Authors

‘We have much to unlearn about gender,’ says author Nandini Krishnan

Nandini Krishnan

Nandini Krishnan  

Despite being conscious of her own cisgender status, Nandini Krishnan has penned one of the most empathetic and eye-opening books on transmen ever written.

Ever since her first book in 2013, Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage, Nandini Krishnan has always been on the frontline of gender discourses in India. Her experience as a playwright and as a journalist provides her with a unique lens into society's inner-workings and she's only getting started.

Invisible Men: Inside India’s Transmasculine Networks (Penguin; ₹699)

Invisible Men: Inside India’s Transmasculine Networks (Penguin; ₹699)  

The Chennai-based writer’s most recent book Invisible Men: Inside India’s Transmasculine Networks (Penguin; ₹699) showcases personal stories of people Nandini has interviewed while grappling with themes of masculinity and femininity, family dynamics and mental health, while more debates loom under the surface as one reads. And while November 19 was International Men’s Day, these aspects of being ‘male’ deserve to be highlighted.

In an email interview with MetroPlus, she explains her process. Excerpts:

Mental health is given high priority in Invisible Men. From your own interactions, what do you advise society to do to maybe change their vernacular or approach to help the community feel supported?

Society – in the sense of the cisgender heterosexual majority which categorises everyone else as “different” – should first be willing to accept its own ignorance, to learn and cooperate. Ask people what pronoun we should use to refer to them.

Ask what kind of support they need. It may vary from person to person. We can’t be presumptuous. And we should not see this as largesse from “us” to “them”. Cis-heterosexual people are typically far less sensitive and knowledgeable than their counterparts from the community. So anyone who gives us the time of day is being generous.

What do you hope for readers, transgender and otherwise, to take away from this book?

The most crucial takeaway is how much we have to unlearn — even transpeople have their prejudices. For example, there are voices against romantic partnerships between transpeople or non-heterosexual relationships involving trans-people. I’d like readers to absorb the lives the book is about, with open minds.

A little background
  • Cisgender, a term coined by biologist Dana Leland Defosse, is used to describe people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth, essentially the opposite of the term ‘transgender.’ Cisgender may also be defined as those who have “a gender identity or perform a gender role society considers appropriate for one's sex.”

Invisible Men is structured to be personal yet eye-opening for even those who are strong supporters of the LGBTQAI+ movement. How did you hope for this particular structure to strengthen the message of the book ultimately?

I think of myself as a longtime ally. Yet, I often felt embarrassed by my own preconceptions. When we were discussing structure, my editor Manasi Subramaniam and I were both struck by the invisibility of the transman community even within the marginalised.

Without visibility, there can be no awareness. So I felt it was important that the book be as much about my bumbling through interviews as about transmen illuminating us about their lives.

The book is interspersed with illustrations that kind of tug at the soul; as well as the structure of Invisible Men, how do you see these illustrations as impactful as the text?

When I heard narrations from transmen, I was often left with vivid images in my head. I used to paint in my teens, and while writing the book, I began to sketch after a very long time.

The images in my head added a dimension to my understanding, and I wanted to somehow convey that to the reader. With such a complex subject, I think one medium alone — words — cannot be enough. Graphic non-fiction, illustration, and even emoticons add layers to a narrative which is otherwise hard to translate.

Reshaping the discourse around masculinity in this book is heavily addressed and so is the challenge society may face in understanding said discourses. As a researcher and writer, what were some of the challenges you faced in integrating this into Invisible Men?

I was very conscious of my own cisgender privilege. Without experiencing what it is like to be trans, could I understand the discourse around masculinity and femininity, in the context of one’s gender identity and assigned biological sex being different?

I was also concerned about portraying transmen in a negative light when so little is known about them. Yet, as a woman writing about transmen as well as their cisfemale, transfemale, cismale, or transmale partners, was I not obliged to interrogate the notion of masculinity?

You mention your interviewees in Invisible Men have become close friends and have also made you aware of other responsibilities? What are they and do you see yourself penning more books around them?

The main responsibility is addressing the pain one is unlocking in doing repeated interviews, in making interviewees revisit what could be very traumatic life events. I do want to contribute to knowledge-sharing about the community – but perhaps not through another book, perhaps through graphic novels or cinema or documentaries.

‘Invisible Men’ by Nandini Krishnan is available at leading bookstores nationwide.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 9:44:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/nandini-krishnan-invisible-men-inside-indias-transmasculine-networks-penguin-interview/article25554942.ece

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