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Between Tales and Tellers: Literary Renderings of Gender Fluidity in Comparative Study

Oindri Roy

English and Foreign Language University, Hyderabad

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF


 Abstract

The study pertains to the literary explorations of non-normative sexualities to look into the hypothesis that narratives of transsexuality and intersexuality embody the processuality of the interaction between literariness, the nature of the texts and experiences of non-normative sexualities, as the content of the texts. The scope of the paper comprises three texts – The Danish Girl (2002), The Pregnant King and The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story (2010). A comparative study is attempted to locate into the divergences and convergences in the texts based on: firstly, firstly, the functionality of literariness in the textual articulations of gender fluidity or the possibility of locating a similar (not same) literary value in the textual articulations of gender fluidity; secondly, whether (and how) the writing of gender fluidity influences literary forms/practices, the modifications and the re-creations, thus, entailed. The insights derived from the above comparative study about the literary aspects of narrating non-normative sexualities, may be used to enhance theoretical insights into the same i.e. experiences of non-normative sexualities or gender fluidities.

Keywords: Sexuality, transsexuality, The Danish Girl, The Pregnant King, The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story, gender

 Introduction

‘The increasing availability of narratives about non-normative sexualities which are of the fictional, autobiographical or other varied nature vindicates the literary evolution of the “new sexual subject” (Purvis 2006). Specifically, in the field of Comparative Literature, Higonnet (1995) in “Comparative Literature on the Feminist Edge”, categorically referred to the idea that “gender studies … should always be comparative” (155). Higonnet’s   Borderwork: Feminist Engagements with Comparative Literature (1994), anthologizes variously authored essays to “propose a new relationship between comparative literature and feminist criticism” which “engage a debate over the totalizing, psychologizing, and individualizing of literary and cultural difference” (5). The relationship between  non-heteronormativity and literary forms or literary history has also interested comparative studies: Comparatively Queer (2010), anthologizes Susan Lanser’s study of sexuality in the multifarious discourses on Enlightenment in seventeenth century England where she locates  “Sapphic modernity” as the “use of female same-sex desire to herald a new age” (70) in the seventeenth century England; Bianca Jackson deciphers alternative sexuality and diasporic identity as merged into a marginalized subjectivity and expressed in the beast metaphor used in the animal fable form used by Suniti Namjoshi and Vikram Seth.

This paper concerns itself with contemporary literary texts of gender fluidity in terms of transsexuality and intersexuality, examples of which include Rose Treiman’s Sacred Country (1992), David Ebershoff’s The Danish Girl (2000), Eugenides’ The Middlesex (2002), and a number of autobiographical accounts like Kate Bornstein’s A Queer and Pleasant Danger (2012). In the Indian context, which this paper will refer to, there is an increasing visibility of the hitherto stigmatized sexual identities, in novels like The Pregnant King (2008) by Devdutt Pattanaik, and autobiographical writings like The Man Who Would be Queen (2011) by Hoshang Merchant or A.Revathi’s The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story (2010). All these texts can be construed as literary in nature, as opposed to political or social or theoretical discourses on gender fluidity, given that the articulation of gender fluidity, here, is in terms of the more personal and quotidian aspects of the experiences of alternative sexuality. It can, thus, be hypothesized that these narratives also embody the processuality of the interaction between literariness, as the nature of the texts and experiences of non-normative sexualities, as the content of the texts.

The scope of this paper shall be limited to three texts, namely The Danish Girl (2002) by David Ebershoff , a fictionalized account of the life of Lili Elbe, reportedly, the first intersexed individual to undergo sex-reassignment surgeries,  Devdutt Pattanaik’s The Pregnant King (2008) , a contemporary retelling of a few tales of non-normative sexual identities from the epic of Mahabharata and A. Revathi’s The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story (2010), an autobiographical account of what it is to be a transsexual in India.  A comparative study can be convened to analyze the convergences in these three narratives, in spite of their ostensible variedness, in terms of the treatment of gender fluidity and the formation of literariness. Therefore, two specific points of comparison in this study are: firstly, the functionality of literariness in the textual articulations of gender fluidity or the possibility of locating a similar (not same) literary value in the textual articulations of gender fluidity; secondly, whether (and how) the writing of gender fluidity influences literary forms/practices, the modifications and the re-creations, thus, entailed.

Locating ‘Literary’ in Narratives of Gender Fluidity:

Here, the concept of ‘literary’ does not pertain to any specific definition, though it involves the very basic aspect of writing words, which provides a flexibility of expression, with varying degrees of readability. It, hence, makes it possible to assume that this flexibility and this readability will cater to the articulation of non-normative sexualities. While narrative-motivations may be in disregard gender norms, literary texts also require depiction of individualized perceptions of gender and sexuality and cannot merely theorize about reistance to heteronormativity.  Therefore, the ‘literary’ in texts is symptomatic of description of non-normative sexual experiences and gendered behavior and renders the simultaneity of creating and disavowing knowledge structures about gender and sexuality. Moreover, sexual experiences have a distinctive personal aspects; the idiosyncratic and individualized expression of the same in certain acts of wording can be used to qualify as ‘literary’. Concurrently, therefore, the ‘literary’ nature of the texts can be understood as a process of facilitation in articulating non-normative sexualities, not as the attainability of certain standards: “Rather than a subcategory of cultural production, literature is a process of invention that involves the human mind in its most basic yearnings and capacities to represent” (Cochran 2007).  This indicates that literariness is textual flexibility and accommodativeness, arising out of the act(s) of representation(s) necessary to narrative experiences. Laurent Dabrueil (2007) posited:  “Literature does not exist before but rather after itself” and “it is addressed to a beyond” (45).Such observations supports this attempt to locate ‘literary’ as accommodating both comprehensibility and incomprehensibility of being in narratives of gender-fluidity…Full Text PDF

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