The Jasmine Throne is out soon, and I have some thoughts I don’t know quite how to express. So here I am, trying.
I’ll start here:
I don’t think queer authors, or people colour – or those of us with multi-faceted identities – should have to disclose trauma or lived experience for their work to have validity. I am not even sure validity is a meaningful term when it comes to fiction. My writing comes from me, but it isn’t me. It resonates with me, or reverberates from me, but it isn’t my reflection, and it won’t be yours. And if it is a reflection, it’s one in running water, always shifting, changing, distorted.
So I am not saying my writing has validity because I am a queer Indian diaspora woman, writing about two lesbian women in an Indian-inspired fantasy world.
What I am saying is… holy shit, I never thought I’d be able to write this book. I never thought I’d be able to carve out the space in my own skull. Never thought I’d feel safe enough to risk it – safe enough in my heart, in my life, in my position in the world. Never thought I’d be able to write it, or sell it, or find a team who would champion it, or an audience who would welcome it. But here I am, sitting here with my book sitting beside me, with a brown-skinned woman in a sari on the cover, staring at me. An epic fantasy novel with desi lesbian protagonists. Who would have thought.
Fucking hell, this was hard won.
Being true to yourself when true is complex, and painful, and mediated by a world that is often arbitrary or deliberately cruel is – oh, a lot. But I am trying to talk calmly, openly about this without belittling my own experiences just because I am safe, happy and loved now. A decade ago, I would have appreciated the memo.
So. Here’s my truth. The Jasmine Throne, whatever may become of it – however it may be received, and however it will impact my career – is a personal triumph. It is my biggest, most technically proficient work, but it is also my first truly sapphic work. And it is my angriest, and my thorniest, and maybe my most monstrous. I’m proud of that.
Here’s something truer:
Sometimes coming out isn’t straightforward and clean. It isn’t a door you walk through, washed in celebratory light, wearing the best version of your own face. You don’t go, Look world, this is me! The true me, the me I’m proud to be!
Sometimes coming out is a dozen doors. It’s dark on the other side of the door. Sometimes you sit on one side, your hands numb and cold and your insides colder, and watch the dark creep through the cracks in the frame. The dark’s an ink or a poison, something that’s going to blot you out. You’re a story in a body, a story that wants to exist, but you know they burn books like you. Maybe, you think, it’s better not to be legible.
If you’re lucky, you open the door anyway.
Sometimes you open the door and find warm arms waiting for you. And sometimes – well. Maybe you don’t want to talk about it. But you walk through the door that comes after that one wounded, reshaped and hurting. Maybe the wound will scar, and you’ll wear the hurt inside you forever, shot through with pain, or fixed carefully with gold.
I’ve said you, all through this, but I don’t mean you, or even me. I’m humongously reluctant to spill my guts on the page, and I don’t have the skill to make my own pain luminous. I don’t like being perceived. It’s almost a joke, right? Don’t perceive me. I don’t even particularly enjoy perceiving myself. I find it easier to beat and break my feelings down into threads, and spin those threads into stories, and tell those stories instead. So all I can offer here is what any story offers: resonances, reverberations. Reflections that change with the wind.
All of this is true, for a given value, but no one knows your heart or mine.
Maybe you and I have been staring at a closed door for a long old while. Maybe we both know the black ink that blots you out. Maybe we’re struck by how many doors still lie in front of us, closed and forbidding.
Maybe I turn to you and say, I’ve written a book. Maybe I confess, It says things I never thought I could say. Not about me, but about the dreams someone like me can have. The things we’re capable of imagining and writing and carving out into the world, when we’re given the meagre fucking right to stride out into the light and write from the bones outwards. When we’re shot through with gold, and the ink is our blood, of course everything we write burns and shines.
Maybe I don’t say that at all. Who knows.
Anyway. Here we are. The end. Deep breath.
I am opening one of my doors with this book. Let’s see what lies on the other side.
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