Category Archives: LGBTQIA Reads

Read 43 of 2022. Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough

Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough

Title: Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing: Essays Author: Lauren Hough
Publisher: Coronet, Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 9781529382525
Genre: Essays, Memoir, LGBTQIA
Pages: 314
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I was most curious about this book, well, because of the title, and who wouldn’t be right? I mean we have all been there, when it comes to leaving and being left, in whatever form and manner. And rightly so this collection of essays from Hough’s life and observations, brought me to tears, a couple of essays in.

This book is about so many things – about growing up in a cult, about coming of age, about realising you are lesbian and in the military, about being ousted from service because of your identity, about being taught to please men sexually in the cult since you were twelve years old, and struggling with insomnia, PTSD, and mental health issues.

Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing is a brutal collection of essays. At times it is real, cringe, heartbreaking even, defining so many points in Hough’s life and in relation to the world, it is funny, making all meaning from the trauma and suffering, and above all relatable.

I found so many pieces that I could emotionally connect with – the time she is gaslighted by her superiors at work, or her first time encountering a gaybourhood (though I found that comfort with friends), and a lot also about hope really.

Hough’s writing is as real as it gets. The reader is not spared the details. There are no solutions, neither Hough asks for them. She tells about her life the way it was, and the way it is. You just cannot turn away from it.

Read 31 of 2022. Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu. Translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao

Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Title: Happy Stories, Mostly
Author: Norman Erikson Pasaribu
Translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao
Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284635
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 173
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Another queer read from the International Booker Prize 2022 Longlist and I couldn’t be happier. I am so glad that queer voices are finally getting the attention and space, we have been jostling for since forever.

This collection of short stories is a punch to the gut, but perhaps quietly, more aware of what the stories are going to do to the reader, so they go gentle into the night, and spring up on you, astonishing you with their might and power.

There is a lot going on in this collection of short stories – intersection is key – from religion to gender identity to sexual orientation – they all intersect with each other and with marginalized lives, always striving and hoping for more to materialize.

All of the stories though come to the point of dealing with homosexuality – the isolation and what it means to be queer. Whether it is a mother in mourning for her son who took his life, or a friendship at a crossroads when a man discovers his best friend (well, sort of) is gay or when a woman discovers something about her husband, all these stories are on the periphery of the seen and the unseen.

I could connect with some stories a lot more than the others, as is the case with any short-story collection. Not all work for most people. But the ones that stood out the most for me was “So What’s Your Name, Sandra?”.

These stories speak to each other in an uncanny manner. The stories aren’t interconnected and yet it feels that way, maybe because of all the queer people navigating the straight world – with also religion playing such an important role throughout the book.

The writing is raw, vivid, and sparse in most parts, which makes the translation by Tiffany Tsao even more delicious -to see the lengths she has gone through to keep the prose intact. You can tell that as a reader.

The idea to break away from heteronormativity and how difficult that is, is explored through all these stories. The jealousies, the misunderstandings, the anguish of the other is seen so starkly, along with the stigma of coming out in a society that just will not notice you.

I hope more such voices get published and promoted. The LGBTQIA+ community could do with all these voices and more, telling our stories, the way we see them, feel them, and live them every single day.

Read 30 of 2022. Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park. Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur

Love in the Big City by Sang Young ParkTitle: Love in the Big City
Author: Sang Young Park
Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284659
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction Pages: 231
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Sang Young Park’s prose along with the translation of Anton Hur did for me what Sally Rooney couldn’t, and I have finally found my closure for not enjoying any of Rooney’s works.

Disclaimer: This is the only time I have brought up Rooney in this review.

Love in the Big City is again one of the International Booker 2022 Long-listed titles that resonated with me like no other, besides Heaven. It is a story of friendship, of love, of lust, and essentially of what it is to navigate all of this in a big city. It is messy, it is loud, and sometimes insufferable as well – the way all love is meant to be, but Sang Young Park and Anton Hur give it another dimension – that of pained self-realisation and temperaments that constantly hover on the page.

The story is of the narrator, Young, and his coming-of-age – from college to postgraduate life in Seoul. The book is about the loves of his life (some not so much loves as episodes of lust) – his roommate, Jaehee who moves out after marriage, his cancer-stricken mother, his activist ex he calls Hyung, and Gyu-ho, who makes up most of the second half of the novel.

As a middle-aged (I cannot even bring myself to say it but it’s the truth) gay man in India, I could relate to so much of the book. Of the relationship with the mother – constantly mercurial, of the men in his life, and of a woman who is your best friend and most of all the gay identity that runs throughout the book.

