Swiped Right! What the In Plainspeak Readers’ and Writers’ Survey Reveals

If a magazine has published more than a hundred issues and continues to exist because of you, its readers and content contributors, it feels right to speak of the connection that you have with us. In March 2022, we published the 100th issue of In Plainspeak. This also coincided with our internal mid-term review and assessment of TARSHI’s strategic plan. Both these milestones prompted us to step back a little, and assess the extent to which In Plainspeak has fulfilled its aim of “working towards cultivating safe, inclusive, and self-affirming spaces in which all individuals can express themselves without fear, shame or judgement,” while contributing to TARSHI’s goals of information dissemination and perspective-building. And so it was important for us that we hear from our readers and contributors, without whom In Plainspeak would not exist. We conducted a survey in June 2022 to better understand how you, a reader, a content contributor, think and feel about In Plainspeak, and what possible future directions are open to us.

As we consider these possibilities, it is also on us that we share with you what we heard you say! So here’s some of it in this article, things that stayed with us, because we loved hearing them, and other things that give us pause. As we review what will continue, and what needs to change, and as we design strategies to make that change happen, you may like to know what kind of feedback we received about In Plainspeak.

We’ll begin with a quick selection of some of the voices, as they were in the survey responses. This is a random selection, based on a sense of what leapt out for some of us here, upon a first read. As we do this, we sit in a circle of trust with you, and put our heads and hearts in that circle, with you.

In Plainspeak draws connections between various aspects of life with sexuality in ways that address our day to day activities.”
“It’s the right balance of personal and political for me.”
“I would suggest that you explore getting new images/ graphics/ illustrations etc. to upload with the articles. The last few times I have submitted the articles, I did not quite like the images used. You can also give the writers an option of sending images (they have clicked themselves) along with the article.”
“If video outputs/translations of some of the relevant articles can be done you shall gain better reach across non-English reading /listening/speaking persons.”
“Perhaps, collaborate with educational institutions towards getting more content. As an educator, I have been using In Plainspeak resources as a medium for having sexuality conversations.”
“It’s a good idea to develop an app. Everyone owns a phone nowadays but nobody thinks of opening Google and searching for blogs. Apps make the content more directly accessible to people even in marginalised sections.”
“Try broadening the author base and also find ways of sharing the 100 issues worth of articles with newer audiences – there is a lot of rich material that needs to reach wider!”
“Invest in social media strategies, hire a full team for social media. If you’re not present on SM, most of your effort is going into ether.”
“I think you make me read more than I would on my own, and for that I am always grateful.”

In the responses we have received, we find that along with some of the writers, some of the In Plainspeak team members too who have contributed to the content of In Plainspeak have been mentioned by name. We are happy that all these mentions have been positive. Each such mention is deeply valued by each of us, and so – before we go further – here’s a big thank you!

In Plainspeak has been around a while, and this is a good time to quickly revisit when, why and how we began. The magazine was developed and published as a quarterly print magazine in 2005. Since its inception, even as the format has undergone various changes, In Plainspeak has continued to publish diverse content on a range of sexuality-related topics from a self-affirming and feminist perspective.

  • As a magazine on sexuality and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), In Plainspeak was established with the aim of increasing dialogue and debate on the complex, nuanced, and even contentious issues around sexuality in the South and Southeast Asia region.
  • The focus was on facilitating these discussions and debates within activists, health professionals, students, academics, researchers and anyone interested in issues of sexuality, while also making these discussions accessible through simple, but not simplistic, language; hence, the name In Plainspeak.
  • The current digital avatar of the magazine was launched in December 2013, with the aim of utilising the potential of wider and diverse reach that an online platform offers.

Keeping in mind that ‘readers’ and ‘contributors’ are not mutually exclusive categories and that many people may be both, we conducted this survey in June 2022 to gather feedback on the magazine, with an additional set of questions for contributors.

