Queer literature.  The phrase evokes stirrings of Virginia Wolf, Alison Bechtel, and Rita Mae Brown; The Well of Loneliness and Tipping the Velvet. Rarely do we think about the pioneering LGBT storytellers of other countries, those authors dealing with issues much greater than simple writers block.

Enter two daring individuals: Shobhna Kumar, Mumbai resident and founder-director of Queer Ink, an online store and publishing house for queer literature and Algerian-born Randa, co-author of the new book The Memoirs of Randa the Trans.

Kumar, noting the difficulty of accessing queer-themed literature in India, started her own publishing company and online book distributor in order to provide both quality books and an affirmation of identity to LGBT readers in her area of the world. “While one can buy books from Amazon.com, it does not ship queer literature to India. There are certain books you cannot buy if you are here,” she said.  Her website, Queer-ink.com offers a solution.

While there is certainly an audience for Kumar’s work, starting one’s own business is always a risk, one aggravated by Shobhna Kumar’s unknown status as a businesswoman and the climate for LGBT people, which still has negative undertones.  But that, Kumar says, is precisely why her service is needed.   “Many have told me that they had to suffer smirks and sniggers in bookstores, if they reach out for queer-centric books. They also become acutely self-conscious.  We send books to the respective addresses without the Queer Ink mark on top, just in case the recipient is uncomfortable with that.”

Although Shobhna Kumar’s endeavor will probably not put her in harms way any time soon, Randa, an Algerian-born citizen of Lebanon who has just recently published her memoirs about her transexualism, faces a dangerous world each time she steps outside.  Randa has received long-standing death threats both because of her newly published work, but also her identity in general.  In the Middle East, especially her home state of Algeria, trans people are looked upon as dirty and a disgrace towards society, to say nothing of Islamic views on the issue.

Randa has taken up residence in Lebanon where the medical community has experienced a great influx of patients looking for gender re-assignment surgery.  While Lebanon’s environment is still nothing like the safety and acceptance of Europe and America (which, even there, is far from perfect), it provides a safe haven for victims of discrimination and hate.

When asked why she would willingly chose to give up her privileged stature as a man to live as someone “worse than a woman” in Middle Eastern culture, Randa says, “We need to make people understand that the word transsexual is not about sex and it’s not about pleasure,” she added. “It’s about identity.”  She simply could not abide to live any other way.   “At some point I put two bottles of pills on my dresser and knew that I had a choice,” Randa said. “I could either die now by taking the entire vial of medication, or start on the vial of hormones and live – as a woman and with the possibility that I might die at the hands of someone else.”

Her memoirs detail the struggles of her childhood through her adult life and serves as a pivotal and haunting reminder of how lucky we are not to face these struggles.   Full article here. Sadly, the book is not available to American audiences yet, but I would highly suggest that readers look out for it in the future.

Stay cool and help honor these brave pioneers.

Until next time, queer kids.

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