Your guide to Tamil Queer Literature – Part 1

In 2018 at Queer Chennai Chronicles we curated a list of Tamil books that narrated queer lives mostly written by queer identified authors and by cis-het authors which were close to real lives and are notable in the queer literary circle. Some of us have found solace in these books when the world around us was not relatable. These books challenge the rigid literary space that are exclusionary of queerness. They have a story behind them, and they have to offer something to each one us – queer or not. Here we present the first list from the series.

“Oodha Skirt Kadhaikal” (Violet Skirt Stories) was written by LJ Violet and published by Mowgli publications in 2016. A collection of very short stories, the stories are comprised of micro narratives set in no fixed landscape. The book tries to communicate outside the usual gender and sexuality descriptions. Of stories that can be categorised as cheesy romantic fiction or literary fiction, “Oodha Skirt Kadhaikal” is one of its kind – for good or bad – in Tamil literature.

Ulagiya Azhagiya Muthal Pen (The Most Beautiful First Woman in the World) is a poem collection published in 2010 by independent film maker and poet Leena Manimekalai. The book explores bisexual women desires. She came out as a bisexual woman through this poem collection. There was attack from all quarters – including the ‘liberals’ for the book. Right-wing outfits filed police complaints pressing charges on the grounds of obscenity and offending religious sentiments. 

Ki. Rajanarayanan’s (Ki Ra) short story ‘Gomathy’, published in 1964, narrates the story of Gomathy Nayagam, their effeminacy and growing attraction towards a man. ‘Gomathy’ is an important early work in the Tamil literature that speaks to Queer people. The short story is a part of Ki Ra’s various anthology collection. 

Gomathy, a fictional character penned during a time when there was little to no understanding or discussion about queer identities, by a person who didn’t identify themselves as queer, is very relatable to gay men and trans women till today.

The story is available to read online.

Vadamalli was written by writer Su Samuthiram and won the prestigious Amarar Aathithanar Literary Award. The Author Su Samuthiram worked as Public Relations Officer and had to visit the annual Koovagam festival as part of his job.

He learnt about the issues trans women face during his interaction at the festival. Upon return from his trip, he sent a short story to a reputed magazine about the discrimination and marginalisation trans women face in our society. The magazine at first said that they did not receive the story and then later when followed up they said that the story was lost. Su Samuthiram realised that the media was ready to publish sexualy stereotypical stories and article on trans women but were not ready to publish a story about their plight and rights. To break this and to bring the story of trans women to the mainstream he wrote Vadamalli as a series in Vikatan magazine. Vadamalli narrates the story of Mekalai, her biological family, and her chosen family.

After the series was over in Vikatan, Su Samuthiram expanded the series with a few chapters and published as a novel by Vanathi publications in 1994. Further editions of the book were published by various other publications. The labels used to refer trans women in the book are no longer used today and is considered offensive.

Maranam mattumaa maranam (Is Death the only Death?) is a collection of poems by theatre artiste, transgender rights activist and poet Living Smile Vidya. In a society which denies the fundamental rights of transgender persons, these poems act as a voice speaking out for the needs of the community.

This book of poems, published by Karuppu Prathigal, was released during the Chennai Book Fair in January 2018.

Living Smile Vidya has so far published “I am Vidya”, an autobiographical work and “Mella Vilagum Panithirai” a collation of various short stories about transgender people.

Vidupattavai is a potpourri of snippets, articles, short stories and poems. Written during the last decade by Gireesh on various platforms, the writings are a reflection of the times, Queer lives, the platforms they were written, and apart from them it stands alone as a personal testimony and expression of a gay individual during these turbulent times. Gireesh questions what the privileged look over and introspects privileges of himself and the Queer community. The book is divided based on various aspects it talks about, like love, desire, cinema, activism, media – including social media – among others.

Vidupattavai was jointly published by Karuppu Prathigal and Queer Chennai Chronicles and was released in the 2018 Chennai Book Fair.