Family and Sexuality in Literature: Private Lives on a Public Platform
Literature gives a reader the ability to experience the world through new and often unknown perspectives. It is, in and of itself, a public forum, allowing anyone and everyone the ability to understand a story or situation through another’s eyes. Hence, when it comes to topics such as family and sexuality, it is up to the author to balance such personal topics and present them in a way that is palatable to the general public. Moreover, there is a clear divide within these topics themselves.
Family and sexuality, especially in the Indian context, don’t mix. There is no sexuality within a familial context, and it remains a topic that is untouched and unspoken about within it. Yet it is this very tension, or layer of secrecy, that make stories that center on this topic so interesting and engaging to the reader.
Indian society tends to dictate that family life is private, and as a culture, we try not to air our dirty laundry for the community to see. Sometimes the secrets themselves are layered, parents keeping secrets from their children and nuclear families keeping secrets from their extended kin. Literature gives readers a window into the private lives of everyday families, allows them to feel a sense of dramatic irony as they learn the secrets that they keep even from their loved ones.
Like family matters, sexuality is considered an intensely private affair. It is a concept associated with lust and desires, and any discussion of it is often accompanied by coy blushing and uncomfortable tittering in even the most open-minded households, and that is without deviating from the norm. It is an even more hushed topic if you aren’t heterosexual.
Themes of this kind are regularly explored in Sandip Roy’s “Don’t let him know”, a novel that tackles this topic through two generations of an Indian family that has transplanted to the United States. In an interview on the National Public Radio (NPR) show Morning Edition, where he stated that families “are like a petri-dish of secrets that they hide in different ways.”
Roy, who identifies as a gay man himself, stated in the same interview that “In India if you were to come out, what it really means is that the entire family goes into the closet with you.” In India, sexuality is something to be spoken about in hushed whispers, and open discussion is often met with uncomfortable muttering or worse.
Literature has the capacity to be a public forum, and a place to bring to light topics that we feel uncomfortable talking about in open discussion. It allows the public to have a glimpse at people’s personal lives, but not in a way that demeans or demoralizes the characters who have to live these lives. In creating this window into a private life, the author facilitates an empathetic connection between the reader and the character, engaging them in the story, and bringing to light perspectives that may never have crossed their minds before.
Edited by Sruti Srinivasan
A talk on Writing about Family and Sexuality will be conducted by Sandip Roy on 16 September 2017, at the Gangubai Hanagal Auditorium, at 10.30 am.
The views in this article do not necessarily reflect the organization’s views.
The Manipal Journal is the official media partner for MILAP, Manipal’s first literary and arts platform, to be conducted on 15,16 and 17 September 2017.