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Gender Journeys

Asha Achuthan

By Chayanika Shah , Raj Merchant, Shals Mahajan, Smriti Nevatia
Zubaan, Delhi, 2015, pp. 246, Rs. 340.00


What this book does from the start is interpellate the reader, literally asking them the question—where are you from? Are[n’t] you an outlaw too? Is there any way to speak of these things other than from the position of the implicated, interested outlaw? And as it takes the reader on the methodologically risky and provisional journey of finding and giving voice for outlaws, and in the process revisiting models of speech, it offers innumerable possibilities— of language, milestones, and networks. Triggered in part by the question ‘What makes me a woman?’, and finding a tentative answer, ‘Because that is how I feel’ (p. xv), and ‘many of those who are not socialized as women also feel like women’ (p. xvi), this book takes up the specific gender journeys of individuals the authors find to be ‘queer PAGFB’ (persons assigned gender female at birth), ‘who identified as non-heteronormative in some way and allied with queer spaces or organizations’ (p. 10), using a guided life history narrative method. These gender journeys are in response to and living within family, educational institutions, workspaces, negotiating public spaces, and in relating to the self and others. In doing so, the authors ‘find’ gender to be a journey rather than a fixed identity, as porous rather than categorizable, as plastic rather than fluid, as ‘innate as well as constructed’. In exploring these theoretical-experiential frameworks, the authors are clear that they are not interested in an academic exercise or language; that they are interested in bringing respondents’ voices to their pages, and building analytic frameworks therefrom. In this exercise, they are partially successful. Some of the most interesting possibilities as well as challenges opened up by the book are therefore methodological. The first challenge and possibility is of location. The authors, in the process of sharpening their research tools before the study, adopt a variety of strategies—they try it on themselves, they do pilots, they revisit the question of who their respondents will be, before adopting the ‘queer PAGFB’ set of voices as their primary respondents. In making this choice, they explore the meanings, commonalities and to a certain extent the contradictions in this naming; they revisit this name repeatedly in order to chart a difference from, say, ‘born’ female or male as ways of referencing; they are aware of the tensions and politicalpolicy implications of this naming. They also make themselves visible as ...

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