Everything's queer about it

India needs more awareness about queers and their issues, and the best way to achieve this is through quality queer literature,” says Shobna Kumar, director, Queer Ink.

The online portal for purchasing queer books, art and CDs is all set to begin publishing its first book, Out! — Stories from the New Queer India, will be launched by the end of this month.

Writer-publisher Shobna Kumar, who founded India’s first queer online portal, Queer Ink, with her first book on Queer literature — Out!-Stories From The New Queer India. Pic/Nimesh Dave

“We made a conscious decision to concentrate on books that deal with queer content. Out! offers a glimpse beyond the closet doors of the queer community. It delves into the lives and dreams of India’s most misunderstood minority,” smiles Kumar.

In 2009, when Kumar first began short-listing books for her portal she realised that there was a serious dearth of quality queer content based in the Indian context. That’s when she decided to spearhead this queer literature movement.

“I realised that there were less than 100 such books set in the Indian context that were being published in India and most books in the market were imported,” says Kumar, who counsels distressed queers who contact the Humsafar Trust, an organisation addressing health and social concerns of LGBT communities in Mumbai.

This dearth prompted Kumar to look for writers who could produce quality queer content. Here, sexual orientation isn’t a criterion. “Out! has writers from all sexual orientations. One need not be a queer to produce quality queer content,” believes Kumar.

So, does she worry that queer literature might not have enough takers from people of other sexual orientations? “We have been organising book clubs every month since the past four months and I have observed that lots of straight people attend discussions on queer books and are curious and interested to know about the community,” says Kumar.

“Though the content is queer, Out! has universal appeal. The book has an interesting chapter which involves a conversation between actress Nandita Das who played a lesbian in Fire and Chitra Palekar, a parent who has come out openly in support of her lesbian daughter. This makes an interesting read,” says a confident Kumar.

Kumar also has plans to publish queer books in regional languages in order to make the literature available to a larger audience. “We are also looking at publishing queer literature in regional languages and have already got Marathi writer Bindu Madhav Khere on board for this,” says Kumar. “We are also working on the pricing part of our regional editions in order to make them accessible to a mass audience,” adds Kumar. 

Kumar strongly believes that her initiative will go a long way to ensure the acceptance of lesbian relationships in the Indian society.  “Through queer books, we aim to make the right knowledge available to the people about our community and dispel the tag of taboo that is attached to it,” concludes Kumar. 

Queer lingo
Aquwa: Those who wear women’s or men’s attire, but have not yet undergone castration and may or may not want to undergo castration in the future
Butch: A masculine gender representation, describing masculine traits, behaviour, style, expression and self-perception. The term is mostly used in the lesbian subculture as a sub-identity of a lesbian
Dyke: The term was originally used in a negative context to stereotype and oppress lesbians as masculine women. The term has been reclaimed by many (but not all) lesbians as a positive label to describe self-confidence and independence in a woman. Eg: Dykes on Bikes
Hijra : Hijras are born as biological/anatomical males who reject their masculine identity in due course of time to identify either as women, or not-men, or in-between man and woman, or neither man nor woman
Kothi (n): Males who show obvious feminine mannerisms. Most of the Kothi-identified males show varying degree of feminine mannerisms/behaviour and also cross-dress occasionally. These persons are akin to ‘queens’/’drag queens’ in western countries
Nirvan (Nirvan Kothi): Those who had undergone ‘Nirvana’ (Salvation - as castration — the removal of both testes and penis — known (voluntarily/willingly). They dress in women’s attire. These persons are usually known as “Nirvan Kothi(s)” or simply as “Nirvan(s)” within the Hijra community 

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