Naturalizing ‘Queerness’: A Study of Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy

Prateek, Ramjas College, New Delhi, India

If the representation of same-sex sexuality in punitive terms leaves gays in shock, then the legitimizing of Article XVI Section 377 (which bars gay sex) in India made gays all over the world, especially in South Asia speechless and traumatized. In response to this universally misconstrued image of an ‘unnatural’ man, Shyam Selvadurai, a Canadian-Sri Lankan writer creates a narrative which not only offers an ‘innocent peek’ into the biased perspectives of heterosexuals towards queers but the use of a child narrator is a deliberate ploy with which he deconstructs the craving for a so called ‘healthy’ text.’ Thus, this article, by musing on Selvadurai’s most acclaimed text Funny Boy (1994), attempts to examine how and why ‘unhealthy’ texts are constructed. Secondly, it elaborates on the subtle literary strategies used by Selvadurai to debunk pre-conceived notions of a heterosexual literary text. Finally, the article while locating a gay narrative in the social and cultural context of Sri Lanka, presents a gendered analysis of homosexuality in Sri Lanka.

Unhealthy Text

A healthy text is a heteronormative construct, which refers to a text where first, heterosexuality is naturalized and homosexuality is either sidelined or demonized; secondly, where the writer manages to exorcise the demons of unheard voices, and finally, the writer can prevent the eruption of contested spaces. Since Selvadurai challenges all the above mentioned conventions connected to a heterosexual text, his text can be considered as a snapshot of what one can call as ‘unhealthy text.’

Jonathan Ned Katz while chronicling the history of heterosexuality discussed the idea of “invention of heterosexuality.” Following the argument of Freud, Katz points out that “heterosexual” is not merely a noun but frequently an adjective, describing a “drive,” a “love,” an “instinct,” and a “desire,” as well as a sexual activity and a type of person (66). What Katz called “the invention of heterosexuality” referred to his idea that “heterosexuals were made, not born.” According to Katz, the idea of heterosexuality emerged at a specific point in history, and its history intertwines with the story of industrialization and urbanization, the rise of the middle classes, the complications of empire, and the scientific and philosophical legacies of the Enlightenment. The term heterosexuality was created to give medical and intellectual legitimacy to the desires of the emerging middle class…Access Full Text of the Article

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