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Editorial: Vulnerability and Sexuality

A photograph of a brown coloured snail lying on green grass

Vulnerability – is it a condition we find ourselves in? A state of being we choose? Let’s keep it very simple: it depends on the approach we take to defining it. In the former approach, we are ‘done to’, while in the latter we are consciously ‘doing’. A bigger question our contributors approach and attempt to answer this month is: What does it mean to be vulnerable?

Indu Harikumar in an interview with Shikha Aleya talks about a range of issues, including bodies, language, growing up, finding connection, her own sexual power, and navigating vulnerability. The creator of people-powered art projects on social media such as #100IndianTinderTales, #notestomylovers and #identitty, Indu finds that while vulnerability has power, it also requires courage – the courage to be imperfect and to make space for imperfection in others.

In a world tinged by shades of grey, Anjali Hans finds that we can be hurt and cause hurt, be compassionate and angry, and much as we may may abhor the idea, we can and do cause harm to others. With heart and self-reflexivity, she explores the potential of vulnerability in the context of transformative justice, and how it can be applied to having fuller, more genuine relationships.

Gokul KP ponders his hesitations in opening himself up to a range of emotions that come with closeness, the safety of being fully and authentically known as well as the possibility of being hurt; the latter heightened because of his sexual orientation. As he digs deep and slowly but steadily moves forward on his journey of understanding and accepting himself, Gokul explores the complex spaces of privilege, community, vulnerability, and wellbeing. Shilpa Sachdeva tells us being vulnerable is allowing the world to see the real us, our anxieties and insecurities, the deepest even the darkest parts of ourselves, and our joys and achievements.

Two of our contributors tread a different path, moving from viewing vulnerability as a voluntary act of opening oneself up to seeing it as a condition in which one is at risk, and examine some legal and social factors at play. Andy Stephen Silveira reveals the loopholes in India’s legal framework to bring out multiple vulnerabilities. Particularly in cases of sexual harassment, Andy asks, how can we expand and strengthen mechanisms of redress to be context-specific and inclusive of marginalised identities? Nighat Gandhi takes a sociological approach and considers women’s vulnerability within compulsory, patriarchal, patrilocal marriage, and proposes as an antidote that marriage, if at all desired, be a social contract renewable every few years by mutual agreement.

Elsa Marie D’Silva, ever-so-incisively reviews the Netflix series, The Bold Type, drawing out from the protagonists’ lives the scaffolding of vulnerability: our willingness and ability to have uncomfortable conversations about our personal lives as well as sensitive and complicated subjects such as gender, privilege, grief, and love.

In a vibrant collection of poetry, we have the personal, the political, and everything in-between. Bhavyakirti Singh resists yielding her individuality to pillars erected to box us in and hoodwink us into believing we should be less ourselves and more the roles we have been socio-culturally assigned. Similarly, Carol D’Souza finds that second-hand texts lay out the ways of the world for us, and goes on to dissect words we have been passed down and the power they hold in telling us when to fight and when retreat, when to trust and when second-guess, and most importantly, who to be. Jessica Singh brings us, in two poems, a fierce and candid exposé of love as a force that enslaves as well as frees.

In Hindi we have a translation of an open letter to a former friend about grappling with self-doubt, anxiety, and trauma. In the FAQ Corner, read about sexual intimacy, vulnerability and personal growth and in Brushstrokes, see Anusha VR’s series of tenderly illustrated comics depicting everyday instances of vulnerability in experiencing as well as understanding life with someone. And, in our Video section, watch The School of Life’s take on vulnerability as integral to forming close and loving friendships where we are accepted for who we truly are.

Our mid-month issue unfurls with Shikha Aleya’s inimitably sharp and insightful meditation on vulnerability in our world. Vulnerability as a core component of sexuality is often overlooked, hidden, and steered clear of on account of our fear of being plunged into a world, offline or online (if at all they are different at present) populated with contradictory views on what vulnerability might mean for our emotional and physical wellbeing. Shikha wonders: Is acknowledging and accepting our vulnerabilities around our sexuality really like running after the dog that bites, or is it the pursuit of oneness and fulfillment within ourselves and with those around us?

With candour, Shubham Ranjan introspects the irony in vulnerability – while we are drawn to the raw and the passionate in another, we shy away from letting them see these in ourselves. For Shubham, vulnerability was tangled with his own insecurities, perception of self-worth, acceptance by his peer circle, and more insidiously, patriarchal repression of emotional life. Overcoming these socio-culturally and self-placed barriers on vulnerability, he tells us that it is these very seemingly imperfect aspects of ourselves that actually make us loveable. Grishma Trivedi takes down the wall she built around her heart while growing up. Brick by brick, she sets down the limiting and isolating beliefs she held around vulnerability. While it is easier to share some parts of ourselves than others, choosing to express who we truly are, including our dark, embarrassing bits, is scary but empowering. Grishma tells us that in opening our hearts and letting another in, we forge deeper connections foregrounded on understanding and respect as well as grow and evolve as individuals.

Delving deeper, Rhea Kuthoore inspects how lovers reveal themselves to one another, drawing on Céline Sciamma’s film Portrait of a Lady on Fire. In imagining a love between the protagonists, Héloïse and Marianne, that isn’t patriarchal, the film supplants notions of inadequacy with abundance, and possession with curiosity. As the two women fearlessly and equally explore with their gaze, words, and silences each other’s minds and souls, Rhea hopes to experience love, in itself, anew. Speaking of stories, Anna Lynn constructs a fictional world of real vulnerabilities; some laden with heartbreak, some arising as we explore and come to terms with our sexuality, and some wrestling with our belief system and socio-cultural context.

Artist and sculptor Noella Fernandes takes us through the process of creating art, focusing on the body as experiencing, expressing, and evoking ideas and/or feelings. Weaving together the universal and the uniquely intimate, Noella’s work brings out empathy as a bridge between our vulnerabilities and how we choose to (or not to) reveal them to the world.

We share another artwork series in Brushstrokes this time – Prachee Batra’s project The Child Indoor reflects on the myriad vulnerabilities in growing up, and how spaces we occupy, and incidents we experience shape us into the unique individuals we eventually become.

In Hindi, we bring you a translation of Shivangi Gupta’s article discussing the potential and consequences of freely and authentically expressing our sexuality in public spaces.

In this month’s Blog Roll, we have curated three distinct takes on vulnerability. One around the tinderisation of feeling, i.e., the emotional distance fostered by the rapid and immediate, and overflowing-with-choices world of online connections. The second a meditation on privacy, both online and offline, and its implications on conscious and historical vulnerability, safety, and belongingness for a black queer femme man, and the third, a funny yet hard-hitting look into the restraint many Indian families exercise in expressing affection openly.

Stay well, stay safe, dare to love!

Cover Image: Pixabay

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