Young is complicated. It is not easy to like Young and yet you do, because we see so much of ourselves in Young, at least I did.  We lead quiet queer lives, till it isn’t all that quiet anymore. The transformation of the queer life from the 20s to mid-30s is mind-boggling. We go from one extreme to another. We want to be visible and that’s what Young does till he doesn’t want to be unacknowledged.

Relationships are fragile, emotions even more so. The translation by Anton Hur depicts all of this and more, adding a new dimension of his own to the novel. The pride and shame and loneliness of being gay is so apparent and palpable that it scared me as a single gay man in the big city – where everything is big and sometimes all you need is small, tender expressions of love. I search for them. Constantly.

Read 21 of 2022. Love and Reparation: A Theatrical Response to the Section 377 Litigation in India by Danish Sheikh

Love and Reparation by Danish Sheikh

Title: Love and Reparation: A Theatrical Response to the Section 377 Litigation in India
Author: Danish Sheikh
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857427502
Genre: Plays, LGBTQIA
Pages: 164
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

You don’t see a lot of LGBTQIA literature coming out of the sub-continent, even though section 377 has been read down. You just do not. I am not surprised though. But what I was pleasantly surprised by was this text, aptly titled, “Love and Reparation” – a collection of two plays about the decriminalization of queer intimacy that took place on the 6th of September of 2018.

One decision that changed so many lives across the spectrum. From being “criminals” to not being criminals overnight, and to have full sexual agency meant something for most, and yet there was doubt about the future, given how we lived in the past. The future is as uncertain even today, almost four years into the judgement.

Danish Sheikh’s two plays bring out the true nature of how we feel. It is a representation I am glad exists. Both the plays bring forth the intermingling of the personal and the political, with the legal aspects playing a major role. Sheikh writes with so much empathy, yet never straying away from facts. Being a queer person, Danish speaks through these plays – everything that is so personal is out there.

“Contempt” and “Pride” are the two sides of the same coin and it couldn’t be truer. One play examines the before and one the after. Both speak about living with the law and what are the repercussions. I learnt the language of longing and desire pretty late though I knew somehow what it was a lot earlier. I have lived through a time when Section 377 was used by my family to put me in place and I have thankfully (perhaps) also lived to see the day when this section was read down.

Contempt was written as a response to the Suresh Kumar Koushal vs. Naz Foundation judgement in the year 2013, when the Supreme High Court reinstated section 377, overturning the Delhi High Court judgement. Pride was written as a response to the decriminalization of 377 in the year 2018.

I felt deep sense of satisfaction after reading these two plays and yet I also felt this deep sense of loss, of something that is still not complete and needs to be looked at, with one eye on the future. And yet, these plays have provided so much hope and love inside of me for what’s to come. A love that can finally speak out loud.

Read 233 of 2021. The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Title: The Chosen and the Beautiful
Author: Nghi Vo
Publisher: Tordotcom
ISBN: 978-1250784780
Genre: Fantasy, Literary, LGBTQIA+
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Nghi Vo’s retelling of “The Great Gatsby” in my opinion is better than the original text. Don’t get me wrong. I loved and still love The Great Gatsby but this refreshing take, which in turn just becomes Vo’s original voice is fantastic, nothing short of spectacular.

Everything is there – the madness, the passion, the love, and it is brilliant, with Jay Gatsby being a bisexual vampire. I mean, WHOA, right? I mean, WTF, isn’t it? But it is what it is and Vo has us enter her world and hold us there from the first page on.

There are black arts added to the story. Nick is no longer a part of it. We have Jordan Baker, a Vietnamese American, an orphan, raised by an American family, telling the tale.

There is queer-phobia and racism that isn’t hidden. Vo has demolished The Great Gatsby and created something new of its rubble. I think this is also quite a homage to the classic. At the same time, it is unique, has a voice of its own, and stands out on every single page.

The Chosen and the Beautiful speaks of class, racism, sexual aggression, and power like the classic did not. It is political and that’s how it should be, in my opinion.

Things are magical and so is the writing. Vo’s descriptions made me turn those pages again and reread just to soak in the language. Jordan’s relationship with Daisy and Tom is another matter altogether. It is fluid, caustic, and extremely toxic.

Vo’s writing is marvellous. You don’t get the time to breathe. You are gasping for air and yet want to turn those pages as quickly as ever.