The Curious Case of Shanthi: The Issue of Transgender in Indian Sports

Sudeshna Mukherjee, Bangalore University          

Background of the study

Shanthi Soundarajan an Indian runner was born in 1981 in the village of Kathakkurichi in Pudukkottai District of Tamil Nadu, India. Soundarajan, a dalit by birth belongs to poorest of poor category. She grew up in a small hut devoid of toilet, water or electricity. Her mother and father had to go to another town to work in a brickyard, where they earned the equivalent of $4 a week. While they were gone, Shanthi, the oldest, was in charge of taking care of her four siblings. Sometimes, Soundarajan’s grandfather, an accomplished runner, helped while her parents were away. When she was 13, he taught her to run on an open stretch of dirt outside the hut and bought her a pair of shoes. At her first competition, in eighth grade, Soundarajan won a tin cup; she collected 13 more at interschool competitions. The sports coach at a nearby high school took note of her performances and spotted her. The school paid her tuition and provided her with uniform and lunch. Athletics gave a new dimension to her life engulfed with struggles.

She had very impressive track record to her credit. At a national meet in Bangalore in July 2005 she won the 800m, 1,500m and 3000m.In 2005 she attended the Asian Athletics Championships in South Korea, where she won a silver medal. In 2006, she was chosen to represent India at the Asian Games held in Doha, Qatar. In the 800 meters, Soundarajan took the silver in 2 minutes, 3.16 seconds, beating Viktoriya Yalovtseva of Kazakhstan by 0.03. This win and a subsequent failed gender test lead to Soundarajan becoming embroiled in an ongoing, unresolved debate over the issue of transgender and sports (BBC News ,2006).She was told results indicated that she “does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman” (BBC News, 2006). Soon after the results of the sex test came out, she was stripped of her silver medal.

In this backdrop, my descriptive, diagnostic study, based secondary data, would like to trace the plights of transgender sports personnel in India and abroad.

Conceptualizing Transgender:

A person’s sex is rooted in biology. Sex is “either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species…distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). On the other hand, gender is a socio-cultural construction. It is the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex. Transgender is an umbrella term that describes “individuals whose gender identity doesn’t match the gender identity commonly experienced by those of the individuals’ natal sex” (Buzuvis, 2011).

Transgender is a general term applied to a variety of individual, behaviors and group involving tendencies that diverge from the normative gender role (woman or man) commonly, but not always, assigned at birth, as well as the role traditionally held by society.Transgender is the state of one’s “gender identity” (Self-identification as male, female, both or neither) not matching one’s assigned gender”(identification by others as male or female based on physical/genetic sex) Transgender does not imply any specific form of sexual orientation, they may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual or asexual. The precise definition for transgender remains in flux, but include, of relating to or designating a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender, but combines or moves between these.

A transgender individual may have characteristics that are normally associated with a particular gender, identify elsewhere on the traditional gender continuum, or exist outside of it as “other”, “a-gender”, “inter-gender” or third gender.

According to S.Kessler & W.Mekenna (1978) in theory, transgender is a challenge to the Social Construction of gender. In practice, it is usually transgender people in one way or another not place them outside the conventional male/female dichotomy, yet live in social world that recognizes only females and males. In the light of three possible meanings of trans, they considered to deconstruct gender.

The prefix “trans” has 3 different meanings. Trans means change, as in the word “transform”. In this first sense transgender people change their bodies to fit the gender they feel they always were. Transgender in this sense is synonymous with what is typically meant by the term (Kessler & Mekenna, 1978).

In the second sense “Trans” means across as in the word “transcontinental”. In this sense a transgendered person is one who moves across genders. This meaning does not imply being essentially or permanently committed to one or the other gender and therefore has a more social-constructionist connotation. The transgender person in this meaning does not leave the realm of two genders. The emphasis is on the “crossing” and not on any surgical transformation accompanying it such a person might say “I want people to attribute the gender “female” to me, but I’m not going to get my genitals changed. I don’t mind having my penis”. It is more like a previously unthinkable combination of male and female (Martin and Nguyen, 2004).

