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DesiQ DoQumentation Project


Another artist discussed in the Contemporary Pakistani Queer Art session was Naiza Khan. 

  • Naiza was born in Bahawalpur, Pakistan in 1968 
  • She studied art at the Wimbledon School of Art, and then later she went to Somerville College, University of Oxford, and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art.
  • Her work is described as urban feminist art 
  • She uses her art to challenge the patriarchal gaze 

The first set of photos are from Naiza’s art series called, “Henna Hands.” This series of art was an insertion of the feminine body in public space, where actual bodies made of henna and henna designs were put on the walls. All the bodies remain anonymous and leave behind a stain, being symbolic of a resistance to being removed. 

Henna Hands - Site specific project, Cantonment Railway Station


I realized as I worked, that I had to follow a different set of rules and the material properties were fundamental in guiding the nature of the work.  These materials relied on gesture, the temporal, and the conceptual.”


The second set of photos are from series of art called “Heavenly Ornaments.” 
The description from her site about these pieces: 

Heavenly Ornaments 2007

For over a decade, Naiza Khan has developed her artistic practice by a persistent formal and thematic meditation on the female body.  She has charted an exemplary independent path among the shifting currents of contemporary Pakistani art, producing an extended body of work exploring the sensuality of the female body, but also its weight, its opacity and its recalcitrance in relation to social order.”


*bullet point notes from the session presenters

To see more of Naiza Khan’s artwork, check out her site


Writing Out: Queer South Asian Literature


 Writing Out Panel : Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla (L), Kunal Mukherjee (Center) and Sandip Roy (R).

The panel on queer South Asian literature consisted of Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla, the author of Ode to Lata and Two Krishnas, Kunal Mukherjee, the author of My Magical Palace, and Sandip Roy, the culture editor for The authors talked extensively about their experience of writing novels with gay protagonists, the process of writing itself, and their experience with various publishers in North America and South Asia. The panelists had plenty of practical advice for budding writers as well.

Authors Dhalla and Mukherjee characterized their experiences of writing novels with queer protagonists as one of the most emotionally challenging experiences of their writing careers. Dhalla described his writing as “Cheap therapy”. Both authors agreed that writing these novels was very similar to penning down one’s autobiography. After all, novelists are told to “write what they know best”. Dhalla encouraged young writers to create their own pre-writing rituals in order to overcome the urge to procrastinate, get one’s creative juices flowing and create structure that novel writing requires. Mukherjee talked about the role of music in helping him focus, and evoking images that then translate to his writing.

The authors stressed that a writer’s primary loyalty is to the work of art itself rather than one’s community or society at large. The advice was to focus on writing to tell a story rather than focusing on the implications of the work for the queer community. According to the panelists, considering the implications of the work limits one’s creativity and thus compromises the quality of the work ultimately hampering the effectiveness of the author’s message.


Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla, author of the critically acclaimed novel Ode to Lata, shared his experience of writing and publishing his work.

 The panel also discussed the challenges of getting queer South Asian stories published. Dhalla talked about the difficulties he faced while trying to get his first novel published. Ode to Lata is the life story of an Indian queer man who grew up in Kenya and now lives in the United States. Dhalla wanted to tell a story about a queer man who grew up to “the tunes of Lata rather than those of Dolly Parton”. Publishers, which both authors agreed didn’t have the pulse of the market, were generally reluctant to publish Ode to Lata due to concerns about marketability.

Dhalla and Mukherjee also talked about the tendency of North American publishers to pigeonhole writers and their works into categories such as “gay, ethnic or multicultural fiction”. This often limits a novel’s potential to reach readers at large. Since bookstores tend to segregate books based on these categories, one would have to specifically look through “gay”, “ethnic” or “multicultural” sections to find such novels. Further, this type of pigeonholing means that authors get categorized as gay writers regardless of whether or not sexuality is the main theme of their later works.


Kunal Mukherjee (L), the author of My Magical Palace, shared his experiences with writing his first novel at DesiQ 2013 with Sandip Roy (R), panel facilitator and Culture editor for

Surprisingly, publishers in India tend not to categorize books in narrow terms like the publishers in North America do. Both books were published and marketed in India as mainstream novels with the queer themes not being an issue at all. Mukherjee noted the enthusiasm that Indian publishers expressed at marketing his book to the general public. Since these books were translated into other Indian languages such as Oriya, this is certainly indicative of the liberal nature of the Indian publishing industry.

