In 2017, Dalit-transgender activist Grace Banu began her journey to publish her book, Talks of Grace Banu, only to face two years of casteist and transphobic rejections from publishing houses. In 2019, she decided to self-publish it. Earlier this month, she founded Queer Publishing House for transgender writers to publish their words with the dignity and celebration that they deserve, a basic right that was inaccessible to her.
Banu, a familiar face of trans activism, has disrupted many cisgender savarna spaces for a decade, the most recent one being the ongoing 2023 Chennai Book Fair. After almost half a century of denial and discrimination, the famous event has allocated a stall for queer writers.
“This has been a long fight to present 50 books by LGBTQIA+ writers at the 46th edition of this book fair. The response by the visitors has been incredible. We have sold more than 7000 copies already,” says Banu. Banu, founder of Trans Rights Now Collective, a Dalit- Bahujan- and Adivasi-centred collective of trans folx, launched Queer Publishing House after many members expressed interest in publishing their writing but did not have access to the available mainstream platforms.
The publishing house launched three new poem collections by Negha, Ajitha, and Arun Karthik at the book fair. Talking about her book, RIP, actor turned trans poet Negha says, “I had written poems, I did not know which platform would publish them. The publishing houses are not welcoming. Even if they want to publish, they want to do it their way, make changes that we don’t want, and we are not treated as writers.”
RIP, a collection of poems, explores trans life and the historical denial of their rights. The title, she says, is a statement. “We give respect and love to those who have passed away but often deny that to those who are alive. I want a bed of roses now, not when I am not here,” Negha says.
These words ring true for the transgender community, whose words and voice are often recognised in cisgender people’s stories rather than in their own words.
Banu points out that publishing houses see transgender people with a certain lens, and there isn’t much space for dignity in that. “The publishing industry is looking for stories of struggles that evoke sympathy. They don’t want stories about the assertion of our rights and expression of our ideas,” she says.
The authentic stories, in their voices, are what the trans community has always celebrated. Many transgender persons who have visited the stall at the book fair have felt joy at reading words that resonate with them. “They read my book and get so happy. These are experiences that they can relate to and feelings that feel familiar,” says Negha. Around 400 copies of her book have been sold at the fair.
“Next year, you’ll see many new queer writers. Once there is visibility and a platform, people feel encouraged. That’s all we want, more of us in places that have historically kept us out.” Negha says.
Queer Publishing House can be found at stall number 28 at the ongoing Chennai Book Fair, which ends on January 22nd.