Interviewee : Meenu and Shruti
Let’s get straight to it: why erotic stories?
Queer lives are becoming increasingly visible in writings and art, in demanding for rights, in challenging the law, in voicing protests, in starting organisations, in making an online presence; robust, vibrant and diverse voices are being heard in India and South Asia. This book is an attempt to add to those voices.
Moreover, erotica as a genre, has personally interested us. In terms of contemporary queer erotica, a lot of what is available is published in and about the West and we wanted to read more queer erotica from non-Western contexts. Within erotica, queerness has not been available in the public domain too readily though it has existed and has been shared quietly. So this anthology is an attempt to bring out those sexy, simmering writings and art. We also believe that queerness can take a fresh view on sex and sex lives and that queer erotica can challenge some of the normative structures of sexualities and genders.
How has your experience of putting this book together been?
We have thoroughly enjoyed putting the book together. It has been a thought provoking and exciting journey. Through this process we have also had the support of Shalini Krishan, the editor at Tranquebar. To start the process, we sent out an open call for submissions to queer lists, literary groups and blogs in India and the South Asian diaspora globally. Other than India, we were able to reach out to groups and individuals from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka that engage with queer rights, writings and art. We also invited some published authors and artists to contribute to this anthology. Responses to this endeavour have been mainly positive and well received. The stories that were submitted have expanded our own ideas and notions about erotica. Erotica is pretty subjective, actually, like most art and literature – so your good could be my bad. Now we’re waiting for feedback and reviews about the book!
How did you go about the process of vetting (no pun) the stories?
Good writing was of course an important element but it was not the be all and end all. We wanted to prioritise stories that expanded traditional notions of sex. So we do have stories that complicate consent issues, that go out of the private space into the public, that involve more than just two persons. We have tried to be diverse and the stories reflect lesbian, bisexual, gay, trans and queer lives! We have tried to bring in regional representation as well. With this selection of stories, we were also hoping to highlight the multiple emotions that the sexual can elicit. So the stories here are sexy, cheeky, dark, intriguing and downright hot!
The collection looks explicitly “queer”. Do all authors feel the need to be associated as “gay writers”? Do you think there exists this pressure from the gay audience to ‘stick to the queer fiction’ alone?
Our call for submissions was an open one and there was no specification that only queer-identified authors could write. Also, we have used the term queer very broadly. Queer in this anthology represents non-normative genders, sexualities, lives and perspectives and is not restricted to LGBT identities.
We don’t think there’s a pressure to stick to queer fiction. But we believe that given the general dearth of writings and images on queer lives, the queer audience welcomes queer fiction and writings that reflect their lived realities, lives and experiences. Reading literature that is queer is likely to represent a reality that is closer to one’s own experiences.
What would you really like to see on the Asian queer literary scene?
A lot more queer writing! Literature that reflects a celebration of the plurality and non-conformity of sexualities, genders, sexual expressions and lived realities. Writings that join the dots between everyday lives and larger socio-political contexts of caste, class, ethnicity and economics. Writing that goes beyond LGBT identities and complicates and broadens existing notions of sex, desire, genders, relationships, power structures and silences. Themes of pride and survival. Themes of diversity. Also writings in different regional languages. While we cannot undermine the difficulties of living as a queer or gender variant in a heterosexually constructed world, many people make the tumultuous journey from shame to pride. We need to see more stories of such courage and the joy of being who we are!
Do any of the stories explore how larger social and political issues fracture and frame queer relationships?
Yes. Like we mentioned before, we have chosen stories like that. Also we started out by placing this anthology in a context of larger social and political issues. The call of submissions itself invited writers to challenge and broaden the normative.
Are the stories mainly sexually playful?
Our call of submissions invited authors to explore themes across ages, abilities, regions, genders, sexualities and sexual expressions. We were quite direct in asking for stories on BDSM. So we made an attempt but do not have a story exploring S/M directly, though many stories are definitely quite explicit in their sexual content. There are traces of bondage, of domination, of power play; consent lines are blurred, sexual games are played and sex is taken out into public spaces.
Some are of the opinion that sexuality is the only currency being exploited in the queer world. What is your take on it?
Since the struggle for queer acceptance is the recognition and rights of people with non-normative sexualities and genders, it seems that this is all queer lives are about. But our lives, like most lives, are about many things; about ordinary everyday things. It is not just about sex and sexuality but that is what tends to get most articulated or examined in the public domain.
When is the book out? And we can expect a Big-Bang launch?
The book hits bookstores in India in early June. It will also be available online. We also invite you to our book launch events in June in Bombay and Delhi. For details, follow us on Facebook. We promise you that Close, Too Close will leave you quite thrilled and craving for more!
Meenu and Shruti
You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org