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Editorial: Risk and Sexuality

On a black background, yellow tulips are blooming.

Risk, be it in terms of sexuality or anything else in life, is both exciting and scary because it signifies the possibilities of pleasure and peril in varying combinations. While sexuality may be a site of continual personal exploration and discovery it is also one that social, legal, medical, and other institutions attempt to limit, fence in and barricade by setting rules about what is acceptable and what is not. Challenging socio-culturally prescribed mores, be it through the way we express ourselves, who we choose to love, whether we choose to remain single, and even what gender we identify as, becomes an act filled with risk. And, because we live in an imperfect world, the shadow of violence is ever-present, both within the home as well as in public spaces. In the backdrop of continuing violence of all forms – gender-based violence, neo-capitalist violence, political violence, violence against the planet, against indigenous peoples, against animals, to name just a few forms of violence that are now ubiquitous – any form of resistance constitutes an act of risk in itself. But risk we must, for without it there can be no freedom.

And so, in this issue we bring you an array of different perspectives and understandings of risk. Sadaf Vidha systematically dissects the risks cisgender heterosexual marriage carries in its very framework: social and familial pressure to marry and stigma if we choose not to, distressing legal proceedings for separation and/or divorce, and hetero-patriarchal values which inform such alliances and negatively judge their breakdown. What if we are not happy with our partner? What roles are we expected to perform as a ‘wife’ or a ‘husband’? How much agency do we exercise? And, complicating matters further, what if we are queer?

When we take a risk we may incur hiden costs or be gifted unexpected benefits. Kaustav Bakshi weaves a gripping tale in which the protagonist tentatively explores and expresses parts of himself and begins to take risks as an act of reclamation. With exquisite intertextual references, Kaustav brings alive what it means to live parallel lives and what the consequences of stepping out of one’s safe zone can be. Tanvi Khemani affectionately recounts her many trips on the last Mumbai Local to Vashi: an unlikely friend getting her safely back home after long days in the city. She takes us along on her journey from a sheltered childhood in Kolkata,  to her undergraduate years in Delhi riddled with anxieties of navigating a menacing world, and finally to Mumbai where, on a late-night train ride, she thought to herself, “I think I can do this alone.”

Elsa Marie D’Silva in her review of the films 6 Years and Someone Great, discusses risk in the context of romantic and/or sexual as well as emotional intimacy. Opening up to someone about our inner life, desires, and fantasies may bring us emotional safety and, at the same time, expose us to the risk of getting hurt. In real-life relationships unlike in fairytales, she says, we confront the risks of our larger choices and actions and their implications for our wellbeing. Do our support systems steady us when we stumble or do they push us further into the ground?

Taking risks can be fun as long as we know what makes us feel safe and comfortable. In Brushstrokes we share with you Everyday Feminism’s comic on navigating hook-up culture in a manner that is accepting, non-judgmental, and stigma-free. In the Video section, we showcase Shilpa Phadke’s talk Why Loiter? in which she problematises protectionism as a means to achieve the “useless goal” of safety in public spaces. Examining the narratives of violence in the public domain that comprise the popular imagination around safety, she offers us a vision of how public spaces can be transformed so that all of us can exercise the right to take risks. And in that vein, we also bring you in the Campaign Corner the Akeli, Awaara, Azad (On her own, Unapologetic, Free) campaign by Blank Noise.

Risks lie not only in the realms of the social, emotional or spatial. Sexuality is enacted through the body, and what we do with our body can put us at risk. The HIV and AIDS epidemic made popular the terms low- and high-risk activities an safer sex. In the FAQs Corner is a reminder of what they are, so we can all play safely.

In our mid-month issue, we add context to our perceptions of and dealings with risk in our day-to-day lives. Collating and interpreting responses we received on a survey taken by small group of random individuals, Shikha Aleya looks at the transactions around risk foregrounded on the interplay of our location on the axes of gender and sexual identity, disability status, belief systems, and availability of support, amongst others. While many of us consider, and act according to the risk we gauge in the external world, some of us assume more internal and personal responsibility while navigating the world as well as being true to ourselves.

Anjali Hans builds on her personal experiences to put forth ‘risk’ as an act of reclamation that allows us to open ourselves up to forge authentic, fulfilling connections with others who understand and support us, and establish boundaries around what makes us feel safe and comfortable. Sweta recounts the risks they think of as vital to take and have taken, not in coming out as is expected of the LGBTQIA+ community but in ‘coming in’ to their sexual orientation and gender identity, and grappling with shame, stigma and fear in a cis-hetero-patriarchal society.

In our Blog Roll section, we have curated three articles. One looks at the dilemmas around contraception in the context of safe and  unsafe sex. The second, tying together climate change and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), shows how not prioritising SRHR in climate change policies puts women’s health at greater risk. And the third one, moves to how we engage with digital spaces and poses questions to and about ethical practice in the scope of informed consent, primarily in user agreements.

Stay safe, stay well!

Cover Image: Pixabay

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