If you’re looking for a book that would give you an idea of women’s experiences while exploring their sexuality while coming from underprivileged backgrounds, Maya Sharma’s Loving Women will lay the foundation for you pretty well.
The book covers 10 cases of lesbian women or women loving women that come from underprivileged backgrounds. It captures the readers’ imagination with fascinating and enthralling stories of a person looking into the experiences of genuine WLW living in underprivileged India. The book gives the reader a view of the delicate world of its subjects who try to figure out their sexuality separate from other aspects of their lives.
In an attempt to do this, the women are dismissed from the common language expressions that would have otherwise defined them. For these women, their need for survival in their community is a more pressing need than defining their romantic or sexual identity.
While the title of the book is “loving women”, readers are refreshingly treated to rebel characters in patriarchal households and are in the constant tab of eagle eyed authority figures. These stories give life to the courage that the characters must have in order to go against the grain of societal expectations of a woman’s woman’s womanhood.
For instance in a plot twist, Payal openly reveals that the reason for her and Menaka’s escape from the place they called home was because of their feelings for each other and not because of other people’s wrong expectations. Because of having the confidence and courage to dare be themselves, the characters in the book are met with negative emotional/physical and even violent reactions from others.
One interesting aspect of the book is that even though it unpeels the stories of these working-class WLW, it is also a personal reflection or journey of the writer. The author at some point openly wonders whether the differences in class between her and the characters are so significant that they cannot fill them.
Interestingly, the scene of the book is 2006 India that was still on the journey to decriminalisation of sexuality. As a result, the stories do not legally define queer relationships as the author seemingly asks the characters questions that relate to the description of their relationship.
However, the characters seem not to be ready to face the nature of their relationships and give dismissive responses to the authors’ questions. In a way, this inability of the characters to give form to their relationship is characteristic of an Indian framework concerning WLW relationships. The sexual identification of the women isn’t as essential as their ability to convince society that theirs is just a regular friendship. Most importantly for them is survival, and for this to happen, societal acceptance must be present.
This book isn’t only about lesbian relationships/stories. It is also the voice of the underprivileged in India. By delving into the world of working class WLW, the author sheds light onto the myth that lesbians must all be abled, privileged, from the upper-caste, or upper class.
At the end, the book not only delves into the lives of lesbian women, it also shows that even in the absence of a label, the nature of relationships between WLW doesn’t change.