In the course of this interview with Shikha Aleya, Chayanika Shah points out, “While decisions around gender and sexuality are very private and apparently made by each person for themselves, the material connections of community and family make this choice very contextual, and contingent on the whole social structure.”
To belong or not to belong? Some people define themselves through commonalities. There are some who define themselves through difference and then seek to find others who share that difference. They find commonality in a shared difference. Commonality is what makes for a community. To keep that commonality becomes an unwritten rule. What lets you in? What keeps you out? Every community tries to keep its members together. There are expectations, rules, impositions and, for the dissidents, punishments. Ironically, even communities of people who do not conform to mainstream norms of sexuality or gender have their own norms.
Talking about migration would be talking about what happens with the crossing of boundaries. Boundaries of culture and climate, and boundaries of visibility, where a change in semantics can come to render what was invisible visible (an accent, perhaps a way of dressing, one’s values and ideas, the experience of being surveilled as an alien), while also allowing the migrant certain new freedoms to be invisible (anonymity where ‘nobody knows your name’, and certain kinds of agency one may not have enjoyed back home).
The book explores how gender plays out in public and private institutions like family, educational institutions, work and public spaces. It illustrates the multiplicity of ways in which people live gender and testifies that even if there are gender laws, in a just world there can be no gender outlaw.
With Assisted Reproductive Technologies, science has managed to use technology to prise apart previous associations between reproduction and sex. With gender, class and queer theory, the social sciences have prised apart previous associations between gender and sex. We have found that knowledge through science, like knowledge of sexuality, can’t be pinned down to absolutes. “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know,” said Aristotle. While science may value the systematic and objective, it cannot escape the baffling convolutions of lived experience. How does life influence knowledge, and knowledge influence life?