This year, Pride Month coincides with the phenomenal wave of protests in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement. It reminds all of us that Pride Month, which commemorates the Stonewall Uprising, was a brave fight against police oppression and brutality, and at its forefront were people of colour and transfolk.
We celebrate Pride month in India now, so many years later, in our very different context. Let us remember its origins, and honour the many people who have paved the way for queerness to be a part of our social reality. But let us also remember that in India, we have a long way to go: the regressive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was passed late last year, and this struggle is still in its early days. We are far from being free despite the reading down of Section 377. There are many fights yet to win. And consider supporting the transgender people in the aftermath of CoVid19?
We find that books can help us understand ourselves and our contexts better. We’ve selected a few books from our shelves for you to read. In this list, we have memoirs, theory and fiction, coming-of-age novels and translations: a range of books that we love, and hope that you will too. Find these books on our online store.
Another Country by James Baldwin
Another Country by James Baldwin was published in 1962. The novel is about a set of friends, both Black and White, and the precarious fragility of love and intimacy in a brutal world of 1960s racial America. It is about selfhood in this world, or as Claudia Rankine says in Citizen, about historical selves and their fragile, tenuous quality. Reading this book is like feeling the interstices of inner selves and the outer world in language, and Baldwin's voice on race and love come together in lush, precise, searching, aching and beautiful prose.
A Life in Trans Activism by A Revathi
A Life in Trans Activism is one of the first accounts of its kind to be written by a trans woman in India. Revathi's previous autobiographical account was published in 2011, and spoke about the struggles of growing up and being a hijra in India, and this book is about Revathi's life as an activist. It includes stories of Revathi’s chosen family and importantly, her son’s — trans men Mookan, Charu, Kiran, Sonu, Christy, Gee and Satya. We listen in on journeys they make in a country with poor health care, inadequate representation and brutal police violence. The book is an account of the many struggles and assertions made by trans people in India to fight for their rights, often neglected by mainstream political movements and NGOs. It recalls so many who are murdered because of transphobia, the perceptions around sex work, and the very unfortunate ways in which the Indian law betrays the transgender community with its regressive legislations.
The Doubleness of Sexuality by Akhil Katyal
In The Doubleness of Sexuality, the poet Akhil Katyal offers us a historical and theoretical exploration of the term ‘homosexual’ as it entered the vocabulary of India during colonial times and after. Katyal argues that there is a ‘doubleness’ in the way that terms are used for political activism that often run in parallel to lived realities of queerness, and that ‘sexualness’ is not as easily captured by fixed definitions. The book takes us through fiction, poetry and dating websites. Katyal is a poet whose work offers commentary on the times in which we live.
Mohanaswamy by Vasudhendra
Mohanaswamy is a landmark book in vernacular Indian literature—one of the earliest by a queer author to explicitly explore themes of homosexual relationships and sexuality. This translation from the Kannada brings to the reader the story of a rural man who discovers facets of his sexuality from childhood through his journey to the big city for a career. It sketches scenes of happiness, disappointment and hope, traversing his ways of being sane in an insane society.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
The Miseducation of Cameron Post follows its protagonist Cameron as she learns who she is, and who she wants to be. Following the death of her parents, Cameron moves to small-town America to live with her conservative aunt, who believes that being gay is a sin. Danforth draws from her own life to tell Cameron’s story—a story about the kindness and cruelty of family and of strangers, the struggle to be accepted by others, and the struggle to accept yourself. Rich in detail, and full of warmth, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a beautiful and moving coming-of-age novel.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Life is an investment — of time, of energy, of emotion. Across its hundreds of pages, Yanagihara dives into the lives of four men—Willem, Malcolm, JB, and especially Jude — as they grow older, grow apart, and grow to know each other better. It is not a light read: Yanagihara writes terrible things, but she writes them with grace. At the heart of this novel is a story about trauma, but also a story about enduring friendship and enduring love. Set in a timeless New York City, Yanagihara’s novel is a heartbreaking but unforgettable read.
The Wayfarers trilogy by Becky Chambers
The science fiction genre allows us to explore the best of what could be, and the worst of what is. Becky Chambers challenges stereotypes and goes beyond humanity in this expansive space opera series, consisting of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit, and Record of a Spaceborn Few (which don’t have to be read in order!). Chambers imagines alien beings with wildly different rules than our own, and in doing so exposes some of the absurdity of those rules. Among her ensemble cast in this trilogy is talkative AI, Martian-born humans, and androgynous reptiles. In this new universe of possibilities, queer relationships are commonplace, natural, and so much fun to read.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The background: Helen, a Greek Princess, elopes with Paris, a prince of Troy. A thousand Greek ships are launched to start the Trojan War. The protagonists: Achilles, the demigod prince and immortal warrior, Patroclus, a Greek nobleman, and thousands of Greek and Trojan soldiers. The complication: Achilles and Patroclus are in love. The consequence: Does Patroclus prove to be Achilles’ infamous heel? Read Madeline Miller’s account of this ancient Greek tale that combines mythology and history with a generous dose of sensitively-written romance that is rarely seen in writing on same-sex relationships today.