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Queer Ink is an online platform for Indian women and men who are lesbian, gay, or otherwise different from what is seen as sexually ‘normal’.
Beginning as an online bookstore, with their new anthology, Out! Stories from the New Queer India, Queer Ink has also turned publisher. Shobhna S. Kumar, Founder of Queer Ink tells us how she came about to offer a resource of this nature for Indian women and men, who have traditionally had little access to knowledge on sexuality or gender.
Interview by Anne John
Anne John (AJ): What was the trigger to launch Queer Ink?
Shobhna S. Kumar: Whilst working with the LGBTI* communities, I realized that there was a lack of information & knowledge about sexualities and gender. And most importantly, if there was information, it was not readily accessible.
Hence, an online platform made sense.
*Editors Note: LGBTI is used to refer to people who consider themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual or intersex.
AJ: Over the years what changes have you perceived in people’s responses to alternative sexualities?
Shobhna S. Kumar: Alas, alternative sexualities mean that I have to know about sex lives of people – I actually don’t – unless people identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and/or express themselves as gender-queer.
What I have noticed over the last few years (since the 2009 Delhi High Court Judgment) is that many women are approaching me with questions with regards to their sexuality. Many more are usually in a crisis as they are married and become aware of their sexuality after marriage and/or after giving birth.
At the same time, there are many young women who are into ‘experimenting’ and feel that all is a part of personal growth.
As part of Queer Ink corporate social responsibility (CSR), I provide crisis intervention to lesbian, bisexual women and trans persons and mentor a group of over 70.
AJ: From being an online bookstore what made you expand Queer Ink to publishing queer literature?
Shobhna S. Kumar: In the first year, we discovered that there were less than a hundred books that I could find on issues and lives of LGBTI India. Plus, the general readership gave feedback that there were more interested to read about queer characters they could identify with, possibly with scripts based in India.
Taking this into account, we felt that it was the right time for Queer Ink to enter into publishing.
AJ: Do men and women approach queer literature differently – both as writers and readers?
Shobhna S. Kumar: My experience, at Queer Ink, has been that readers want good literature to read. And writers, want to write…
We don’t discriminate our readers and writers based on their sexuality and/or gender – our preference is for good literature and that is what we aim to provide, albeit the topic we specialize on will be fiction and non-fiction content on LGBTI India.
AJ: What are the major challenges you face as a queer literature bookstore and publisher in India?
Shobhna S. Kumar: The major challenge is a lack of editors who can work with the ‘queer’ in language and content of books.
I have been fortunate that independent bookstores and the Crossword Bookstore have supported Queer Ink to make this book available to the general public.
AJ: With the recent release of books such as Close, Too Close and Out! do you think that books on alternate sexualities would soon become more acceptable to the mainstream audience?
Shobhna S. Kumar: Once again, I am not sure if ‘alternate sexualities’ is the correct word to use. Plus, the assumption that such books ‘would soon become more acceptable’ is a false. Books on queer issues and lives sell. Many mainstream publishers have published books on such topics and many are on the way.
The problem is that that the number of books or titles available is not proportionate to India’s population on people who identify as LGBTI.
Support for Indian women and families
Shobhna is available to help women in India who are questioning and/or exploring their own sexuality and gender. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Another helpful resource person is Chitra Palekar, who is available to help parents who want to know more about what their sons and daughters mean when they say they are ‘gay, lesbian and/or bisexual’. Chitra can be reached at email@example.com. She is a filmmaker and parent who has been working to create awareness about sexuality and gender in India.
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I think, this is great about spreading and evolving of such kind of initiatives about sexuality (homosexuality) as the actual knowledge about sex, sexuality, gender and popular homosexuality has been a serious problem in India. For me, it is necessary to understand a perfect knowledge of sex, sexuality, gender, homosexuality and other related terms without having any prejudice, myth or misconception. On a philosophical basis, it can be said that society will surely understand and then accept this phenomenon having the basis of love, affection, attachment, privacy, equality, choice, life, liberty, dignity, etc.
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