Letter from Editor - Radhika Chandiramani

The monsoon has begun! Exciting. Romantic. Dreary. Gentle. Passionate. Sexy. Tedious. The many faces of the monsoon; like the many facets of sexuality. There are many things that affect the facets of sexuality, of what we can and cannot do. The weather of our prejudices, for one. And of our laws, for another. We run into stormy stuff sometimes, and we need to do something about it. 

In the Interview, Pan Suiming talks about the current climate surrounding sexuality in China and the factors contributing to it. Issue in Focus takes us to Bangladesh where young people, like elsewhere in the world, are starved for accurate information about sexuality. This issue of In Plainspeak looks at a range of sexuality issues, how people think about them and how this affects people’s lives.

One of the main questions we look at this time is: What is the yardstick we use to judge what’s ok and what’s not, sexually speaking? Is it the reproductive potential of the act, the partner’s gender, marital relationship to you, age, social position, skin colour, or race? In former (and not so former) times, all of these have been a sort of gold standard against which the acceptability of sexual activity was decided. Now, the main principle used is that of consent. So, based on the principle of consent, sex that is non-consensual is rape and is a crime. But Indian law considers only non-consensual penile-vaginal intercourse as rape. This leaves out other forms of sexual violence, and also assumes that rape occurs only between men and women, with men always being the perpetrators. The Bigger Picture discusses the pros and cons of making the rape law gender neutral and broadening it to include other sexual acts committed without consent.

Consent sounds a reasonable enough principle to decide the personal and social acceptability of a sexual act, you will say, provided it is given knowing what one is getting into, it makes sense and meaning to the person, and the person is old enough. Old enough? Oops, we are running into bad weather here. Every country has laws about the age at which people are considered capable of doing something – driving, voting, marrying, working for wages, being criminally liable, and giving consent to having sex. Fair enough. We all know this. But what we often do not know is that in many countries the age of consent for homosexual sex is higher than that for heterosexual sex. Read more about this discrimination in the Policy Alert.

Another sexual activity where we seem to differentially operationalise consent is when it comes to S & M. Somehow, for many people, all logic seems to fly out of the window, right into the pouring rain, and swirls around in the muddied waters of incomprehension, ignorance and prejudice. In sheer bewilderment people ask, How can anyone want to do that?  Well, find out in Shades of Grey and Did you Know.

We walk through other stormy territory in the review of Beautiful Boxer, a true-life depiction of a man who transitioned into a woman by fighting his way through, both metaphorically and literally. The I Column challenges our complacent notions about sexuality and disability, and, the review of Chocolate, written in the late 1920’s about ‘forbidden’ love, makes us wonder if we can read it differently 90 years later.

Through all this, when you pause to think about or absorb the ideas in this issue of In Plainspeak, look at the art on the cover and in Brushstrokes. It is created by Cynthia Chauhan who was diagnosed with glaucoma 14 years ago and some years after that with renal cell cancer, and, then, with breast cancer (both of which are in remission). She says, ‘I began to paint following my second cancer diagnosis but as I painted to try to gain perspective on that, I found that painting could express and help me work through living with glaucoma as well. I fear blindness but I have learned that even seemingly inevitable, dreaded realities can carry seeds of unexpected beauty, growing experiences that I might otherwise have missed. And, so, I paint.’

And, so, in our activism, while the world still has seasons of discrimination and violence, let us find unexpected opportunities to set upon the winds the seeds of sexual rights, to grow a world that affirms all of us. As always, we welcome your ideas, contributions, feedback and suggestions.

Radhika Chandiramani