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With June being Pride Month, I decided to explore the world of Indian LGBTQIA+ writers, and here is a list of ten such writers I think are wonderful!
With the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, Pride events and especially pride parades seem to have taken a hit. While, I was cooped up at home, I decided to be a part of online Pride, and this meant attending one odd webinars on Zoom, or some Facebook or Instagram live sessions.
But it also meant looking at and exploring some of India’s finest works on sexuality and gender, not only in English but in regional languages too. These LGBTQIA+ Indian authors have made an impact on the queer writing in the country – not only through their words but their stories too.
Here’s a list of ten (of some) of the best Indian LGBTQIA+ writers for your Pride month reading!
The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story
A. Revathi’s autobiographical work is an essential read for anyone who wants to add a leaf to their repository of Indian LGBTQIA+ writers. ‘The Truth About Me’ is an account of Revathi’s initial life in a conservative family and then finding her second family in the Hijra community. Here’s when she became an activist and an author.
What draws me to Revathi’s work is the honest and direct narration of her life as part of the Hijra community while recognising that her experiences have their own subjective quality. The Truth About Me is not a manual for the uninformed about the hierarchies and rituals of the Hijra community. It is a record of Revathi’s story with a backdrop formed by the community and its specific elements.
Her story manages to make readers uncomfortable with the themes it discusses. It is only a straight-forward presentation of the all-too-common experiences of someone who lives on the fringes of society.
In all its simplicity, this book is one to read for this Pride month. The book was originally written in Tamil and later translated to English by V Geetha.
You can find the book on Amazon US here and Amazon India here.
Because I have a Voice: Queer Politics in India
This compilation of the works of 30 Indian LGBTQ writers is edited by Gautham Bhan and Arvind Narain. And is one of the earliest assertions of political identity of queerness in India.
It contains essays that discuss the nuances of LGBT India through reflections on various debates surrounding gender identity and sexuality. And also through the dynamics of India’s queer community and many personal stories. It presents an anthology of articles and essays of LGBTQ writers, academicians and activists from all over the country.
Given how Pride and Pride month are such a political movement, this book is definitely an important personal resource to have. When we celebrate Pride, we acknowledge the voices of protest and resistance from queer India. And the best way to do that is to read books just like this one.
You can find the book on Amazon US here or on Amazon India here.
Manachiye Gunti (Beautiful People)
Manachiye Gunti was first published in Marathi in 2013 and was translated into English by LGBTQIA+ activist Aditya Joshi a year later. It is a compilation of real-life experiences of parents with queer children. The book follows deeply personal narratives of parents who struggled to come to terms with their children’s identities.
This book, to me, is a breakthrough in the world of Indian queer literature. I say so, as it deals with the complicated process that families go through in order to reach a point of acceptance and peace with the sexuality of individuals. These experiences resonate with a huge chunk of LGBTQIA+ Indians who have gone through effort after effort to come out to their parents.
You can find the book on Amazon India right here.
Randu Purushanmar Chumbikumbol
Kishor Kumar is a resilient voice when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ scene in Kerala. He runs an organisation aptly named Queerala, that focuses on raising public awareness about alternate sexualities and gender identities.
Randu Purushanmar Chumbikkumbol literally translates into “When two men kiss.” It is an autobiographical account of his life as an out and proud gay man in India and his views on LGBTQIA+ community’s representation in media, medical sciences and law.
Indian LGBTQIA+ writers who write in their vernacular languages are rare, and therefore it is important to support their efforts. Often, in our country, English seems to be an easier medium to discuss the queer movement. This Pride, let us also open our arms to a bunch of writers who write in their native languages just like Kishor Kumar.
Facing the Mirror: Lesbian Writing From India
On one hand, we see a massive growth in the number of Indian LGBTQIA+ writers bringing forth previously hidden narratives. But on the other, there is a a dearth when it comes to representation of lesbian and bisexual experiences.
Ashwini Sukthankar’s anthology of essays, stories and poetry explore lesbian existence in India. It is one of the best books to pick up when it comes to the varied voice of women’s sexuality.
I want to recommend this work to every single person interested in queer activism. This is reminder against the erasure of female sexuality within the same spaces that fight for the rights of LGBTQIA+ community in India.
You can find the book on Amazon US right here or on Amazon India here.
Yaarana: Gay Writing from South Asia
Hoshang Merchant is one of the most popular Indian LGBT writers. ‘Yaarana’ is an anthology of extracts from various literary works he compiled to paint a picture of the representation of non-platonic same-sex relationships in South Asian literature.
Merchant’s works including this one have always exclusively talked about gay male desires. But there is no denying the fact that it marked a starting point for better, more diverse literature that included the perspectives of trans and lesbian individuals in South Asia.
You can find Hoshang Merchant’s books right here on Amazon India and here on Amazon US.
Farzana Doctor is an Indo-Canadian novelist, who in her debut, Stealing Nasreen, presented an observation of a lesbian relationship in the backdrop of economic and social elements. She deals with the desires of the South Asian diaspora in a developed country and their close-mindedness towards the exploration of female sexualities.
I am a fan of her unique ability to weave humour into her stories. Especially stories revolving around serious subjects like homosexuality, conflict in immigrant communities, marriage and economic inequality.
You can get your own copy of Stealing Nasreen right here on Amazon Indian or here on Amazon US.
The Fabulous Feminist
Suniti Namjoshi’s The Fabulous Feminist is unlike any other work that centrally discusses gender and sexuality. She uses Panchatantra and other popular Indian fairy tales to explain and question the origin of our ideas of heterosexuality and gender identity.
This work is more conceptual in its engagement, true to Namjoshi’s background as an academic herself. She emphasises on the need to look at alternate histories and interpret them differently in order to drive social change, especially against homophobia.
Get your own copy of this wonderful book here on Amazon India or here on Amazon US.
Virtual Equality : The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation
Urvashi Vaid specialises in gay rights activism and law in the United States. Therefore, her work is centred on the American gay rights movement and why it should not just rally for acceptance but for a change in the entire societal structure. A structure that still continues to value heterosexuality and rigid gender norms.
Though Vaid is one of the Indian LGBTQIA+ writers, Virtual Reality is solely based around the queer community in America. It is definitely a wonderful read if you are interested in the history and inner dynamics of the movement in the United States.
You can find the book on Amazon India here or on Amazon US here.
This novel is one of the first of its kind to be published in India. Before R. Raja Rao, entered the scene of Indian LGBTQIA+ writers, a gay novel was almost unheard of. This book follows life in the gay subculture in Mumbai in a rash and irreverent fashion, never sparing the realities of caste, class and masculinity.
In my opinion, this book is a must-read as a guide for understanding the complexities of a queer subculture in Indian regional contexts too.
Get your own copy of this must-read here on Amazon India or here on Amazon US.
These are some of the very few books written by Indian writers who identify themselves as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. There definitely are a lot of other authors out there and if you know any others, do let me know in the comments!
June is Pride Month, and we’re having a series of articles to mark it, celebrating the voices of those from the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies, including those from the Women’s Web community.
Picture credits: Twitter, YouTube and some of the author’s websites
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