Of all the collective voices that the LGBTQ community in India has, few ring through as distinctly as Gaysi Family. For the past couple of years, they have chronicled a spectrum of queer voices from across the board and provided a safe space for south Asians of alternative sexualities to share their stories and experiences. What started as a blog has splendidly evolved into a multi-faceted entity, though nothing excites as more from their vast body of work and offline action than their annual zine.
In truth, the Gaysi zines have been one of the purest publications that we’ve had a chance to read, with one simple, selfless agenda – to give its readers a sense of connection and kinship with other people like them, who have for too long been ‘Othered’. At its core lies a comforting message; a voice that speaks to you, saying, hey, wherever you are, whoever you are, you are not alone.
‘For The Love Of God’ is the organisation’s latest zine issue. A collection of beautiful colours, stories and designs that take you through the queer narratives that exist within the popular Indian mythologies but are usually left in the shadows, or simply just not known about enough. Editor Priya Gangwani is right in her note at the beginning of the edition, it really is a portal that sucks you in and you happily float through one story’s mythical plane to the next with ease, absorbing every word, every speck of colour and illustrated line on your journey. Strewn between stories are posters, some tongue-in-cheek and humorous, others informative and just pure creativity, all very relevant to our current social and political reality in some way – though, our favourite has to be ‘Cosmoopolitan’ designed and illustrated by Antara Madavane.
Many of the stories are adapted from the retellings by author Devdutt Pattanaik which you may have read before but never visualised so spectacularly. When you have 24 brilliant artists and the Gaysi team working to put this together, you know you’re getting something beautifully created. This zine is for everyone: whether you’re part of the LGBTQ community, an ally, an admirer of art and zine enthusiast, or just interested in mythology from a whole new perspective.
We got a chance to speak to Sakshi Juneja, writer and founder of Gaysi Family, who was kind enough to answer a few questions about this stellar issue. So read on and don’t forget to grab your own copy from the purchase link below.
Homegrown: Can you tell us about how this edition was conceptualised?
Sakshi Juneja: “‘For The Love Of God’ is a collection of graphic adaptations of stories that talk of queerness within the realm of popular Indian mythology. We feel it is an important addition to the the current discourse about queerness, gender, sexuality, and identity because it tells the stories of characters that are often not a part of popular mythology – characters that in some way don’t conform to established gender roles or sexual orientation expected of them. We started it out publishing a couple of these graphic stories on our website, and with the positive response that was received we decided might as well add more stories and print a zine.”
HG: How did you go about selecting the stories and the artists to visualise them?
SJ: “For the stories we have two criteria. One, they need to be queer in context. And Second, we wanted to feature not-heard-of stories. As for the artists, thanks to Instagram today one has access to wide portfolio of amazing visual content being done in India. So we got in touch with some of the creators we had been following. And some of the artists are folks we have worked with before, and have a good comfort level.”
HG: How has the zine evolved from its very first edition? Is there something, in particular, you keep in mind, in terms of changes and adaptations with each edition?
SJ: “The zine has evolved multi-fold over the years. And to be very honest – the zine is just a mere reflection of the Indian queer society. From queer language to queer identities, from personal to community testimonies – the field has widened and evolved. Unlike newspapers and many media platforms that are still debating coming out stories and identity politics, the zine is a far more refreshing and honest documentation of lived realities of people.
And if one were to solely look at the journey of The Gaysi Zine, the content and the narratives are now expressed through different literary and visual mediums: personal accounts, poetry, illustrations, graphic narratives, photo essays, and non-fiction, which is an evolution from the previous issues.”
HG: If you had to pick, what would you say is your favourite aspect of this edition? What makes it so special?
SJ: “The zine features more than 15 inspiring, empowering, and fascinating stories brilliantly depicted with a smattering of quirk, highlighting queerness, acceptance of non-conformity of sexual orientation or gender identity, and its significance in a universe that has been so familiar to us all our lives. For instance, not many have heard of Ganga Survanti, the princess who never married, or the origins of Bhagiratha’s name: ‘he who was born of two vulvas’, or Mitra and Varuna, the two halves of the moon always tied together in a celestial embrace.”
HG: In your opinion, has art been an important and effective tool in starting a conversation in Indian society about queerness and sexuality?
SJ: “At Gaysi we have been very particular about our visual language right from the start. Be it our digital content or our print content. Though this was never the intent initially, but fortunately we did start on the right path. Over the years, especially with the increase in usage of social media the consumption of visual content is far higher and quicker as appose to other textual content. Something we also realised when we released The Gaysi Zine – Queer Graphic Anthology. We sold almost over 600 copies in less than 3 months and it is the only issue we had to re-print due to reader demand.
So yes art does play an important and effective tool in sensitising readers/followers and supporting advocacy initiatives in a way that is easily understood and absorbed.”
HG: Is there anything you feel readers should look out for, what’s next from Gaysi Family?
SJ: “In November, Gaysi completes 10 years existing and thriving. Our readers can expect even crazier, wackier collaborations and events in the remaining two months of this year.”
Featured illustration by Saumin Suresh Patel for Gaysi Family
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