Third meaning of “trans” is beyond or through”. In this a trans gendered person is one who has gotten through gender, beyond gender. No clear gender attribution can be made, or is allowed to make. Gender ceases to exist, both for this person and those with whom they interact (Martin and Nguyen, 2004). This third meaning is the most radical, which talks for elimination of gender.

The term transgender was popularized in the 1970’s describing people who wanted to live cross-gender without sex reassignment surgery. In the 1980’s the term was expanded to an umbrella term and became popular as a means of uniting all those whose gender identity did not mesh with their gender assigned at birth. In the 1990’s the term took on a political dimension as an alliance covering all those who have at some print not conformed to gender norms, and the term became used to question the validity of those norms or pursue equal rights and antidiscrimination legislation, leading to its widespread usage in the media, academic world and law. The term continues to evolve; Transgender identity includes many overlapping categories including transsexual, cross-dressers, and transvestite and so on. Among these the term “transsexual” requires little elaboration, as it is closer to the term transgender.

Transsexual is a subcategory under the transgender umbrella. Three criteria are used to classify a transgender individual as transsexual: “(1) persistent discomfort about one’s Birth-Sex, (2) at least two years of persistent preoccupation with acquiring the sex characteristics of the other sex, and (3) having reached puberty (the age at which the reproductive organs mature)”( Pilgrim,2003 495- 501 ) .Transsexual people have deep conviction that the gender to which they were assigned at birth on the basis of their physical anatomy or birth gender is incorrect. That conviction often compels them to undergo hormonal or surgical treatment to bring their physical identity into line with their preferred acquired gender identity.

Transsexualism is not the same as cross-dressing for sexual thrill, psychological comfort or compulsion. It is not the same as being sexually attracted towards people of the same sex. Many transsexual people wish to keep their condition private, and this must be respected and they should be treated as members of their acquired gender…Access Full Text of the Article

Search for an Alternative Aesthetic in Bangla Dalit Poetry

Indranil Acharya, Vidyasagar University, West Bengal, India

Savarna critics assert that Dalit literature should be critiqued strictly as literature. They assert that it is totally inappropriate to treat this literature from a reverential or sympathetic perspective simply because it has been created by Dalits. According to them, the literary evaluation of this literature should be based on literary criteria. They say that this may well be Dalit literature, but the reader will read it only as literature. Therefore, extra-literary considerations will have to be disregarded in its appraisal. But Dalit writers reject this point of view. It is their opinion that a middle-class criticism cannot properly evaluate this literature. (Limbale, 2004, 103)
This paper intends to focus on Bangla Dalit literature- a phenomenon that started in the last part of the 19th century and built its structural pattern on Dalit sensibility. In terms of experience and expression, this literature attempts to invade a new space outside and beyond the middle class Bengali sensibility- the Parnassus of Bengali mainstream literature. But the publication history of Dalit literature is one of upper-caste neglect. Leading Bangla publication houses- Ananda, Dey’s, Mitra & Ghosh etc. turned a deaf ear to promising Dalit poets. The situation was so hostile that the Dalit poets finally consolidated to establish their own publication house- Chaturtha Duniya. It was a very powerful statement on the politics of Savarna publishers. Moreover, it was a loud protest against the diseased Bengali psyche that refused to admit the existence of caste discrimination in West Bengal under the influence of Marxist ideologues and in the name of liberalism and progressive intellectualism.
I propose to concentrate my attention on a groundbreaking anthology of Dalit writing, the first of its kind in the language, Satabarsher Bangla Dalit Sahitya (Hundred Years of Bengali Dalit Literature), published in 2011 and edited by Manohar Mouli Biswas and Shyamal Kumar Pramanik. In this anthology we find specimens of what Limbale terms ‘alternative aesthetic’ in the explosive rejection and piercing revolt, occasioned by unrestrained anguish and finding release with aggressive character and insolent, rebellious attitude. I would also like to show, with necessary textual illustrations, the uncharacteristic rhetoric of restraint that completes the construction of an alternative aesthetic.
Dalits of India are farthest from power and hence belong to the lowest stratum of caste hierarchy. The marginalization is based both on the religious principle of pollution and purity and the cultural construction of power. Dalit literature reveals the collective consciousness of people whose voice had been suppressed through long ages of history. It is a protest against the establishment and a commitment to inculcate the new values for ushering in a new order. This revolutionary aim was rooted in anger and sorrow- the two crucial emotional stimuli of all Dalit writing.

