When thinking about your Pride Month reading list, adding LGBTQ+ South Asian books might not be the first thing to come to mind. Many of the countries that make up this region—including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh—still use British colonial era laws that limit the openness and visibility of their LGBTQ+ writers. For example, in my parents’ home country of Pakistan, lengthy prison sentences and public floggings are official legal consequences for identifying as LGBTQ+. Moreover, these countries don’t have laws that protect against sex and gender discrimination, making it difficult to promote LGBTQ+ culture.
Yet despite these severe prohibitions, LGBTQ+ South Asian writers have been gaining prominence. In the last two decades, their works have gained a wide audience and made the process of coming out a possibility for many South Asians. The books listed below provide a sampling of LGBTQ+ South Asian writing. Peruse and keeping adding to your Pride Month list!
We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib
A 2020 Lambda Award winner, Samra Habib’s memoir charts her journey from her childhood in Pakistan to her work as a LGBTQ+ activist, writer, and photographer based in Toronto, Canada. Habib’s memoir shows how queer identity can intersect with Muslim identity, thus challenging orthodox views of both sexuality and Islam. An intimately personal narrative, Habib draws the reader into the pain, struggle, and transformation that has marked her life. We Have Always Been Here courageously fights for queer Muslim experience, making it visible to a wider audience.
The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story by A. Revathi
Revathi’s memoir about her life as a hijra in India is unflinching in its honesty and brutality. In The Truth About Me, Revathi recounts how she came to terms with being trans and eventually found her place amongst India’s hijra community. However, instead of finding belonging, she experienced threats and violence from a public that did not accept her identity. The turning point in Revathi’s life is when she meets activists working on the behalf of LGBTQ+ communities in India. As a result, Revathi herself becomes a hijra rights activist. The Truth About Me is the first memoir written by an Indian hijra, and an intense and engaging read.
The Devourers by Indra Das
I’ll say it bluntly: The Devourers is an amazing and mind-blowing work of art. Das’s debut novel reimagines the werewolf story and meditates on what it means to live on the margins of society. What’s really interesting about The Devourers is how Das explores the repressive social codes against India’s LGBTQ+ communities through fantasy. At times, the violence and gore within the novel is stomach turning, just as an FYI. However, Das’s unique exploration of LGBTQ+ identities makes this a profound book that stays with you.
Moving Truth(s): Queer and Transgender Desi Writings on the Family Edited by Aparajeeta Duttchoudhury and Rukie Hartman
Moving Truth(s) collects 13 real-life accounts that capture queer and transgender experiences within South Asian families. Aparajeeta Duttchoudhury envisioned the anthology as a resource for South Asian families in order to help facilitate the process of coming out. The stories contained within Moving Truth(s) come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and Desi cultures, and are intended to ease what can be difficult family conversations. This is an important collection that shows the diversity of LGBTQ+ experiences across the South Asian world.
Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
Selvadurai’s Funny Boy captures the experience of growing up gay in Sri Lanka during the ethnic fighting in the 1980s. The action is told through Arjie Chelvaratnam as he comes to terms with his sexual identity. The six interconnected stories show Arjie dealing with and flouting the masculine norms of his society. Moreover, Selvadurai poignantly captures how tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil populations tears apart the social fabric of the country. A beautiful novel that is a must read.
She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya
Vivek Shraya’s She of the Mountains is an exploration of gender and identity, and the social codes that form those things. Shraya’s reimagining of the Hindu gods and their malleable gender and sexual identities forms the backdrop for a personal journey of self-discovery and acceptance. Additionally, She of the Mountains celebrates the poetic valences of language and typography. The nearly two pages of “you’re gay” in a variety of typefaces reinforces the repeated abuse suffered by the unnamed protagonist. Check this one out: you will start rereading the moment you finish it.
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