revolves around two women in the 1950’s and the complicity and consequences of their love.
You may have read some of these names before. Read them again. Enjoy their works, even those which are not queer related. You’ll see the compassion in their writing. You’ll see that they were written by somebody who was just like you. Who knows? Maybe you will not curse Virginia Woolfe or William Shakespeare the next time your English teacher gives you a comprehension.
But enough with the scholarly analysis. I suspect that the modern queer youth will identify more strongly with books like Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda and Felix Ever After than Magnus Hirschfield's excellent but antiquated studies of sexology, as it was known then. The Miseducation Of Cameron Post, Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of The Universe, and Boy Erased, all offer excellent guides to finding yourself in the current era. If you're unsure of yourself, Slightly Burnt (one of those ever so rare Indian LGBTQ+ books) works well; and if you need hope, Carry On is perfect. This Pride Month, connect with not just your roots, but with your branches.
~ Uday Ahuja, XI D
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