Cursed with the stigma of untouchability, Dalits are “treated like animals, they lived apart from the village and had to accept leftovers from the higher caste people, in return for their endless toil” (Dangle, 2009, xxi). Dalit literature reveals the collective consciousness of this community whose voice had been suppressed through the long ages of history. It is seen in the main as a protest against the establishment, as a commitment to inculcate new values aiming at a new order. This revolutionary aim to create a new order is deeply rooted in anger and grief. In ‘Akkarmashi’ by Sharankumar Limbale one discovers ‘a lofty image of grief’- a major construct of the alternative Dalit aesthetic. He defines Dalit literature as something “which artistically portrays the sorrows, tribulations, slavery, degradation, ridicule endured by Dalits” (Limbale, 2004, 30). He sums up his idea with a beautiful expression, “This literature is but a lofty image of grief” (Limbale, 2004, 30). Arjun Dangle is of the opinion that, “Dalit literature portrays the hopes and aspirations of the exploited masses. Their fight for survival, their daily problems, the insults they have to put up with, their experiences and their outlook towards all these events are portrayed in Dalit literature” (Dangle, 2009, xlviii)….Access Full Text of the Article

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

Revisiting Homophobia in Times of Solidarity, Identity and Visibility in Uganda

Prince Karakire, GUMA, Researcher and Director, Social Economic Research and Development, Uganda


There is an apparent deepening in anxieties of the increasing rapid social change in Uganda, with the escalation of homophobia, if not more so. Homosexuals in their quest for solidarity and visibility have increasingly become victims of homophobic violence. In this study, I draw upon critical studies in geography, urban sociology, feminism, anthropology, Queer theories, and identity politics, to poignantly axamine manifestations of homophobia in the context of changing social structures. For this purpose, I adopt a multi-sited ethnography and hybrid genre of discourse analysis.


There is an apparent deepening of anxiety in relation to the subject of homosexuality in Uganda. Despite anthropological narratives of African culture’s zero tolerance to homophobia, (see, Mutua, 2011; Epprecht, 2004; Murray, 1998, etc), itsintensificationandsolidification has not only had dire consequences for the homosexual community, it is a matter of curiosity. This curious trend, it ought to be mentioned, has emerged at the same time that as gay visibility are increasingly beginning to emerge and obscure the traditional same-sex behaviours, where homosexuals are continuously stepping away from the typically African gender-stratified systems that have long characterized same-sex relations between men. Consequently, gay men in their quest to sexually construct themselves have increasingly become affected by society’s aggressive compulsion to denigrate gay visibility.

And yet, a bulk of the body of work on homosexuality and homophobia persistently revolves around traditional explanations for contemporary homophobia. A few other studies either tend to disclose homophobia toward the gay communities (see, for instance, Kaoma, 2009), or merely explicate the difficulties gay men face while attempting to live the lives they feel they ought to be living. For instance, some studies on homophobia in Uganda mostly adopt a reductionist perspective often reducing homophobia to nothing more than a product oftraditional attitudes and values (Chi-Chi and Kabwe, 2008; Epprecht, 2001), the American Christian Right (Kaoma 2009), and the colonial entrenchment of homophobic laws (Sanders, 2009; Epprecht, 2004). And yet such narratives are not only inappropriate as they serve to conflate the agency of the African leaders and ordinary people who engage in homophobia and homophobic practices, they also reinforce streotypical ideas, and fail to offer consistent answers for the apparent growth of political and public expedience and intensification of homophobic practices.

