A revolution is brewing at stall no. 28 of the 46th Chennai Book Fair. Passersby stop by curiously, and some of the other stall owners pause to talk to those manning the space. A standee nearby reads Queer Publishing House. It seems a little wrinkled around the edges, for it has been pushed around. But trans activist and writer Grace Banu and her team of transmen and transwomen continue to hold fort. She recently alleged transphobic and casteist treatment at the fair on social media.
This is the first time their publishing house that represents the queer community, has put up a stall at the prestigious event, that has over 1,000 stalls. At the entrance, there is a statue of the Buddha holding the logo of the publishing house, signifying acceptance in society. There are macramé wall hangings representing the pride flag and the ceiling is decorated with fabric signifying the updated version of the queer flag, titled Progress Pride Flag.
Grace talks to us over a span of two days, our interview punctuated by various phone calls and enquiries from people checking in on her. Discrimination is not new to Grace, who runs the Trans Rights Now Collective that has over 70 trans men and women from across India.
“When I wrote my first book Talks Of Grace Banu, I walked from one publisher to another, only to be met with the same kind of treatment,” she says. She finally published it herself in 2019. During a discussion with the Arts and Culture wing of her organisation last year, she found out that some members from her community hoped to write someday.
“Ajitha, a transwoman from Kovilpatti, told us she wanted to bring out a book of her poems,” Grace recalls. This was when Grace thought, why not start their own publishing house? “I didn’t want my people to go through the same discrimination I faced when I looked for a publisher for my book,” she says. Around the time, Booksellers and Publishers Association of South India (BAPASI) sent out a notification for their annual book fair, and it all fell in place.
“But it was not easy to secure a stall,” she says. This involved her team walking back and forth to the organisers’ office. Queer Publishing House was kickstarted with three titles in Tamil: a collection of poems each by Ajitha, transman Arun Karthik, and Neha, a transwoman and actor who won a Kerala State Film Award last year for her role in the Malayalam film Antharam.
At the stall, Grace has curated 50 titles in Tamil, Malayalam, and English by and on the LGBTQ community. “When I started talking to publishers for sourcing titles, I realised many works by our community were out of print,” says Grace. “This was a startling revelation. They had lost our database; our history.”
Grace then realised she had a lot of work ahead of her. “I am now bringing back those works through Queer Publishing House,” she says, adding: “We hoped to have 100 titles at the fair, but managed to source only 50.” Among them, are Kalki Subramaniam’s We Are Not The Others, Kuri Aruthaen, Vellai Mozhi by A Revathi, I Am Vidya by Living Smile Vidya. She adds: “We have secured a stall only at the 46th book fair. This is almost half a century of denial.”
With inputs from Sreelakshmi S Nair