Thursday, April 17, 2014

Call for Submission: ‘My Queer Space’

Happenings, Apr '14 (update 1)
My Queer Space (working title): An anthology exploring the changing queer landscape of urban India in the context of the Indian queer movement

Note: This initiative has undergone several changes. Further information can be seen on the Anthologies page. If you have any queries, please write to us at

OpenWord (publisher), Varta (non-profit agency focused on gender and sexuality education through publishing) and Queer Ink (publisher) have partnered to publish an anthology that will boldly visit, highlight and examine how Indian urban realities have shaped and facilitated the queer movement. We will recall synergies that have emerged from the gender and sexuality communities that have changed urban spaces in tone and texture and tell individual stories of success and failure behind the larger story of the Indian queer movement in the cities and towns.

My Queer Space will address issues such as:
  • How have urban realities shaped and facilitated the growth of the movement?
  • Can these strategies be replicable in non-urban, small town, and rural areas?
  • What synergies have emerged from the gender and sexuality communities that have changed urban spaces in tone and texture?
  • What are the individual stories of success and failure behind the larger story of the Indian queer movement in the cities and towns?
  • Is the movement segmented based on class, gender and social status because of differential access to spaces?

My Queer Space is premised within an understanding of what constitutes a city:
  • Its spaces, languages, transportation facilities, people and their culture, economy, laws and politics
  • The analysis will also include the special functions that space occupies in the life of a city
  • How are public spaces conceived and used?
  • How do public spaces become popular and exciting?
  • The variety of spaces that exist in the city for people to meet – cafes, parks, hotels, markets, restaurants, museums, public transport systems, streets, shops
  • What makes these spaces relevant, legitimate, famous or infamous?
  • How do different individuals belonging to the gender and sexuality diversity spectrum access them?
  • What roles do queer art, literature, and the radical and subversive space of imagination play in creating these spaces?

My Queer Space will offer a critique of rules and regulations that accompany the notion of a public space in an urban centre in terms of:
  • What are the defined and undefined rules of entry and engagement?
  • What characteristics do spaces tagged in popular imagination (such as, peaceful, dangerous, busy, depressing, subversive) embody, and how do these notions shift?

These issues will be discussed in a queer context. More specifically, we are keen to explore with you factors responsible in creating these spaces in the middle of a busy city, which can scarcely stop to catch its breath. We would like your stories of how these spaces offer safety and anonymity to you as a queer person in the middle of urban chaos. What does this mean for queer people, for other people, for law and order, for public morality and for sexual ethics?

My Queer Space will specifically examine the intricacies of negotiating queer lives by interpreting urban spaces through the lens of urban sexual networks, vanishing safe spaces, love online, metro and other railway networks, urban centres through the eyes of queer residents and migrants from semi-urban or rural India, and the radical space of imagination evidenced in queer art, literature and film (read detailed note on these lens below).

The new exciting, first of its kind anthology will examine each of these aspects to understand the nature of the queer movement in India, until the recent Supreme Court judgment that reinstated the colonial law, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, thereby recriminalizing homosexuality. We will examine how these aspects contributed to the growth of the Indian queer movement and whether it has strengthened or fragmented the movement.

Looking at how urban realities have shaped India’s queer movement till date will provide insights into what has worked for the movement, what has not; and ultimately what should be the thrust areas for strengthening the queer movement in urban areas given that the pace of urbanization is accelerating and queer individuals even in rural areas are going to be more and more dependent on the urban centres for their survival.

We welcome research and interview-based writings, essays, reportage, first-person narratives, poetry and fiction, and photographic / artwork-based narratives. The maximum word limit will be 3,000 words. Photographs and artworks need to be in printable files - jpeg images of minimum 300 DPI each.

  • April 30, 2014: Deadline for an expression of interest as a 200-word abstract. Abstracts for photograph and artwork-based contributions should be sent along with samples of earlier work
  • May 20, 2014: Notification of selection with editorial feedback
  • June 30, 2014: Deadline for the first draft of entire contribution
  • July 15, 2014: Deadline for submission of the final version of your work

Please email your abstract to:

A note on anonymity: We welcome submissions by writers who prefer to use a different name in print. If your story is selected, we will need your real name for legal purposes, including copyright and payments. We will keep your name 100% confidential if you prefer.