Besides, contemporary homophobia is simply too complex to be reduced to a few ‘historical’ underlying factors such as culture, religion, or a simple binary opposition between the religious right and advocates of feminism and/or secularism. Consequently, homophobic effects of homosexual visibility and solidarity ought to be explored. It is the aim of this study therefore to constitute the conflicts and dynamics between homophobia andwesternnotionsof (homo)sexuality within global contexts. In the sections that follow, I draw upon critical studies in geography, urban sociology, feminism, anthropology, queer theories, and identity politics, to poignantly axamine manifestations of homophobia in the context of changing social structures. The subsequent section explores literature to revisiting homophobia in modern times…Access Full Text of the Article

Writing Queer Desire in the Language of the “other”: Abdellah Taïa and Rachid O.

Gibson Ncube, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


Since the attainment of independence by Maghrebian nations (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia), there has been animated discussion of the use of either Arabic or French as the language of expression. A liminal linguistic spectacle has emerged between the two languages in such a way that there is a dialogic intertwining and resonance occurring between them. This paper focuses on how in spite of the “cultural recognition of a wide array of sexual practices and roles spelled out meticulously in the linguistic variants attributed to them” (Al-Samman272), the terms “homosexual” and “homosexuality” (in the Western sense of the words) do not exist in dialectal Arabic. This paper thus explores the stakes surrounding the use of French in explicitly broaching “marginal” sexuality in the novels of two openly gay Moroccan writers, Rachid O. and Abdellah Taïa. It is herein posited that the “transliteration” of experiences encountered in Arab-Muslim milieu through the use of the French language allows for an opening up of a discursive domain that had hitherto remained shrouded in silence and regarded as taboo and unutterable.


An intricate and complex relationship exists between sexuality and language. In the introduction of their book Language and Sexuality, Deborah Cameron and Don Kulick pertinently observe that “our ideas about sex are bound up with the language we use to define and talk about it” (ix). Language is a central concern in the novels of two Moroccan writers, Abdellah Taïa and Rachid O.,whose texts grapple with the question of queer sexuality in Arab-Muslim North Africa.

In this paper, I draw on the theoretical postulations formulated by LiseGauvin who reflects on the situation of certain francophone writers who are compelled to perpetually think about language. She posits that such writers have a linguistic over-consciousness which affects the manner in which they use and relate to language (7). According to Gauvin, these writers are displaced into the world of the relative where each act of writing represents a conquest, a renegotiation of a foreign language. The foreign language or the language of the “other” ceases to be simply a distinct language in itself but rather coalesces with the other languages known and used by the writer. Ultimately, the language of expression and writing that is chosen by the writer becomes a reinvented personal language, a point of encounter where the binary relationship of the symptomatic dominant/dominated matrix dissolves into a new bond which triggers off a multiplicity of interpretative paradigms. Such a theoretical underpinning is valid given that Abdellah Taïa and Rachid O. instead of using Arabic opt to use the French language to describe the queer1 identity and experiences of their protagonists. Such a use of French is particularly relevant given that dialectal Arabic does not possess any terms to describe in a positive manner queer sexuality. Terms that do exist in Arabic denigrate non-normative sexuality and paint it in pejorative terms2. In using French to broach queer sexuality and identity, Taïa and O. subvert the logic of silence that surrounds this phenomenon in Arab-Muslim societies of Morocco. By referring to these brief theoretical remarks, this paper will show that the novels of Taïa and O. are exceptional illustrations of the role of language in the construction of a queer sexual identity. I contend herein that the novels of the two writers frame themselves within a linguistic fault-line created between French and dialectal Arabic. Although French is the language of writing and expression, Arabic logic and thought processes continue to inform their intimate writing. Within this linguistic “third space”, to borrow Homi Bhabha’s terminology, these Moroccan writers are involved in a perpetual dialogic exchange between Arabic and French. Their literary works reveal a fascinating linguistic and cultural intermingling which is important in the construction of the queer identity of the protagonist-narrators. The question of the choice of language is decisive because the most profound elements of individual and collective character are expressed and constructed through language. In the literary space of the novels of the two Moroccan writers, a subtle tension between Arabic and French is highlighted by the manner in which these languages intertwine, refer to each other and give way to the emergence of an innovative literary expression…Access Full Text of the Article