There were no women represented on the panel, which limited the discussion to the experiences of gay male authors. The panel acknowledged that there was a dearth of female queer protagonists in South Asian literature. It was noted that women have tended to write short stories and edit anthologies of queer short stories so far. Mukherjee predicted that in the next three years many South Asian women authors would publish novels on queer themes.

While it is true that queer South Asian women have tended to write short stories and compile anthologies thus far, this is symptomatic of male domination of the publishing industry not of any inherent tendency of women to write short stories. Men tend to be better connected and better poised to promote their works than most women, especially queer women. While things maybe changing, established publishing houses are still more likely to pick up works of men. The recent spate of independent publishing houses, especially those focused on queer writing such as the, certainly has the potential this and provides hope for aspiring queer South Asian women novelists.




I’m Queer, I’m Desi, & I want to Have Kids

The “I’m Queer, I’m Desi, & I want to Have Kids” had panelists who represented a wide range of experiences of queer desi couples with kids. The panel discussed issues that come up when queer couples decide to have kids. Due to diverse nature of the panel, the audience was able to get an insight into not only the experiences of biological parents but also those of non-biological parents. The issue of race of donors was also discussed extensively since many of the couples on the panel were bi-racial. The panel was thus a great way to learn more about the challenges of conception, adoption and parenting that queer desis face in North America.

Chandra, the non-biological parent to his son, related his experience of surrogacy in India. Chandra, like many other panelists, admitted that he had always desired having kids. According to most of the panelists, they knew they wanted to have kids as soon as they came out and started entertaining possibilities of raising families with a same sex partner[1]. Chandra and his partner traveled to India to have a baby through the process of surrogacy. They got in touch with an agency in Mumbai that guided them through the entire process. Surrogacy, even when undertaken in India, is an expensive process. Chandra and his partner shelled out close to $60,000 for the entire procedure including neo-natal care for their son who was born prematurely. According to Uday, a substantial number of surrogate babies are born prematurely.

Hema is the non-biological parent of twins with her partner of 15 years. Hema and her partner decided to have children through artificial insemination as many lesbian couples do. Hema shared their experience with choosing a donor, the process of insemination itself and their families’ reaction to their decision of having kids. One of the challenges that the couple faced was choosing a suitable donor and more specifically choosing the race of the donor. Since Hema’s partner is white, initially they decided that they wanted to have half-white and half South Asian kids. However, after much consideration they decided to have the same donor (White donor) for all their children. Hema also talked about challenges that non-biological parents face. Queer parents, especially bi-racial couples, often face special challenges in a racist society like ours. Hema mentioned that she often gets asked if the twins, who do not share the same skin colour as hers, are her children. In a society where non-biological queer parents are not considered the “real” parent, it can be especially hard to be a non-white non-biological parent in a bi-racial partnership.

Punam, the biological parent of her son, shared her experience of having and raising a baby boy with her now ex-partner. Punam has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) a condition in which women do not regularly ovulate making it harder for them to conceive. Punam and her partner at the time decided to go through a UCSF program. They also decided to buy all the available vials, about 16, of sperm from the donor of their choice. At $680 per vial, it was a substantial investment. The process of having children is quite expensive in general but it is especially so for queer couples. The doctors at UCSF closely monitored the size of the ovum in order to determine the right time for insemination. Due to the excellent care at the center and plenty of precautions the couple were able to conceive in the very first attempt. Punam also mentioned rebuilding relationships with her straight friends, who are parents themselves. She was able to connect with the straight community of friends due to their shared experience of parenthood. Having children has allowed many couples to rekindle relationships with not only family but also friends, who form an important support system for new parents.

Guru and his partner are adoptive parents to two children aged 11 and 13. Guru and his partner decided to adopt older kids through the foster system since they felt that would be right thing for them to do. They discussed having kids on their first date and started exploring options as soon as they moved in with each other. After going to an adoption fair and exploring other options, the couple decided that they wanted to adopt older children. They picked an agency and were soon enrolled in the Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP) training, a state funded program to train and prepare prospective parents of challenges of adopting kids. The couple was soon matched up with their son G., aged 6 at the time. Following a successful 3-week visitation period, G. moved in with Guru and his partner. Couples are usually able to legally adopt children they have been fostering within 6 months to a year.

