In late 2017, two queer writers — Moulee C and Violet LJ — came together to start Queer Chennai Chronicles (QCC), a literary forum and independent publishing house. Vidupattavi , the first Tamil book to hit stands under their banner earlier this year, chronicled the life of a gay man (a semi-fictional account by author Girish) in Chennai over the last 10 years. “We approached some mainstream publishers, but they wanted to edit certain aspects because they felt it was not for their audience. We couldn’t allow that because then the book would lose its honesty,” says Moulee, who juggles a day job as a program manager in an IT firm.
To discuss queer literature more wholesomely, taking into count the queerness of the author, their work, the politics of the language and literary value, QCC is organising a Queer Literature Festival. “It will be a space for queer writers to engage with new and and alternate publishing platforms, while also finding audience interested in their work,” explains Tamil writer Violet, who has published Oodha Skirt Kathaigal , a collection of queer-centric short stories in 2016.
“Original LGBT narratives are rare in the Tamil literary world. Such writing shifts the focus from English-speaking spaces, where LGBT pop culture is better understood, and allows awareness and discussion to percolate into new sections of society,” says Moulee. He recalls an encounter with a publisher who was unable to understand a character’s gender fluidity and the flitting usage of gender pronouns to identify the same person. “Gender fluidity is a common narrative in the LGBT community, but it is not discussed beyond that. Queer literature is part of our activism; it is a channel through which we tell our stories. We want to have an honest conversation about the sort of literature that mainstream audiences are missing out on,” he says.
While queer literature in regional languages like Marathi, Gujarati, Kanada and Bengali do exist, a publishing house exclusively to make space for queer writing from Chennai and Tamil Nadu is a maverick effort in recent times. “Most documentations of LGBT lives are official — HIV numbers, crime data. While the most prominent narratives are about LGBT relationships, there are not enough stories about the complexities within the community — of class differences, caste politics and the discrimination that exists within the LGBT umbrella,” says Moulee.
The event, organised by QCC through crowd-funding, is also meant to assert empowerment by offering queer voices a chance to be heard. It will include panel discussions, speaker presentations, and a networking opportunity for queer writers and publishers.
Sheiji Tadokoro, a Dalit gay man who is contributing to Queer Chennai Anthology will read from his work. Prema Revathi, of the feminist publication Maithri , will discuss the politics of alternate publishing houses while dealing with queer literature. Dhrubo Jyoti will speak on the media representation of queer individuals. The Chinky Homo Project — an initiative by Pavel Sagolsem and Kumar Davidson to archive the narratives of being North-Eastern and queer — will also be presented at the event.
The Queer Lit Fest will be held at Kavikko Convention Centre on July 7 from 10 am to 5.30 pm. For more details, visit queerchennaichronicles.com