Thursday, May 1, 2008

'Chay' is for What?

Last week, I was introduced to Chay magazine - a brand new Pakistani magazine (just about to publish their first issue) that covers the topics of sex and sexuality in Pakistan. The first of its kind in the country. Their mission statement states:

Having observed in Pakistani society, a disturbing tendency towards fear and shame around issues of sex and sexuality - that is to say, around a normal human interaction - the founders of Chay Magazine feel that sex and sexuality should enter the public discourse. The taboo and silence around sex and sexuality are oppressive on all of us, irrespective of gender, and lead, at the very least, to unhappiness in our daily lives and, more often, to violence, shame, depression, ill health and general social malaise. We at Chay Magazine endeavor to bring to the Pakistani reading public a place to converse about those things we are most shy of. Our hope is that, through this, we can become braver and stronger, more powerful, self-assured, and just and fair members of society.

Why 'Chay'? Before encountering the magazine I knew 'chay' was a letter of the Urdu alphabet but I was not aware of any other significance. Chay Magazine explains it. Chay is short for 'chootia.' Chootia means 'of the vagina' , or as they describe 'of the cunt.' So yes, this magazine is translated as 'Of the Cunt' Magazine. This appears to be the Pakistani way of re-claiming the often-offensive, often-loved word, similar to the way many Western feminists have re-claimed the word 'cunt.' Additionally, they tell us how the letter 'chay' is also for many other words related to sex and sexuality.

The magazine, from its submission page, appears to have an intellectual and scintillating sensibility. It does not appear to be a salacious magazine or cheap attempt to be dirty. But rather an effort to discuss issues of sex and sexuality in a mature and educational way, but still have fun with the topic. All this within the context of a society that has traditionally not allowed such dialogue. For instance, they are looking for pieces on the topics of sex, the politics of sex, promiscuity, and marriage. Such topics encompass issues pertinent to women such as domestic violence (or as I prefer to call it, intimate partner violence), rape (including marital rape), feminism, religion and sex(uality), and sex work, among others.

Like every human being on this earth and every piece of writing they may produce, Chay magazine has its own perspective and agenda. And their agenda is clear - sex and sexuality are normal. Everyone experiences them. Not talking about such a central aspect of our lives is detrimental to the health of our society. Talking about the issues surrounding sex and our sexualities will make us better as a society. Considering Pakistani society has increasingly higher rates of violence against women perhaps confronting and talking about the issues in an open and frank forum will help stop and reverse the increasing numbers. Anything that can help at this point should be welcomed. Additionally, it would be welcoming to see this be a friendly arena for those of alternate sexualities to gain support from and educate others.

The concept is definitely new to Pakistan. As their mission statement reads, sex and sexuality is a taboo topic in Pakistani society. Yet there would be many people needing and wanting to discuss and engage with it. However, this is just the beginning. We'll try to keep you updated as things progress. If anyone is interested in writing for the magazine check out their call for submissions.