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

 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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