Indian Feminist Publishing and the Sexual Subaltern

Elen Turner, Independent Researcher, Australia


The discussion of queer politics, identities and “sexual subalterns” in India has, after 2009, entered a new phase. Discourse on sexuality was once largely focused on law and health policies; now, such discourse is better able to address positive identities and their multitude of articulations. The relationship between queer and feminist discourse has become more productive. This article examines independent feminist publishers as a representative of Indian feminist discourse on sexuality and sexual subalternity. Such publishers are significant mediators of feminist scholarship and discourse, so analysing their work can reveal much about ‘mainstream’ forms of feminism. The December 2013 Supreme Court judgment to uphold Section 377 is concerning to many, but in the four and a half years that homosexuality was effectively legal in India, the visibility of the sexual subaltern broadened to the extent that it may be difficult to return to a pre-2009 state.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, usually interpreted as sodomy, was read down by the Delhi High Court in 2009. The Indian Supreme Court, in December 2013, overturned this judgment, effectually re-criminalising homosexuality. Section 377’s reading down was widely celebrated within the queer community as an important milestone, and the Supreme Court judgment lamented. But the four years in which homosexuality was in effect de-criminalised saw large shifts in public awareness and acceptance of homosexuality, shifts that the judgment of the Supreme Court will likely have little effect upon.

This article suggests that the discussion of queer politics, identities and “sexual subalterns” has, after 2009, entered a new phase, one that is not primarily focused on law and health policies, but is able to look towards positive identities and their articulation in a variety of forms. Furthermore, the relationship between queer and feminist discourse has become more productive. I specifically examine independent feminist publishing outlets as a representative of Indian feminist discourse on sexuality and sexual subalternity. By ‘independent’, I mean groups that may or may not operate with not-for-profit status, but that are not owned by large publishing corporations, or are subject to the editorial intervention of individuals detached from the main operations of the group. Such publishers are by no means the sole producers of feminist scholarship and discourse, but they are significant mediators of them, so analysing their work can reveal a lot about ‘mainstream’, urban forms of Indian feminism. While in the last decade or so, an increasing amount of online activism and publication has been occurring in India as elsewhere, such work falls outside the scope of this paper as that emerging media warrants a case study in its own right. Book publishing was a form of Indian feminist activism and knowledge production that began in the 1980s, and although it has always claimed to at the forefront of progressive feminist knowledge production, the contradiction between this self-belief and its interactions with the “sexual subaltern” makes it a genre worthy of especial attention…Access Full Text of the Article


Performing Pride/Performing Protest: LGBT Activism Post Recriminalizing of Section 377

Priyam Ghosh, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India


The landmark judgment delivered by the Delhi High Court on 2nd July 2009 for reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and its reinstatement on 11th December, 2013 seemed to spearhead search for alternative spaces for performances. This paper aims at mapping and studying some LGBT protest performances emerging post recriminalisation of homosexuality under Section 377. Events and performances including LGBT pride parade, gay for a day (on facebook) and Global day of Rage have stirred public conscience and are known for the level of performativity and feminist/queer strategies like parody and camp. Considering the events during this period the categorization of the performances as feminist/queer itself is problematised. This paper aims to identify potential common ground wherein the feminism-queer divide breaks to produce alternative performance spaces. The case studies are historicized and considered through impact of state surveillance, the market, globalization, culture and changing feminist/queer ideology in the above mentioned case studies.


