New York’s Stonewall Riots of 1969 saw members of the LGBTQ+ community clash with the police in what is widely known as the catalyst for the modern queer rights movement in the United States. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, two trans women of colour, were the main organisers of Stonewall riots. They protested against arbitrary raids and arrests by the police, targeting the queer community in New York. Their legacy of fighting for the rights of marginalised communities of colours, the LGBTQ community, people living with HIV and drag queens, have been recognised throughout the years. Though the Stonewall riots are sometimes seen as the starting point for the assertion of queer rights across the world, the queer community in every country has its own distinct history of fighting against homophobia and sexism.
In her book Queer Activism in India, Naisargi N. Dave proposes that India’s first known gay protest was organised outside of Delhi police’s headquarters in 1992. The first queer demonstration also occurred in Delhi in 1992, when two hundred delegates walked out of the International AIDS Conference to protest the Indian government’s stand against homosexuality. The first effort to decriminalise same-gender sex in India, came in 1994, with a petition filed in the Delhi High Court; that same court was the first in India to decriminalise same-gender sex in 2009 (though this decision was later reversed). With the Supreme Court in India reading down the archaic Section 377, which criminalised sexual conduct ‘against the order of nature’ in September 2018, queer narratives and literature are fast gaining prominence. However, queer literature in India has existed before the Supreme Court’s 2018 verdict. Scholars such as Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai collected over 2000 years of Indian writing on same-sex love in their collection Same-Sex Love in India. A Lambda Literary Award finalist, this book showed how important it is for non-Western cultures to develop a critical vocabulary and formulate context-based theories which are unique to the Indian subcontinent.
Literature is an important lens through which to examine cultural shifts, as it is, in many ways, a microcosm for our society. Positive portrayals of same-gender love are slowly becoming more mainstream. Kai Cheng Thom’s Lambda finalist Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars is one such book and the latest addition to Young Zubaan’s list of kickass feminist books for children and young adults. (find the link to our web store at the end of the article). For this year’s Pride celebrations, we have curated a list of five books which pertain to the truth of living as a queer person in the global South, or as a queer person of colour in the North.
- Cobalt Blue – Sachin Kundalkar
Translated from Marathi by acclaimed novelist Jerry Pinto, Sachin Kundalkar’s novel traces the story of a mysterious tenant who captures the hearts of two siblings Tanay and Anuja, when he arrives as an artist looking for lodging in their family home in Pune. The novel pairs interior monologues from Tanay and Anuja, both addressed to their beloved boarder, who charmed each of them before leaving without any explanation.
Published in Marathi in 2006, Cobalt Blue is ahead of its time in its representation of queer love. The moments shared between Tanay and the tenant are not written to satisfy heterosexual voyeurism, but realistically depict the joy and agony of love. A tale of rapturous tenderness and fierce heartbreak, Cobalt Blue with its experimental narrative style and daring imagination is a frank exploration of a gay life in India; of people living in emotional isolation and attempting to find intimacy against all odds.
- A Life in Trans Activism – A. Revathi
Published in 2016 by Zubaan, A Revathi’s second book traces her life, and her work in the NGO Sangama, which works with people across a spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations. It narrates the tale of how she rose from office assistant to the director in the organisation. The first half of the book describes her journey as a trans woman, as she becomes an independent activist, theatre person, actor, writer and organiser for the rights of transgender persons. Later, Revathi offers insight into one of the least talked-about experiences in the gender spectrum: that of being a trans man. A Life in Trans Activism emphasizes the ways in which the trans identity intersects with other identities, and how these intersections contribute to unique experiences of oppression and privilege.
- Babyji – Abha Dawesar
Babyji is a daring coming of age story of 16-year-old Anamika Sharma, a student in New Delhi. Abha Dawesar’s second novel details the exploits of Anamika as she romances three women, juggling her studies and her lovers while attempting to finish school. The story is set against the backdrop of Mandal Commission’s recommendations in 1980, which proposed the doubling of seats for backward castes. An upper-caste woman herself, Anamika uses her academic expertise and sexual prowess, to liberate herself from the Brahmanical mores of the society that she inhabits. Babyji is a brave exploration and moral enquiry into what it means to be a growing woman who is coming to terms with her own sexuality. This novel is the winner of the 2005 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and of the 2006 Stonewall Book Award for Fiction.
- The Devourers – Indra Das
Indra Das’s debut novel is a love story between two shape shifting werewolves, Fenrir and Gevaudan — a gay couple — and their companion, a young Muslim woman called Cyrah. The shape shifters exist on the margins of society: they wander into Shah Jahan’s empire, fleeing persecution in their homeland. Alok Mukherjee, a Bengali professor of history who narrates the novel, is still reeling from an engagement that was broken off after his affairs with other men came out in the open. The Devourers refuses to be pigeonholed into a single genre; it borrows tropes and writing devices from dark fantasy, speculative fiction and science fiction. A chilling saga that spans across various centuries and continents, this novel showcases Das’s incredible prowess with language and rhythm. The Devourers won the 29th Annual Lambda Award in LGBT Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Horror category.
- Sister Outsider – Audre Lorde
A collection of speeches and essays by a self-described “black lesbian feminist warrior poet,” Sister Outsider is considered a ground breaking work by Audre Lorde. This book contains a great mix of ideas and tones; it has poems, interviews, journal entries, and speeches interspersed with aphorisms. It proved to be an important and necessary tool in the cannon of progressive theory when it was first published in 1984. Lorde’s work centres the experience of black lesbians and critiques a mostly white, academic community of second-wave feminists for overlooking blacks, gays and women, as well as the elderly and the disabled in their theories.
P.S: The South Asian edition of Kai Cheng Thom’s novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir is now on sale on our website.