Katherine Ewing & Baishakhi Taylor

Mourning, Ambivalence, and Acceptance: Friends, Family and Sex Reassignment Surgery in Kolkata

While the Indian nation state struggles with the question of citizenship and rights for its ‘queer subjects’, the word ‘queer’ and the idea of a “sexual identity” are becoming more salient in public culture, though discussions of sexuality continue to be off limits in many social circles. Within this changing social and legal environment, how do families respond to the process of coming out? In this paper we look at stories from two different but related groups: individuals in India who have come out to their friends and family, and individuals who have had friends and family come out to them. The narratives, based on interviews conducted during the summer of 2010, illustrate negotiations of sexuality and a range of “queer” identities among urban middle class families in Kolkata. In our analysis, we find strategies of acceptance within families that often contrast with publicly salient social taboos.

Katherine Pratt Ewing is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Before moving to UW in the fall of 2010, she was Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Religion at Duke University, where she also served as Executive Director of the North Carolina Consortium for South Asian Studies. Her research focuses on debates among Muslims about the proper practice of Islam and the complex relationships among Islam, secularism, and modernity. She has done ethnographic fieldwork in Pakistan and Turkey and among Muslims in Germany, The Netherlands, and the United States. Her books include Arguing Sainthood: Modernity, Psychoanalysis and Islam (Duke, 1997), Stolen Honor: Stigmatizing Muslim Men in Berlin (Stanford, 2008), and the edited volumes Shariat and Ambiguity in South Asian Islam (University of California, 1988) and Being and Belonging: Muslim Communities in the US since 9/11 (Russell Sage, 2008).

Baishakhi Banerjee Taylor is the Assistant Director of the Duke Center for Civic Engagement. She is also the Associate Director of the North Carolina Consortium for South Asian Studies and an assistant adjunct Professor of South Asian Studies at Duke University. Currently, she is also a core faculty for the Focus Cluster on ” Knowledge in the Service of Society” where her course explores the methods and ethics of doing civic engagement. A sociologist by training, Baishakhi’s research interests focus on mixed methodology in social sciences. Her previous research projects include analyzing political campaigns and HIV/AIDS prevention research. Baishakhi’s recent scholarship includes developing interculturally competent curricula for US classrooms, funded by US Dept. of Education Fulbright Hays Grant.