The 90s in India has seen the emergence of the political assertion of the ‘private realm of sexuality’ (Narrain, 2004: 1). The euphoric outburst post the 2009 judgment reading down Section 377 seemed to be a culminating moment of the ‘performative coming out’ of queer sexuality in public space. In the capital, celebratory spectacles like pride parade, flash mobs and other performances contrasted the earlier more clandestine subcultures of queer life. The performative euphoria reflected through the effects of decriminalization was seen as the ‘new lease of life’ for different feminist/queer communities, legitimizing a space where their sexuality could be performed without the constant surveillance or harassment by the State. While the recriminalisation of Section 377 in December, 2013 curbed individual rights and ‘right to life’, LGBT activists along with people from the LGBT community and supporters for equal rights resorted to occupying strategic public spaces as well as virtual world through social media.

The euphoric celebration of sexuality in form of protest indeed contrasted a number of defiant performative incidents initiated by feminist and queer groups before. These earlier incidents were now recalled and re-contextualized as significant ‘performative’ expressions, which were reflected the mood for change. For example the incident of the Mangalore Pub Attack and the subsequent ‘pink chaddi campaign’ (Bangalore 2009), performance art on sexual harassment by Blank Noise, FKBK etc (Manola Gayatri: 2009). The self-confessed ‘frivolous’ response of the Pink Chaddi Campaign nevertheless set a precedent for later modes of protest whose impact may even be seen on the later slut walks. While citing particular feminist/ queer performances, I contextualize how one is inherently connected to the other in a more complex way than cause-effect syndrome… Access Full Text of the Article

Biological and Psychological Lens to View LGBT Identities

Manvi Arora, University of Delhi, India

In attempt to understand LGBT studies, it’s important to view it from an interdisciplinary lens. Studies focusing on LGBT people have not been subject of any single discipline with single object of study. The objects to large extend has been lives of LGBT people themselves. Hence, it is important not to isolate their experiences from social and scientific context. This implies that LGBT studies can only be practiced in amalgamation with different disciplines, in particular sociology, anthropology, biology, psychology, literature, law and history. At present in India and in many other cultures, all orientations and behaviours other than heterosexuality have been seen as “unnatural”, “abnormal” or “sinful”. In such a situation it is even more critical to understand Biological and Psychological perspective and theories behind variant sexual orientations, put forward in this paper.
The biological perspective typically has explained human sexuality through reference to research concerning both human biology and sexual behaviour in other species. Biology indicates what is possible, often, what is pleasurable or painful. But biology does not imply what is proper and improper. Religion, traditions, culture and philosophy guides these judgments.
Biologists have asserted that we might arrive at a “natural” course of sexual behaviour by observing sexual activities among animals. Since animals are incapable of thinking like humans, they are thus unlikely to be influenced by confounding layers of tradition and belief.
For instance “All male mammals masturbate” (Beach, 1951) and animals also display homosexual behaviours. Female rodents and carnivores are most likely to mount other females when they are in estrus, the time of the month when they can conceive. Females in estrus usually show female mating behaviour in the presence of a male animal. Beach believes that role reversibility “reveals a potential for bisexual behaviour” in these mammals (1976). Chevalier-Skolnikoff agrees with Beach that primates appear capable of displaying both “male” and “female” sexual behaviour pattern. The sexual behaviour of lower animals is highly varied (Chevalier-Skolnikqf, 1976). If we were to accept their behaviours as standard for ourselves, we would probably widely expand rather than limit the range of human sexual activities to penile-vaginal intercourse leading to reproduction.
Theorizing Origins of Sexual Diversion
There are numerous biological theories that try to explain the origin of homosexuality, bisexuality and transgendered roles in humans.
a) The Genetics of Homosexuality
Over the past hundred and fifty years, volumes have been written in the professional disciplines and literature to explain the roots of one’s sexual orientation, particularly if it is homosexual or bisexual. Heterosexuality is assumed to be “normal” and therefore needs no causal explanation. Examination of sexual behaviour and orientation from cross culture, evolutionary and interspecies perspectives bring forth a wide variety of sexual expressions, hence substantiating the non-universal and not natural reasons behind it. Still a lot of work is being done by biologists to discover the root cause of variant sexual orientation.
“Kallmann’s (1952) studies with monozygotic (identical) and dizygotic (fraternal) twins were once taken as powerful evidence for genetic influence on sexual orientation. Among 40 pairs of identical twins, Kallmann found 100 per cent concordance rate for homosexuality. Among fraternal twins, only 57.7 per cent of the probands of homosexuals were exclusively heterosexuals. In Kallmann’s report, siblings with an identical genetic code in variably shared the homosexual orientation.”…Access Full Text of the Article

