On the Precarious Side of the Lakshmanrekha: Gay Men, Family Surveillance and Framing of Moral Boundaries in Contemporary Sri Lankan English Fiction
Panel:16 | Governing and Representing Gender and Sex(uality) in South Asia – (Re-)Negotiating Lakshman Rekha
Timeslot:07/27 | 11:20-11:40 UTC+2/CEST
In contemporary Sri Lanka, English novels have been instrumental in giving a voice to queer individuals, besides the socio-political movements pioneered by Companions on a Journey and later, more intensely, by Equal Ground. My paper will look at the street LGBTQ politics in Sri Lanka, and the associated emergence of fictional narratives on queer citizen subjects. In so doing, the paper will focus on how the idea of lakshmanrekha or moral boundary is negotiated with by queer individuals, who are always already on the other side of the boundary, queerness being immoral, ‘unnatural’, unrighteous. The struggle here is, therefore, slightly different: it is more about making queerness acceptable within the collective moral vision as ‘normal’ and nothing threatening to the moral edifice of society. Drawing from Obeyesekere’s work on Sri Lankan society’s unwarranted emphasis on lajja-bhaya (shame-fear) and feminist interventions with the idea of respectability, as part of a healthy, moral life, I shall look at two novels, Selvadurai’s Funny Boy and The Hungry Tide. These novels revolving around two young Sri Lankan Tamil male citizen subjects show how queer individuals are incarcerated within certain non-negotiable boundaries so as to keep the family’s ‘honour’ inviolate; how queer individuals are subject to a fearful moral surveillance which makes their lives precarious, and how they resist it in order to ‘belong’. I shall argue that they are accommodated within the affective space of the family only when they could shed their queerness outside the lakshmanrekha the family has inscribed around its members in order not to transgress any social code of morally approved living.