Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
The Bard frequently deconstructed politics, history, society, sexuality and gender with his prose. In his comedy, Twelfth Night, Shakespeare illustrates the fluidity of gender, showing us how it is merely a social construct created out of clothes and perceptions. His protagonist Viola disguises herself as a man, Cesario, after a shipwreck, and her forays across assumed female-male identity lines proves gender a redundant concept – really, just illusions of the eye. Lesbian feminists have also commended the special homoerotic bond brought up by the romance between her/him and Olivia. Read the play if you haven’t already!
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Woolf’s Orlando might not be the easiest read as its plot swims back and forth across societal concepts. Our eponymous hermaphroditic protagonist navigates English society between the 16th and 19th centuries, reducing not just gender to a fluid concept, but also time. Switching between genders, Orlando is the embodiment of Woolf’s idea of writing neither as a man nor woman, but as an androgynous being. The novel’s text, its characters, narration and plot seek to dismantle any notions of sex, gender, identity — and even time — that we may have. Be warned, though, this novel can be confusing but would definitely be worth your time and energy.
Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson
Winterson’s novel also experiments with the narrative structure while portraying sexuality and gender alongside themes of love, friendship and sisterhood. Winterson reaches across time, disrupting the traditional heterosexual linear narrative and plunges right into lesbian feminist revisions of fairy-tales. Our protagonists battle with their genders, sexual identities and their closely-held ideas of love. The body becomes a means of exploring the grotesque and the beautiful and finally achieves a position higher than the concepts which seek to imprison it. Femininity, masculinity and fixed sexuality are challenged throughout the novel. This post-modernist novel is a treat to anyone interested in gender, fairy-tales and the queer.
Annabelle by Kathleen Winter
The protagonist of this novel is intersex – and thus Annabelle and Wayne at the same time. Switching between identities, between genders, between tastes and desires, our protagonist is torn between a world which demands she be the hyper-masculine ‘Wayne’, and her own desire to be Annabelle and indulge in the feminine. Winter’s novel peeks into the conflicted and frequently painful lives that enforced gender roles create. Read this novel to find out how Annabelle makes her way through a heteronormative world!
Shikhandi and Other Stories They Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik
Drawing from Hindu mythology, Pattanaik’s book introduces us to queerness in Hinduism, with Shikhandi, a well-known character from the Mahabharata, as our guide. Neither man nor woman, Shikhandi straddles fixed ideas of genders and illustrates their falsity. The text gives us evidence of queerness in Hindu mythology through mythological characters and deities such as the androgynous Krishna. This book is a must-read for anyone looking to know more about the queer side of Hinduism.
Yaraana: Gay Writing from South Asia edited by Hoshang Merchant
Possibly one of the most ground-breaking queer anthologies published in India, this collection introduces us to gay writing from south-Asian writers. Edited by poet Hoshang Merchant, his own story in the collection does not disappoint. This anthology emphasizes on the performativity of gender and questions the ideas of normal, of ‘natural’, of being a ‘man’, and sex as a rite of passage in the ‘becoming’ of a man. It explores the asphyxiating heteronormative gender definitions which seek to regulate and categorize human experiences.
The pieces in the collection have been selected not only to introduce the reader to gay literature in south Asia, but also to talk about love that extends beyond “male and female roles in bed”, where “[e]quality does not mean sameness, it merely means reciprocity”.
The Fabulous Feminist by Suniti Namjoshi
Namjoshi’s work has always dealt with the society at large, frequently including themes of sexuality and gender. The Fabulous Feminist is a collection of her best writing — both poems and prose — with each piece varying in narrative technique, form and style. Namjoshi questions gender norms in everything, from western fairy tales to Indian panchatantra stories – not even sparing Shakespeare! She introduces us to the many possibilities that may be opened up in story with experimentation in gender and sexuality. Read our review for this book here to find out more.