Breaking through the Limits of Flesh: Gender Fluidity and (Un)natural Sexuality in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

Swikriti Sanyal, Rabindra Bharati University, India


With the politicization of sex around the nineteenth century, the categories of gender and sexuality became primary instruments of disciplining the personal as well as the public body. Sexual decorum, pertaining to one’s gender and in accordance to social prescription, was encouraged and practised at large, alienating and condemning all forms of sexual expressions that did not conform to the economics of marriage and reproduction. Heteronormativity deployed mass homophobia which caused the suppression and erasure of major homosexual documentation in an attempt of silencing the homosexual voices and experiences. The absence of lesbian material in women’s literature is a case in point. The chief responsibility of the lesbian feminist project lies in identifying or deciphering the underlying essence of lesbianism in women’s writing at large. Following a similar objective, I propose to highlight the socio-political and cultural construction of homosexuality in an attempt to identify the undercurrents of lesbian desire and the dissolution of gender binaries in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. The idea of this research is to read gender as performance while interpreting the ideological politics as well as the literary poetics of Woolf’s writing.

Homosexual writing in the English literature has always been problematized by the socio-political oppression and cultural taboo on the unregulated expression of same-sex desire. Most of the fiction related to the issue remained either unpublished or available for circulation only in private quarters. It is rather difficult to come across any significant main stream literary work with homosexual content before the augment of the twentieth century, and even then the writers took care to camouflage and mask the uninhibited exhibition of this outlawed desire. Radcliff Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928) is one of the first attempts towards lesbian writing and the demonstration of what was then considered to be ‘sexual inversion’. The fact that it was received with public aggression followed by a trial and subsequent prosecution speaks volumes about the homosexual intolerance of the age. Virginia Woolf’s pseudo-biography, Orlando, published in the same year, approached the topic differently. Woolf’s lesbian consciousness (though Woolf never identified herself as a lesbian, she was at various stages of her life described as homo-, hetero-,bi- or asexual) taken together with her feminist approach offered a deployment of gender instability in her dialogue with (un)natural sexualities. Orlando’s paroxysmal shifts between male and female, heterosexuality and homosexuality, reality and fantasy, past and present, life and poetry, biography and autobiography unsettles and disavows the very possibilities of fixed meanings and binaries.

Before getting into an elaborate diagnosis of Woolf’s commitment to the lesbian feminist project and her politics of representation, it is crucial to map the evolution of the homosexual identity, and its relation to the notions of sex and gender, over the centuries, from a condition of social incognizance in the eighteenth century (during this time homosexuality was widely labelled under the generalized act of sodomy) to its discursive explosion in the nineteenth and twentieth century, in order to grasp the author’s four hundred year long narrative of the life of her protagonist. Following Michel Foucault’s (1976) critic of the repressive hypothesis of sexuality in the nineteenth century, it can be acknowledged that with the turning of sex into discourse, other forms of sexualities, which did not did not adhere to the economics of reproduction, were expelled from reality; minor perversions came to be dealt with legal severity and sexual irregularities were medicalized and categorized as mental illness, leading to a production and propagation of a kind of sexuality that was ‘economically useful and politically conservative’ (p. 36-37). While in the preceding century, sexual practises revolved around marital obligation and all sexual offenses (like adultery, rape, incest and homosexuality) were labelled under general unlawfulness, the nineteenth century experienced a shifting of focus from conjugal sexuality to perverseness. Foucault writes, “It was time for all these figures . . . to step forward and speak, to make the difficult confession of what they were. No doubt they were condemned all the same; but they were listened to” (p.39). Thus, the Victorian epoch encountered a multiple implantation of perversion rather than its suppression; perverse identities like homosexuality became both the effect and the instrument of power – it was embedded in bodies, judged through personal conduct and wrapped in an eternal flux of power and pleasure (Foucault, 1976, p. 40-45)…Access Full Text of the Article

