I remember getting an email about a writer who wanted to write a book on trans men. I have always been sceptical about cisgender people writing about trans experiences. Yet I also felt, “Hey if I would go to any publishing house saying I wanted to do it, it is not like they would be interested” and I had also seen an earlier work of Nandini Krishnan as reference which made me trust her. I personally feel that sharing your story with someone, puts you in the most vulnerable position as they get to know everything about you – as naked souls are more vulnerable than naked bodies. I am not someone who is interested in writing reviews or taking part in the ongoing struggle of the community to take down something which doesn’t represent them appropriately. But then, as a participant of the book, how I feel is also very important.
I remember I tried to have a conversation with Nandini Krishnan about an article which had been published in some newspaper for the promotion of her book, which was highly trans men-phobic and her only response was to ask me to read the book (Hey I will read the book but what about the article?). Personally as a community, we have been struggling to get some positive light and visibility, as most of the time our visibility is overshadowed by others or by appropriation done by the media. That article scared me and made me worry about what sort of an end product the book would turn out to be. So I decided to read it.
I started by reading the foreword. After reading that and what’s written in it, I felt a deep sense of dysphoria, and I felt ridiculed. The only question that popped up in my mind was how a person who was so creepy, ignorant, and transphobic, could get to write a foreword for a book which was about the trans men network. I instantly regretted the decision of putting my story in such a book. However, retaining some hope, I moved forward. Then I read a story about Shikandi and not only that, there were many such references to Hindu mythology. As a Muslim trans man, I did not connect with these excerpts in the book. The constant saffornising done in the book, when we as a community are trying to disconnect our politics from the saffron, made it very hard for me to continue to keep faith in the book.
The only question that popped up in my mind was how a person who was so creepy, ignorant, and transphobic, could get to write a foreword for a book which was about the trans men network.
After I finished reading, I did feel there were many issues in the book regarding the presentation and description of the lives of trans men and the people related to them – usage of dead names, Brahminism and so on. One of the biggest problems I felt, was beginning the Manipur section with Hindu mythology. I feel Manipur is one of the few communities which has its own local name for trans men and has a rich trans culture.
There was also a lot of poverty porn in the book which I found unnecessary. But there were many stories of people from different castes, classes, religions, and educational backgrounds. Hence I do feel that if the narrations of the writer had been a little unbiased, not Brahminical, and if the foreword had been deleted and if she had taken the help of the community in also editing it – not just sharing the individual parts – it would have come across as a good book.
But there were many positive things which I liked in the book. There were many honest conversations and also the writer was able to gain the trust of many, due to which she was able to explore the various aspects and layers of the community. Also, there is a lot of information shared by the community regarding various aspects of transition which can prove to be a very good read. But then how fruitful is it for the community? I won’t say the book is entirely garbage as there are many stories which I feel common people should read about. Even when I read them, I felt closer to the person I was reading about. But then I would also not recommend it to anyone, as it was only the stories of my community I felt good about, not the writer’s opinions.
I also feel that when a community is laying its trust on a person by sharing its stories, it gives the writer immense responsibility and power
I also feel that when a community is laying its trust on a person by sharing its stories, it gives the writer immense responsibility and power. I have read the writer’s Facebook posts where she has been giving out her ‘honest opinions’ – but does she realise that her ‘honest opinions’ are not right and are doing harm to the community as the book is on a public platform, being sold on Amazon and various bookshops? It could have been a learning experience for the writer had she dropped her arrogance hidden in the form of ‘honest opinions’ and changed the things the community is objecting to.
I am someone who cherishes every book I purchase and romanticises every word in every book. I was taken aback when I heard people had actually burnt the book. However after reading the posts, I do understand the feelings of betrayal and anger which the Manipur community must have felt which led to this act. The writer also needs to understand and acknowledge this.
The trans men community has also poured its heart out for this book, as we as a community felt that it is something we needed to do. However, it is also a learning experience for the community as we got to know that trans narratives should only be expressed or written by trans people as cis people can only sympathise, try to understand or maybe be an ally – but only we can put forth our narratives better.
This is also a call for the publication house to stop the book in its current form and to stop the spread of misinformation about the community. They need to release a revised edition and stop giving cis people such opportunities to write about a community which they don’t belong to.
Featured Image Source: InUth