LGBTQ & Literature : Empowering Through Words.

by Mayukh Dutta.

Literature , since the dawn of human thought and rational understanding, has been a key to unlocking the unseen and unheard to the world that stays unbothered. It is a medium through which thoughts were put out in the openness of human understanding and left to flow from one mind to another until it attains a stage where minds with differences are connected by a single thought. The purpose of literature was and still is clearer than all other forms of art. It aims to put forward the exact idea, unfiltered and raw, to the people who are to read. Unlike other mediums of art, literature is in fact the most elaborative form wherein it serves to the reader the original thought of the thinker.

Throughout history, there has been a plethora of literary geniuses who contributed to the advancement of human thought and the ‘modernization’ of societal understanding in ways innumerable. To these geniuses we owe our greatest gratitude, for without them the ideas of love, life and soul would’ve been secrets confined to the understanding of just individual minds.

When we talk about ‘love’ and the ‘freedom’ to love according to one’s will, literature becomes the perfect medium to fan out such ideas to the world. No other form of communication can ever fully manage to grasp such concepts and ideas and help explain them to people who wish to listen and understand. Over time there have been examples of writers, ranging from the Renaissance period to the Georgian era, who spilled their ink with their emotional winds and left the world lost in dreams and fantasies. And some of them had the courage to write on themes of love that extended beyond acceptable norms and laid out boundaries of the society.

Writings on same-sex love first emerged in written form in ancient Greece and Rome, where scholars and great thinkers like Plato and Homer celebrated such diverse themes. One of the most magnificent works of human thinking are Homer’s Iliad and Plato’s Symposium, where the love between Achilles and Patroclus is portrayed as normal and acceptable, as something which is not to be disgusted of or feared from. Although this topic is still in debate, direct references to same-sex involvement in matters of love can be seen in Shakespeare’s works as well. The erotic sonnets and fluid references to gay relations in many works of his exemplify the age of Renaissance as a period of change in such matters.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the mention and reference of LGBTQ literature became more indirect and subversive. This was due to the existence of various penalties to such practices in private spheres as well as publishing such works into the mass readership.  Writers like Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf and later Allen Ginsberg and James Baldwin wrote literature on LGBTQ identity and references. These works paved a way for the inclusion of this genre into one of the fastest growing genres of the age and at the same time drew the attention of critics and haters alike.

One of the best examples of LGBTQ practices can be drawn from the life of the great Irish poet and writer, Oscar Wilde. He was a homosexual in the society that deemed it as a crime. He was put on trial thrice, spent two years in prison and was later exiled from his homeland because his practices of love and sexual affairs were considered indecent and criminal. His exaggerated life was full of examples where he broke numerous taboos. This is only to begin with the many references and examples we can derive from the works of Walt Whitman and the ancient Greek poetess Sappho. While Sappho was known for her lyrical poetry, Walt Whitman was widely celebrated for his vibrant writing. Sappho celebrated lesbianism in her poems which were later destroyed completely by the 11th century, while Walt Whitman self-published a book of poems on homosexual themes with metaphors so erotic and sensual that no other publishing house agreed during his time, and which later on came out with subsequent volumes and went on to be the greatest book of American poetry ever written.

The present age is filled with diversities and extensive opinions. What we witness are two key factors, first being the diversity of gender and sexual orientation and the second being the humongous increase in writers and readers alike. Today, one cannot stick to the opinions of a single writer where there exists an ocean of bloggers and activists to voice out opinions in a million different ways. And that defines the power of literature, of reaching out to the depths of the heart and of instigating emotions to bring about a solid change in the society.

No doubt, that over the past few years the writings on LGBTQ characters have increased greatly, but what really needs to be done is normalizing their presence in stories and not revolving the whole plot around their sexual orientation. Also, it is not justified to claim that the writings of today are doing absolute justice to the LGBTQ community at large. There surely have been an increase in awareness but these writings are still not inclusive of all issues and all groups of people that belong to the LGBTQ community. But as they say and the whole world believes, all great changes take time and patience and maybe with the whirlpool of revolution that literature has brought to us, someday a new dawn with a new world would become a reality.