Letter from Editor - Radhika Chandiramani

Greetings from The South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality! We are excited to bring you the first issue of In Plainspeak, that will be published every quarter, electronically and in print. As the name suggests, we talk about basic as well as complicated and even contentious issues of sexuality and rights in simple (but not simplistic) language, in the hope that this will increase dialogue and debate on these issues in the South and Southeast Asia region.

As we know, sexuality is a complex subject. What do we mean when we say ‘sexuality’? Why do we need to talk about sexuality and why from a rights perspective? In this region, most people in our countries continue to cope with multiple pressures, right from the lack of access to clean water to the ravages wrought by armed conflict as well as natural disasters, to say nothing of the sudden changes in political systems. Well may one ask, why is sexuality important? For those of us, for whom it is important because it is as much part of lived experience as anything else in our lives is, and affects many aspects of our lives including our health, safety, wellbeing, mobility, emotional and social relationships, as well as the ability to live lives free of discrimination, coercion and violence, the question then becomes: How do we effectively work on issues of sexuality? How do we understand and use the different interpretations of rights in the context of sexuality? How do we apply them to local contexts in our region?

Like in other parts of the world, in this region too, sexuality is situated in a diverse set of cultural and socio-political realities. We use English to communicate with each other about sexuality in our different contexts, and thereby lose the rich flavours of our own local languages. In the field of sexuality itself, the language used is often negative, disease-based, and medicalised. We need to find/develop/use language to describe sexuality in ways that accurately reflect the complicated and multiple realities of people's lives, including their experiences of pleasure, pain and all the shades in between.

We need to understand how sexuality plays out in different local communities and contexts, how it is regulated, which of its expressions are allowed and which not. What are the mechanisms that exist and what else needs to be in place so that the sexual rights of all people are affirmed? For this we need more evidence-based research on sexuality that is attuned to the little things that make big differences in people's lives. We need to develop more region-specific resources and material on sexuality. Most of all, we need to talk with each other in honest and analytical ways about what we know and what we don't. By talking, learning, and working together we can be more optimistic of evolving into a world that promotes sexual wellbeing and affirms the sexual rights of all of us.

That is why we are starting In Plainspeak, in the hope that it will facilitate a critical dialogue amongst us – activists, health professionals, students, academics, researchers and anyone interested in issues of sexuality in our region. Because sexuality encompasses a wide spectrum of issues, In Plainspeak includes writing and images on a range of topics from a sexuality-affirming and feminist perspective.

As you can see, In Plainspeak contains different sections – an interview, an essay, a perspective piece, a personal account, a column exploring the nuances of a current debate, a review of the latest films on sexuality, alongside interesting factoids, and news about the Resource Centre.

Art speaks to us in ways that words do not. Jatin Das has allowed us to use his work on the cover of this inaugural issue of In Plainspeak as well as the next two issues. We are very grateful to him for this. Many thanks to Sheba Chhachhi for allowing us to reproduce her stunning photographs. Thanks to Simi Nallaseth for her illustrations. Thanks to Sherna Dastur for seeing us through this process and for designing In Plainspeak.

We acknowledge that there are many feminisms, and many different points of view and we invite you to engage with the ideas here and in the debates on sexuality and rights in South and Southeast Asia. We welcome your ideas, suggestions, contributions and feedback.

Radhika Chandiramani