33 people responded to this survey (perhaps many more intended to, set it aside for later, and then quite simply forgot – it happens, we know!). For those readers who are interested in knowing a little bit about the survey respondents, here’s a quick look at three aspects of identity.

  • Respondents represent diverse gender and sexual identities, some of which have been self-described as / as various combinations of – queer, non-binary, trans person, female, heterosexual, straight, aro-bisexual, asexual, aromantic, cis, pansexual, male, bi-curious and demisexual.
  • Most respondents are in the age group of 20 to 30 years. The rest are somewhat evenly divided across the age groups of 30 to 40, 40 to 50 and 50 to 60 years. One of our respondents is in the older-than-60 age group. Not all participants responded to the question about age.
  • One of the questions we had asked was: “How would you describe your involvement in gender, sexuality and SRHR?” 19 respondents said that they study/work on these issues and the rest said that they are interested in these issues.

On the matter of identity, there were two responses that challenged the identity paradigm. This we have given its own space towards the end of this article, as there are particular take-home thoughts in there for us all.

Thoughts about the content of In Plainspeak

The survey asked the following questions regarding the content of the magazine:

  • Why do you read In Plainspeak?
  • What category/categories of content do you like the most in In Plainspeak?
  • Any themes, articles or other content featured on In Plainspeak that have stood out for you? Tell us the reason please.
  • How can we make In Plainspeak more interesting and engaging for you and others like you?

According to our respondents, the chief reason that they read In Plainspeak is for the “in-depth multi-centric perspectives on sexuality and rights” and “the multiplicities of themes” that the magazine addresses. Some of our respondents also mentioned that they appreciate the diverse and inclusive content that connects sexuality with a particular theme every month, which highlights the “intersections of sexuality with other aspects of life.” For some, the articles contribute to their understanding of their own sexuality and the self. Another appeal of In Plainspeak for our readers is our range of contributors, most of whom provide insights from their own experiences of working in the field of sexuality and SRHR, as well as from their personal experiences.

Complementing this feedback:

  • ‘Issue in Focus’ (IIF) is the most loved category, with 69.7% of the respondents choosing it as a category that they like to read the most. The IIF is a piece that provides an in-depth analysis of the theme of the month, with a nuanced perspective.
  • ‘Voices’, which is a motley collection of non-fiction, viewpoints, and op-eds, is the second most-liked category,
  • The Editorial and the Interview are both close on the heels of the IIF and Voices.

Here is a breakdown of the categories preferred by our audience:

pie chart featuring survey respondents' favourite categories of In Plainspeak content.  Issue in Focus has the biggest chunk, followed by Voices, Editorial, and Interview. The other categories are REview, The I column,  corners, fiction & poetry, brushstrokes, Hindi translations, blogrolls and video

Some respondents have mentioned that if we start paying our contributors, we might be able to widen our contributor base. However, upon asking if respondents would be willing to pay a subscription fee, which could be used to pay our contributors, here is the response that we received:

pie chart with responses to the question 'would you contribute a minimal amount for an In Plainspeak subscription?', with the options Yes and No. most of the respondents said 'No'.

We acknowledge and agree that contributors should be paid as they put in effort and time into creating content for In Plainspeak, and no labour should go unpaid. However, we are a not-for-profit magazine – we make no profit from the publication of In Plainspeak. Our singular goal is to make knowledge and perspectives regarding sexuality in the global South accessible to a larger audience within a safe, inclusive and self-affirming space. As can be seen, even as the question of paying contributors comes up, our readers wish to keep the magazine open-access.

Though our readers enjoy our original content, respondents have also pointed out that articles are text-heavy. The most popular suggestion has been the inclusion of audio-visual elements in the form of images, graphics, and illustrations. Respondents also suggested that the current website should be re-designed for a better user experience. There has also been a call to translate our content into more regional languages, in order to reach non-English speaking communities. As it happens, these are issues that the TARSHI team had also identified during internal discussions regarding In Plainspeak. We have begun the process of brainstorming the revamp of our website and making the magazine more engaging and interactive. We are considering the options and opportunities that are available in the resource-generation space, and while this will take its own time, it is a conscious presence in our conversations with our funders and supporters.