Read more about interpreting urban spaces through the lens of:

Urban sexual networks: Spaces are conduits that channel sexual desire in cities. For Indian queer people, spaces are as good as the networks they accommodate. Queer networks have a history of 'occupying' urban spaces from cruising parks to public toilets, bus stops to railway stations, and more recently, in keeping with the changing topography of cities, queer nightclubs, cafes and shopping malls. These physical spaces are both sexual in and of themselves and lead to other spaces they open up to become sexual playgrounds including dark alleys, private cars or empty apartments. This section looks at how queer Indian people have forced a personal life in strange, unexpected spaces, which have sheltered their 'forbidden' desires.

Vanishing safe spaces: In the 1980s and 1990s, thanks to queer rights activism and HIV work, several queer spaces opened up for queer communities as safe spaces. These included drop-in centres, support group meetings, counseling spaces run by NGOs and the like. For many queer people these became a safe first step into the community. However, with other spaces opening up thanks to mobile phones, the Internet and the nightclub culture, many of the earlier safe spaces have vanished. This section examines the evolution of safe and unsafe spaces for Indian queer people.

Love online: The Internet has been one of the most subversive cultural forces globally in the last 20 years. It has significantly changed the rules of the game for making social, sexual and emotional contact for everyone including queer people. Quite understandably, queer Indians have taken a large proportion of their personal matters online which offers them a certain kind of safety and anonymity. However, these spaces are not always as 'safe' as we think them and not all online stories have a happy ending though some do. This section examines the era of queer love online.

Metro and other railway networks: Development in urban centres means more people, infrastructure, concrete and more chaos. India has seen exploding urban populations, including a high proportion of migrants, and the construction of metro railway and 'underground' projects in the last 20 years. These are the new nooks and corners where and through which queer people connect, and form relationships. The railway networks in particular have their own charm as dynamic, mobile, anonymous spaces, much like the lives of many Indian queer people. The section examines relationships on-the-go.

Urban centres from a semi-urban or rural perspective: This section will focus on stories of queer people living in semi-urban and rural areas: What does the city mean to them as queer persons – an avenue for education, livelihood, personal liberty, self-realization or perhaps exploitation? Has there been queer community mobilization in rural areas? If yes, what has been the experience? How does it compare with the urban scenario?

The radical space of imagination in queer literature, art, films and photography: The imagination questions, probes and challenges the neat structures of the world. Nowhere is this more visible than in queer expressions of art, literature, films and photography, which embody a radical space that subverts the norm. This space – let’s call it the Imagined – is also the repository of choice and agency. It is easy to counter that the Imagined is escapist, but its importance can’t be stressed enough. For it is here that we begin to know who we are.

Our strong editorial preference is for unpublished works, but we will consider stories that have been published in a very small circulation publication or website, or a non-English publication. Please disclose any prior publications in your email.

The Editors:

Dhamini Ratnam, Editor: Dhamini Ratnam studied literature from Miranda House and enjoys reading Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Stephen King and Agatha Christie, not necessarily in that order. At present, she is a journalist with Mint Lounge and longs for the day when she can earn her keep by reading books.

Imran Ali Khan, Editor: Imran Ali Khan graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. In 2009, he joined Open Space (Centre for Communication and Development Studies, Pune). During his time there he took care of their arts programmes with a special focus on gender and sexuality. He ran the 'Q Fest', Pune's first queer film festival, for two years. Later, Imran conceptualized and ran a project called ‘KiskiKahani: The Ramayana Project’ ( ‘KiskiKahani’ was an archival project that documented the diversity of the Ramayana with special attention to folk narratives. Imran edited an anthology of essays, stories and photo essays on the plurality of the Ramayana tradition in India (KiskiKahani: An Anthology of Personal Journeys with the Ramayana). Imran teaches a liberal arts programme at ISDI Parsons, Mumbai and works with Contemporary Arts and Crafts designing and promoting Indian craft. 

Pawan Dhall, Editor: Among the first queer community mobilizers in India since the early 1990s, Pawan Dhall also used to edit Pravartak, one of India's earliest queer journals. He has been a regular contributor to queer-themed writings, and is currently associated with Varta, a gender and sexuality education and publishing initiative.

Shaleen Rakesh, Senior Editor: Author and activist, Shaleen Rakesh has been at the forefront of India's gender and sexuality movement for over two decades. Primary petitioner to challenge Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 2001, he is presently Director at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi, and Editor with independent publishing house OpenWord. His first collection of poems The Lion and the Antler (World View Publications, 2013) has received much acclaim.

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