Thursday, December 20, 2018

Short Takes: What Women Write - Writing from the Shadows

This is a post of the talk given the students who participated in the event Short Takes: What Women Write held at Women's Christian College on 1st December 2018 as part of the 2018 Prajnya 16 days Campaign against Gender Violence. Read about the event here:

Two speakers spoke as a pair on the topic of Writing from the Shadows. The first speaker threw light on gay literature through the ages and the second speaker focused on the LGBTQ literary panorama in India.

Writing from the Shadows: Writing that brings other Gender and Sexuality Perspectives to Life
Gay literature Throughout The Ages
Gay literature is a collective term for literature produced by or for LGBTQ community which involves characters, plot lines, or themes portraying all modes of variants from society’s normative model of sexual identity, orientation and activities.  Representation of lgbtq+ individuals in literature is important because they often turn to literature for the solace of being validated and understood. Literature not only helps in expressing the depth and beauty of queer relationships but also documents the psychological stresses and alienation suffered by these people.
Many mythologies and religious narratives have stories of gay relationships and portray different genders. Greek gods and heroes like Zeus, Apollo and Heracles validate pederasty. A gay relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is subtextually expressed in Homer’s ‘Illiad’. Latin work, ‘Satyricon’ by Petronius and Japanese work, ‘The Tale of Genji’ by Murasaki Shikibu is examples of some other early works.
In the 18th and 19th century authors included allusions to these mythological characters to express their sympathy with gay readers and gay themes, these references might be overlooked by the straight readers. Authors used such clandestine ways to express such themes to avoid facing legal action or public condemnation or even prosecution in some countries. Many early Gothic fiction writers like Mathew Lewis, William Beckford, Francis Lathom were homosexuals and used gothic and horror fiction to express gay themes. Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’ invented the lesbian vampire story and even inspired Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ which has its own homoerotic aspects. The first American gay novel was ‘Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania’ by Bayard Taylor. The protagonist in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is one of the first characters who secured a terrible fate for his or her homoerotic tendencies. The ‘atmosphere of frankness’ created Enlightenment gave way for a lot more works.
A lot of novels with explicit gay themes and characters came in the 20th century. An assumption which existed then was that gay characters in literature must come to a tragic end but later many works came up defying this notion. Edward Prime Stevenson’s ‘Imre: A Memorandum’ was the first in which the homosexual couple were happy and united in the end. Forster’s ‘Maurice’, Forman Brown’s ‘Better Angel’, Gore Vidal’s ‘The City and The Pillar’ are examples of some notable works of that period.
In the 21st century, much of LGBTQ+ literary works have earned mainstream acclaim. Notable authors include Sarah Waters, Jamie O’ Neill, Michael Cunningham, Pablo Frost. LGBTQ+ themes have also become more visible in a growing body of young adult literature. Speculative fiction especially gives authors and readers the freedom to imagine societies that are different from real-life cultures, therefore readers can be given an opportunity to examine sexual bias by making them reconsider his or her cultural assumptions.

- Rhema Sara Varkey, IInd year B.A in English, Women's Christian College



It may seem strange to recognize an LGBTQIA literary panorama in India. Yet, this topic takes root in the literary tradition and Indian philosophy: the Indian traditional literature is so ripe with sexually ambiguous characters and gender variance that this could suggest the existence of a third gender and the co-existence of many sexual identities.

In the context of reworking the national identity that was forming within the post-Independence India, literature was subject to severe censorship by the supporters of nationalist movements. Therefore, in the process of collecting literary works and constituting an Indian literature”, many texts were despised and censored.

Regarding Gay Literature in India, many works prospered in states like Maharashtra. In 1957, “Ek Sarak Sattavan Galiyam” by Kamlesvar, a bisexual truck driver divides his erotic-love living between a traditional Indian dancer and the young truck cleaning man.

It is easy to imagine that most of the stories that dealt with lesbianism were censored. Only one famous Urdu tale, “Lihaaf” (“The blanket”) by Ismat Chughtai, set in a traditional Muslim house, survived the censorship. “My Story” by Kamala Das was another piece of literature that took the publishing industry by storm. She not only wrote novels that had lesbian plot lines but unabashedly shared her desires for women- her same-sex desires that she witnessed during her days in boarding school and the attraction she felt towards her female teachers and one of her doctors.

In 2010, one of the first publishing houses for LGBTQ literature, Queer Ink, was established in India, giving this community an exclusive space for writing.

Around the world, there is an increasing popularity of introducing LGBTQ writers and diversifying this genre of literature. Transgender teenage girl Jazz Jennings co-authored a 2014 children's book called I Am Jazz about her experience discovering her identity. The popular Japanese manga tradition has included genres of girls' comics that have featured homosexual relationships since the 1970s. The most famous book released this year concerning Gay literature was released by TV host John Oliver, titled “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo,” a satire aimed at the Vice President of USA Mike Pence, one of the many homophobic politicians in the Trump administration, and had written a children’s book based on his bunny named Marlon Bundo.  Oliver’s parody has topped the Amazon best-seller list. Finally, with the advent of recognition of such diverse communities existing in our world, acceptance is a long and tedious process. Only by understanding their perspective will it lose its strangeness; it will just be another way of living. Gay books will just be books, gay movies just movies.

- H.Varsha, IInd year B.A in English, Women's Christian College.


No comments:

Post a Comment