10 Must-Read Gender and Sexuality Books

I have often received requests to share books that I’d recommend anyone to read on sex, gender, sexuality and sexual orientation. This blog is an answer to that request.

1. Understanding Gender by Kamla Bhasin

Publisher: Kali for Women, India; pp 88

Kamla Bhasin is the 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 any layperson who has little to no knowledge of this subject. She’ll help you understanding basic things to make you aware how the society has ‘naturalized gender.’

2. Exploring Masculinity by Kamla Bhasin

Publisher: Women Unlimited, India; pp 68

What does it mean to be a ‘man?’ Bhasin very succinctly puts things in perspective. She reverses the popular narrative, and rightly so, asks: Why have men burdened themselves and are not realizing that patriarchy is harming them? Just like the previous book, this one is an introduction, and an elementary read, 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

Publisher: Zubaan in association with Penguin Books, India; pp 252

Your go-to-guide to feminism. Feminism means equality, and the fight of all feminists includes the battle which the queer community is fighting too. (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 labor. 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,’ which is nuanced, also wide in its scope.

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

Publisher: Zubaan, India; pp 280

This book is an outcome of a research done by these four queer researchers. Very deftly, it outlines how the people of LGBTQIA+ community faces discrimination right from birth. Some personal narratives in the book are shocking revelations. For example, imagine what would become of a person who is a dalit and identifies as queer is bound to face discrimination at multiple levels. Personally, an extremely helpful guide in understanding how we are marred by our own ignorance in queer discourses.

5. Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History, Edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai

Publisher: Penguin, India; pp 520

The book covers the mentions and narratives of same-sex idioms, desires, and loves spanning from the ancient Indian literary text 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 the Indian culture has been liberal from the beginning, and wonder ‘What has happened to us now?’

6. Eleven Ways to Love

Publisher: Penguin, India; pp 288

One of my favorite collection of essays, this book covers discussions ranging from ‘class hierarchy’ in a heterosexual relationship to troubled queer relationships, circumscribing issues like perception and lust for a particular “kind of body,” post-marriage blues, and other desires; and each essay is interrupted, and beautifully so, by a poem by Sharanya Manivannan — this book covers the personal narratives of gay, lesbian, asexual, polygamous, and 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

Publisher: Bhatkal & Sen; pp 202

How do the constraints of caste and gender regulate the sexuality of women and dalits? 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, a practice that abuses human existence in worst forms possible.

8. The History of Sexuality (in three volumes) by Michel Foucault (translated from French by Robert Hurley)

Publisher: Vintage

Many of you might not like Foucault. I know that! Many of you might not be able to understand him. I get that! But there’s no denying the fact that 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

Publisher: New Text; pp 294

A poet, read a daring one, 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 contextualized, viewed, performed (in limited details, to my mind), and laundebaazi (how people perceive, describe and perform homosexuality in different regions). Not only this, it also covers PlanetRomeo, the gay dating website/app. An interesting read.

10. Forbidden Sex, Forbidden Texts: New India’s Gay Poets by Hoshang Merchant

Publisher: Routledge Chapman & Hall; pp 296

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!

This article was first published on Youth Ki Awaaz. Click here to read it.

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