An anthology of queer erotica arrives against the backdrop of the recent decriminalisation of homosexuality

Tranquebar Press, an imprint of Westland Limited, has brought out Close, Too Close, a South Asian anthology of queer erotica. Until a little less than three years ago, the experiences that the stories in this book describe were deemed “against the order of nature” as per Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

Edited by Meenu and Shruti, the book is a collection of 14 stories by writers from different sexes, backgrounds and locations. The book was launched at Blue Frog in the Capital recently by Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan Books.

Speaking at the launch, Butalia called the book “significant” as it prompts a discussion on queerness and erotica. “It breaks the silence on women writing about pleasure and the silence on what can be written and dreamt about,” she added in her praise of the book. She also noted the hardcover packaging of the book which, coupled with the fact that it has been brought out by a “mainstream” publishing house, lends it a certain seriousness that the genre of erotica has long been denied. “Erotica is not just about sex, one can write erotically about a table or a fruit,” one of the contributors said.

Recalling the publication of A Question of Silence: The Sexual Economies of Modern India, edited by Janaki Nair and Mary E. John in 2000, Butalia shed light on the difficulty of including in it an essay on being a lesbian in India. She was optimistic, however, that the change in the law would be followed by a change in mindsets soon enough.

The cover page of the book, where the editors refer to themselves only by their first names for different reasons, makes it amply clear that mindsets are yet to change adequately. Shruti, a counsellor by profession, said, “The focus of the book was on diversity, and stories that expanded the notion of sex.”

Meenu, a queer feminist who works with autonomous collectives Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW) and Lesbians and Bisexuals in India (LABIA), said, “The stories attempt to break the bounds of heteronormativity.”

Although the 20 odd stories that the editors received from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal span a wide range of sexual choices and experiences, they were surprised by what the stories do not talk about. “There are no stories that deal with SNM and sex work,” Meenu observed.

Shalini Krishan, Senior Editor at Westland Limited, said the book would be launched in Mumbai next and would be taken to other cities on the basis of the response it would get.

The book launch was accompanied by dramatic readings from the stories by contributors Nikhil Yadav and Annie Dykstra among others and ended with a drag performance by Shubham Bose Roy.