It’s pride month! 🌈 Sexual diversity has always been a part of the south asian culture; even if most of the countries that make up this region are still following the restrictive laws set up during the British colonial era. But a change is slowly coming with India decriminalising same-sex relationships and Bangladesh legally recognising hijras as a third, separate gender. There’s a long way to go in terms of systemic changes but queer literature has and will always continue to exist with pride.
The oldest pieces go back a long way and even during the Independence struggles —despite the uproar and an obscenity trial— Lihaaf by Ismat Chughtai, an Urdu short story in 1942 explored a begum and her lady servant’s desire for each other. Recent decades have seen some modern classics in the name of Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai, Yaraana: an anthology edited by Hoshang Merchant, Broken Verses by Kamila Shamsie, and Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu; and have essentially paved a way for the newest queer books.
This list is just a pea in the samosa of excellent queer titles that have already released and won the hearts of many. It’s certainly not exhaustive and shouldn’t even be! Pride month can be a good time for readers to add more books to their shelves (📢 even though the support for these books should not be confined to a single month) so go ahead and check out these eleven south asian books featuring LGBT+ main characters.
01. Kings, Queens, and In-betweens by Tanya Boteju
02. The Girl and the Goddess by Nikita GIll
03. Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud
04. The Carpet Weaver by Nemat Sadat
05. The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
06. Apsara Engine by Bishakh Kumar Som
07. The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi
08. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
09. We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia
10. The World That Belongs To Us by Aditi Angiras & Akhil Katyal
11. The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan
This blog post may contain affiliate links. To know more about them, please read my disclaimer.
Kings, Queens, and In-betweens by Tanya Boteju
The summer doesn’t seem too exciting for Nima Kumara-Clark, a junior in high school, and the love she has been nursing for her straight best friend isn’t turning into a reality anytime soon. When a night during the local festival brings her across a drag queen, and then to a drag show, Nima feels comfortable for the first time and summer doesn’t seem so boring. A shy biracial lesbian slowly opens up while drag culture, friendships, and queerness unfurls around her in an expressive performance.
The Girl and the Goddess by Nikita Gill
A mix of prose and poetry follows the journey of a Kashmiri girl, Paro, from childhood to womanhood while gods and goddesses tell her the secrets of life. From growing up in a war-torn region to finding family among friends, Paro turns toward faith —in the form of deity tales— for guidance. Told through a lyrical writing similar to the author’s previous poetry collections like Great Goddesses, this exploration of bisexual identity, sisterhood, and strength is mystically and emotionally rich.
Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud
After Betty’s husband dies, she invites a colleague, Mr. Chetan, to move in with her and her son, Solo. Three become a family soon but overhearing a secret pushes Solo to flee Trinidad for New York and live as an undocumented immigrant. While Mr. Chetan remains the singular thread holding a mother and her son together, the revelation of his secret consequently leads to heartbreak too. Exploring an unconventional family, mental health, and generational obligations, this fiction reads real.
The Carpet Weaver by Nemat Sadat
In 1977 Afghanistan, Kanishka —a carpet seller’s son— finds himself falling in love with his best friend, Maihan. But they must keep their love a secret because homosexuality is punishable. When the country gets involved in a war, the challenges increase for the two lovers. From Kabul to the internment camps of Pakistan, Kanishka’s journey finally takes him to USA in desperation for a place to call ‘home’ and in hope of reuniting with Maihan. But destiny has different plans in this debut novel.
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
Nishat has always heard Muslim girls aren’t lesbians, but she doesn’t want to hide who she is and doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. When a childhood friend, Flavia, enters her life, Nishat feels the butterflies but a school competition soon marks the two as rivals. In the midst of henna, rain, and culture, a sapphic romance begins —while the Bangladeshi-Irish Nishat also fights bullies, microagressions, and cultural appropriation that stems from diversity being seen as a trend.
Apsara Engine by Bishakh Kumar Som
A collection of eight graphic stories proliferate queer femininity through emotion and symbolism that explores sex, gender, and human connections. Built on speculative fiction, the gay and trans and queer commitments are clubbed with architectural appreciation and gorgeous art. From women who are unsatisfied in their lives to a non-binary master’s degree student befriending a trans scholar at an academic conference, this collection brings time travel, love, and mythology together.
The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi
Zaki has arrived back in Lahore to celebrate the wedding of his elder cousin, Samar, and amidst the flurry of preparations in the house he grew up, Zaki inevitably revisits the past. As a fatherless boy, growing up in a family of outspoken women meant Zaki and his cousin were always exploring the unknown possibilities and analyzing the political scenery. With a poetic prose and an authentic backdrop of the Pakistani city, this literary fiction displays the struggle and strength of orchestrating a future.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Vivek Oji, the son of an Indian immigrant mother and a Nigerian father, suffers disorienting blackouts and moments of disconnection in a southeastern Nigerian town. From adolescence to adulthood, this dramatic story of loss and transcendence is all about character and mystery. But this fiction —by the author whose debut, Freshwater, was widely praised— is also about the queer experience in a patriarchal society, the love of a mother, the unending grief, and cultural restraints.
We Are Totally Normal by Naomi Kanakia w/a Rahula Kanakia
Nandan has a plan to make his junior year perfect. In addition to making sure all the parties are chill, he is set on helping Dave get into the popular crowd. But when the two hook up one night after a party, Nandan is willing to give this friends-to-lovers a shot. He has never been into guys and the anxiety around his sexuality soon makes him wonder if breaking up will make him feel “normal” again. Messy, complicated, and realistic, this contemporary is all about questioning and being valid.
The World That Belongs To Us by Aditi Angiras & Akhil Katyal
An anthology that brings contemporary queer poetry from South Asia, both from the subcontinent and the diaspora, to a world of desire and loneliness, sexual intimacy and struggles, caste and language, activism, found and given family, and heartbreaks alongside heartjoins. The stanzas range from Delhi to Bangalore and from New York City to Dublin, bring forth emotions, conversations, and celebration through intersectionality and diversity that resonates with desi queers.
The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan
Being the daughter of a conservative Muslim couple means Rukhsana has had to monitor her life at all points, patiently waiting to start anew in another state. But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend, she is immediately sent to Bangladesh and after stepping into a world of arranged marriages and tradition, all hope is deflated. Now Rukhsana must hold on to the support of a few around her and her grandmother’s diary to find courage, a sense of belonging, and a happy ending.
recommend a queer south asian book in the comments! 💛
N O T E
This list is primarily curated on the basis of the character(s) identifying as a south asian LGBT+, which means the author’s identity and/or quality of either representation isn’t taken into account at all times—even if it slightly influenced the making of this list.