Queer South Asia

Sophomore and above—Spring

South Asia is a region of great cultural diversity, including differences in religion, language, ethnicity, caste and class, and social and political structures. This diversity extends to, intersects with, and complicates sexuality and gender. Transforming over time and space, the actual experiences of sexual minorities in this vast region diverge from popular depictions of sexuality as immutably enshrined in mysticism and tradition. How have queer individuals in this region been imagined and treated historically and culturally? What are the lived experiences and practices of sexual and gender minorities in parts of South Asia, and how have they evolved over time? In this course, we will examine changing conceptions of queer bodies, sexualities, and genders in South Asia through ethnographies, historical and critical scholarship, narrative fiction, poetry, oral culture, and film. The primary aim of the course is to explore the discourses on gender and sexuality while examining the variety of ways in which non-normative genders and sexualities are constructed, experienced, performed, and challenged in South Asia. By treating gender and sexual relations as relations of power, the course will highlight the linkages between alternative subjectivities and regional moral economies. For instance, we will investigate the relationships between sexual cultures and broader beliefs and practices in the region by focusing on topics such as renunciation and asceticism, the erotic aspects of religious devotion, body politics, semen loss anxiety, the patriarchal control of women, the centrality of marriage, and the concepts of honor and respect. The course will take as its starting point the depictions of sexuality from the ancient, medieval, and colonial periods of South Asian history. We will explore perspectives on the third sex/gender; the intersections of sexuality and gender with religion, class, and nationalism; and the emergence of LGBT identities and movements. The South Asian subcontinent encompasses India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldive Islands. This course will include the entire region but focus particularly on India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.