Many panelists reported that having children led to greater acceptance from their families of origin. Parents of queer couples made attempts to repair relationships with the couple and become more involved once the couple decided to have children. Grandchildren allowed the families of origin to engage with the couple in ways that they felt comfortable- helping raise children. Parents, who are often reluctant to get involved in the lives of their queer married children, start to feel more comfortable with the topic of grandchildren since child rearing is an experience that they can share with their own children and their spouses. The experience of parenting allows many desi (and non-desi) parents to find common ground with their queer children who are now parents themselves, share their experiences, and meaningfully contribute to their grandkids lives.

Another issue that the panel discussed extensively was the role of race and culture in the whole process of raising kids. Priti Narayanan, the facilitator for the panel, shared hers and her partner Madhuri (Mads) Anji’s experience in picking a sperm donor. Since Mads is half German, the couple was specifically looking at half German donor. For Guru and his partner, it is very important to ensure that their children keep in touch with their roots. Guru’s daughter, aged 11, is Puerto Rican. Couple tries to ensure that they are able to help her connect to her roots through vacations to Puerto Rico and other forms of engagement with Puerto Rican culture.

During the Q&A, there was extensive discussion about perception of gay couples that decide to have children through surrogacy in India. One of the audience members asked Chandra if he and his partner experienced any kind of homophobia or discrimination from hospital staff, staff at their apartment complex or domestic help. Chandra replied that he did not and in fact gay couples traveling to India for surrogacy is so common that they had a whole community to support them through the process. Surrogacy might no longer be an option for gay couples traveling from abroad under new Indian laws regarding surrogacy. One of audience members, who identified himself as a gay man living in India who decided to have children through surrogates, specified that India is indeed a very child friendly society. People, ranging from families, staff and domestic help, generally do not discriminate against gay parents due to their sexual orientation. In the eyes of many Indians a parent, whether gay or straight, is just a parent.

[1] The panel did not consist of any transgender desis.


Contemporary Pakistani Queer Artist Anwar Saeed (b. 1955) 

  • Saeed focused on the psychology of men beyond symbolism 
  • He focused on politics, male desire, & the male body in his artwork 
  • During the 20’s and 30’s, a time of brewing Hindu nationalism, the strong male body was brought to attention 
  • In his work we see the connection between the Indian and British man, the ideas of masculinity 
  • His work showed that India will no longer be a female symbol, and connects males to nationalism
  • His work reflected the idea that one has to be as aggressive with their masculinity as the British were to have a nation 
  • his first exhibit was raided by the police 
  • this showed the limites of the Pakistani art space

*notes are from the Contemporary Queer Art in Pakistan Session (day 1 of the conference) presented by Pakistani queer folks who are studying art hxstory and South Asian hxstory 


Panel: Queer Expression in North American & South Asian Cinema

Day 1 notes, reflections & phrases from this panel

  • Artists/Filmmakers using film to disrupt normative ways and craft their own queer & trans narratives 
  • Thinking about Bollywood and the diaspora, their relationship & how the diaspora has looked to Bollywood for a connection to their homelands
  • While sitting in this session, the conversation became very North India Hindi centric when talking about the films, as Bollywood is a North Indian, Hindu, Hindi centric industry, invisibilizing other South Asian trans* & queer expression in film. 
  • "films as a way to come out to your family" 
  • Questions of Dostana helping or hurting our community came up. What do you think?
  • Dostana, like many other movies, showed male queerness in a way comical way, which in many ways can be damaging. The purpose of the two males acting gay was done for one of them to “get the girl,” making their gay identities a joke to achieve a hetero relationship. In the end the focus is on the hetero relationship, and this cis, hetero male narrative.
  • thoughts during the session from a participant: “laughter is used to define what’s acceptale and what is not”  
  • questions of why Fire by Deepa Mehta (a film about two queer womyn, impossible desires, taboo) received so much backlash and Dostana did not receive as much! thinking about why a queer female identities, language, relations and intimacy are so taboo, how colonialism brought heternormative ideals into South Asia and framed queerness as deviance & as an abnormality  shaping how South Asians view trans* & queer folks today. These narratives are not present in Bollywood whatsoever and exist at the margins of trans & queer films. 
  • these films “are a reflection of our own homophobia” 
  • In Maharashtrian films, “the third gender is very present.” Early on females were not permitted to act, so folks who identify with the third gender would play these roles 


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