Thoughts about the editorial process

For our contributors, we had a separate section in the survey where we asked them the following questions regarding In Plainspeak’s editorial process:

  • What do you think of the editing process? Is there any feedback you have for us?
  • Do you feel that your understanding/knowledge of sexuality has been challenged or validated or increased (or anything else) in the process of contributing to and getting published in In Plainspeak? If yes, would you like to tell us how?
  • Has the editorial team’s feedback had any impact on your writing style? If yes, would you like to tell us more about it?
  • What would you like us to do differently for you?
19 out of the 33 respondents had previously contributed to In Plainspeak, and we are thrilled to have received an overwhelmingly positive response from them. Some of what they wrote in to say stays with us as encouragement! These voices tell us:
“I love that editing feels like a dialogue between the writer and the editor, and it does not limit the writer.”
“Very kind and patient editors! The changes they make and the questions they ask in the process have always got me thinking differently. Appreciate it.”
“”I absolutely love the editing process, and encourage my students to write to also experience the editing process, apart from articulating their ideas. Thank you a zillion times a zillion for all the work the editors do.”

Most of the respondents said that the editorial process, though rigorous and thorough, is gentle and helpful. That it helps create a space to reflect and reveal gaps and nuances of issues of sexuality.

  • Some of the respondents appreciated that the comments and suggestions provided by the editorial team challenged their perception of sexuality and encouraged them to think about sexuality through other lenses.
  • A few respondents stated that while they were challenged, they also felt validated as the space provided via the editorial process allowed them to articulate their perspective, which they had not done previously due to fear.
  • Contributors also mentioned that the editorial feedback has helped them be mindful of the language and jargon used when it comes to writing about sexuality.

Specifically, in response to the question that asked if respondents’ understanding/knowledge  of sexuality has been challenged or validated or increased (or anything else) while we received most responses in the affirmative, we want to mention that this question received one “No” amongst the responses. We read this “No” in the context of this respondent’s answers to the other questions and we understand and accept that In Plainspeak may not have something useful to offer to everyone.  

One respondent stated that writing for In Plainspeak has helped them in editing their own work and others’ work as well, and that they are more careful about filling in details for their readers, rather than assuming that the readers will know what they mean. Others also mentioned that they have become more aware of using inclusive language.

Before we wrap up this article, there are some thoughts we’d like to share here. We need to sit with these for a bit. In the introductory section of this article, we’ve mentioned aspects of identity in the context of getting to know a little bit more about the survey respondents (our prompt about this was: Please tell us your gender and sexual identity if you are comfortable doing so.) We also mentioned that there were two responses that challenged the identity paradigm itself, and this is what was said:

“No, quit profiling. You should be against this nonsense. Or is this all just a farce!?”
“Nope, aren’t we gender blind?”

The issues of profiling brought up here, as well as that of being “gender blind”, are both important to consider and discuss. In the context of this survey and our work, the simple fact is that inclusion and acceptance of diversity require some degree of monitoring, of checking in to see whether there is in fact a connect with diverse identities, whether people do feel included and whether it is relevant to use this lens. This is part of the journey towards desired goals and ideals – to a place where not being in some way profiled and gender not being a cause for discrimination, is a universal truth, and justice and equity have been so completely achieved, that these efforts towards inclusion are history. We can’t escape this part of the journey until everyone is at that ideal destination. We’re not there yet.

And now to wrap up. At the simplest level, there is a ‘dating app’ feel to online communication, and that includes a digital magazine like In Plainspeak. It’s a sort of a ‘swipe left’ or ‘swipe right’ feel. Happily, from the survey results, it is a ‘swipe right’ – we’d like to engage with you, you’d like to engage with us, and then we can see what we can build together.

This report was compiled by Chitrangi Kakoti and Shikha Aleya, with insights and inputs from other TARSHI team members.