Representation of Gay Characters in Literature

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With the repealing of Article 377 in India and gay characters being introduced in pop culture- Karan Mehra of Made in Heaven who is openly gay yet doesn’t want to fight the system until it attacks him to Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar playing a gay couple in Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan, it seems we are making strides from legislation to representation. 

 

Books have been at the helm of it all. Whether its people shipping Drarry in Harry Potter or Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda whose protagonist owes his sexual awakening to Drarry, books have been a source of companionship for adolescents looking for validation and understanding. 

The earliest mention of homosexuality is found in Ancient mythology, whether it’s the likes of Zeus and Apollo in Greek mythology or Agni in Hindu mythology.

Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles explores Achilles and Patroclus’ romance which a lot of historians deny. It’s a historical fiction that goes beyond Achilles’ infamous rage and looks at him as a tender lover. He is very firm and unabashed for how he feels about Patroclus.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin portrays the complexity of navigating through social alienation, identity and masculinity as a pre-Stonewall riots gay man. The book centres around David, an American man, who is left in Paris as his fiancé, Hella, has gone to Spain to contemplate marriage. He begins an affair with Giovanni, an Italian bartender at the gay bar he frequents. Most of the plot unfolds in a Parisian gay bar which is indicative of how crucial are queer spaces to interact with members of the community.

Admittedly, there is a dearth of gay characters in Indian English literature. But I did manage to cross paths with a few gems along the way. 

Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar, written originally in Marathi, and translated by Jerry Pinto into English is about Tanay and Anuja, who are siblings, both smitten by the tenant who is moving into the house. It is a raw and vivid portrayal of what longing feels like. How you can love someone and they walk into your life; before leaving as abruptly as they entered. 

Janice Pariat’s writing was a surprising discovery made in the Jaipur Literature Festival a few years ago. Her novels are set between the north-east of India and London. Two of her books, Seahorse and The Nine Chambered Heart, feature characters that are drawn to people of the same sex. But what is striking is that there are no labels attached to their sexuality. 

We owe it to the gay community to watch, listen and read their stories. It’s the first step to empathy which leads to alleviation of their pain due to years of systemic injustice and ostracization. As Bell Hooks has said, “Representation is a crucial location of the struggle for any exploited and oppressed people asserting subjectivity and decolonization of the mind.”