The Portuguese Queer Screen: Gender Possibilities in João Pedro Rodrigues’s Cinematic Production

Antônio M. da Silva, University of Kent, UK


The Portuguese filmmaker João Pedro Rodrigues has developed a significant cinematic production that has attained international recognition. The three feature films he made in the first decade of the 2000s (Phantom, Two Drifters, and To Die like a Man) engage with queer identities from different perspectives. This article examines the ways in which Rodrigues depicts these and argues that the films provide a spectrum of ‘performatively constituted’ identities that represent a challenge to patriarchy’s hegemonic subjectivities. It contends that such identities consequently represent abjection in a society that ignores them but also that the filmmaker gives them visibility and shows that their subjectivities do matter.


The transgender character Tônia in João Pedro Rodrigues’s Morrer como um homem/To Die like a Man (2009) sings a Portuguese fado in the final sequence of the film that opens with the line “Oh, how I’d like to live in the plural!” This line encapsulates how gender identities are constructed and depicted in the three feature films discussed in this article: they are ‘performatively constituted’ in the sense of Judith Butler’s (1990) assertion that “there is no gender identity behind the expression of gender; […] identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results” (34). In other words, these identities are ‘floating’ and not restricted to the biologically born gender.

In this trilogy-like set of feature films, which comprises his debut O fantasma/Phantom (2000), Odete/Two Drifters (2005), and To Die like a Man, Rodrigues offers the viewer a number of possible queer subjectivities. Queer means, in this case, all the identities that do not conform to hegemonic norms regarding gender and sexuality, including homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism. Moreover, it can be argued that queer is also what represents “abjection” (Kristeva 1982), which is a view patriarchy exploits to keep heterosexual identities in place. This happens in a rather symbiotic relationship that arguably needs the queer as an opposite to reaffirm what heterosexual identities are (or what they are not). Such a symbiotic relationship is evident in many patriarchal contexts where masculinity is defined mostly in relation to queer: one is either a ‘proper man’ (whatever that means) or he is queer and thus subject to punishment.

Context therefore plays an important role in queer subjectivities, particularly the urban space where such ‘abject’ identities are less susceptible to punishment and are, to some extent, ‘freer’ from severe regulations. This is evident in the three films discussed herein, which show that Rodrigues’s characters become part of the Portuguese urban space, represented in the films by the capital, Lisbon—as will be developed later in this article. However, as Trindade (2010) argues in relation to the Portuguese film Lisboa, Crónica Anedótica/Lisbon, Anecdotal Chronicle, such characters are Lisbon dwellers but they do not constitute a collective entity (or identity). This is a crucial point regarding these three films because the characters’ ‘failure’ to represent the identity of a group (a ‘category’) to the detriment of each individual’s has been an issue critics have picked on. In other words, Rodrigues’s films show the viewer a spectrum of gender identities but these are based on the individuality of the subjects he portrays rather than trying to create a collective queer identity. Despite this, his approach to queer indicates that such a term can work as an umbrella under which various kinds of gender subjectivities are possible. This is strongly indicated by the director himself stating in an interview that each film is a unique story, even if it could be related to the outside world (Lim 2009).

The aim of this article is therefore to discuss the queer subjectivities Rodrigues constructs in his films and how these are related to the urban space in which the characters are placed. It will refer mostly to Julia Kristeva’s theorisation of abjection while discussing the characters’ subjectivities because these queer characters are part of an urban environment that allows them to get on with their lives as they are but makes them ‘socially invisible’ by treating them as ‘abject’ and refusing to see their existence…Access Full Text of the Article

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