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10 Must-Read Books That Will Teach You All About Gender, Sex, And Sexuality

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 As we witnessed in a historic and landmark judgement by the Supreme Court of India, which decriminalised homosexuality and read down the regressive anti-LGBTQ law–Section 377 on September 6– there’s a vast amount of support for the queer community. We’re cherishing this moment as India decorates its political map with the rainbow.

But I can say this with conviction that we–I’m saying the society at large either queer or non-queer–are unable to make sense of what this judgement means to us.

It’s because of multiple reasons, and one of those is our lack of knowledge–or should I say ignorance–about these extremely important terms: gender, sex, and sexual orientation. We must appreciate that we (the queer community) have not emerged out of the blue, or for that matter that we were hidden and we’re filling the streets now with colourful attires and weeping tears of joy!

I thought I would write about the primary definitions myself, but I shall refrain from doing so. Instead, I would like to present some of the remarkable works which will expand your knowledge on the concerned subjects, surrounding the judgement, among other things.

So, here’s the list of books you should read!

1: “Understanding Gender” by Kamla Bhasin

Kamla Bhasin should be your teacher when it comes to gender, sex, and sexual orientation. I’ve read a lot of books on this subject but no one puts it simply for the understanding of a person who has little to no knowledge of this subject. She’ll help you understanding basic things to make you aware how the society has ‘naturalised gender’.

2: “Exploring Masculinity” by Kamla Bhasin

What does it mean to be a ‘man’? Bhasin very succinctly puts things in perspective. Why have men burdened themselves and how is patriarchy harming them? Just like the previous book, this one is a preliminary inspection as well,and it will help you understand the nuances which will be dealt in other books in this list.

3: “Seeing Like a Feminist” by Nivedita Menon

Your go-to-guide to feminism. Feminism means equality and fight of all feminists includes the battle which the queer community is fighting. Understand that feminism forms the core of queer politics and vice-versa.

Read this book to understand how we negotiate various notions of living: Sex, Love, Marriage, and Labour. A reflection of our society and how do we treat its various stakeholders.

Note: the above three books are for primary understanding and, then, you can move on to purely ‘queer content’. Without the basics there’s no point reading a book that deals with the subject in a more nuanced manner.

4: “No Outlaws in the Gender Galaxy” by Chayanika Shah, Raj Merchant, Smriti Nevatia, and Shals Mahajan

This book is an outcome of a research done by these four queer researchers. Very deftly, it outlines how the community faces discrimination right from birth. Some personal narratives in the book are shocking revelations. Imagine what would become of a person who is a Dalit and identifies as queer. He/she/ze/they are bound to face a ‘double discrimination’. Don’t you think a person who is ‘assigned male or female at birth’ who identifies differently, and is a Dalit, is most vulnerable? Find out answers in this book.

5: “Same-Sex Love in India–A Literary History”, edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai

The book covers the mentions and narratives of same-sex idioms, desires, and love from Ancient Indian Literature to Modern Indian Literature. The scope of this book is immense. It virtually covers a lot of things.

This (earlier it was “Readings from Literature and History”, but now ‘A Literary History’) is a revised and updated version of this book. I urge you to buy this one and read it to appreciate that Indian culture has been liberal from the beginning, and wonder ‘What has happened to us now?’

6: “Eleven Ways to Love”

What a beautiful compilation of essays! From discussion on ‘class hierarchy’ in a heterosexual relationship to troubled queer relationships–covering issues like perception and lust for a particular kind of body, post-marriage blues, and other desires, and frequently appearing poignant poems—this book covers the personal narratives of gay, lesbian, asexual, polygamous, or trans* people and their relationships. It’ll guide you in different direction in terms of our understanding of ‘what love means’ and ‘how it is performed’ and ‘negotiated’.

7: “Gendering Caste Through a Feminist Lens by Uma Chakraborty”

How do the constraints of caste and gender regulate the sexuality of women and Dalit people? This book is remarkable in its scope and understanding of people who have been harmed and abused because of their position in the caste hierarchy.

8: “The History of Sexuality” (In 3 Volumes) by Michel Foucault

Many of you might not like Foucault. I know that! Many of you might not be able to understand him. I get that! But the guy is a genius. A few, read a very few, on Earth would have dared to minutely examine this topic, and one of them is Foucault. Read him please!

9: “The Doubleness of Sexuality–Idioms of Same-Sex Desire” by Akhil Katyal

A contemporary poet of India, Akhil Katyal’s PhD work is released in a book that deftly covers the nuances of sexuality, and here, its ‘doubleness’. He covers the following areas: how the queer identity is contextualised, viewed, performed (in limited details, to my mind), and laundebaazi (how people perceive and describe homosexuality). The best part, as academic material, it doesn’t shy away from discussing PlanetRomeo–the gay dating website/app–and is so easy to comprehend. A cherishable book, read it!

10: “Forbidden Sex, Forbidden Texts–New India’s Gay Poets” by Hoshang Merchant

Hoshang merchant beautifully sketches India’s gay landscape, beginning from introducing the subject to taking us through the depiction of homosexuality in arts, cinema, and writing. This book covers gay Urdu, Hindi, and English writers at length, discusses their work, and critiques them as well. An extraordinary work, in every sense.

I hope you find some meaningful insights reading these books. Grab these books and expand your understanding of ‘queer politics’ and the ‘queer community’.

Queer it up, people!

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  1. bhagirath

    For more books related to similar subject, check this page out. https://lgbtqindiaresource.wordpress.com/queer-themed-non-fictional-works/

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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