Sunday, October 10, 2004

Using literature to further the cause of sexual minorities

Dominique Fernandez’s calm disposition veils a man of courage and hope. Described as someone who “embodies the contemporary literary scene in France”, the writer breezed through his eventful and often controversial career at an informal interaction with a handful from the city on Thursday.

After publicly proclaiming his homosexuality in 1971, he divorced his wife with whom he was married for 10 years and with whom he even fathered two children. “I realised that homosexuality was in me and I wanted to be honest to my wife and children. But I still have very friendly relationships with them,” he said. Ever since then he has centred much of his literary work on themes of alternative sexuality and exploring sexual identities. For him a “real novel” is iconoclastic, is a transgression that challenges the society’s beliefs.

“Porporino or the Secret of Naples”, perhaps his magnum opus that was published in 1974, has been released in English in India by Rupa & Co. It is a book that examines intimately the sexual identity of a castrato in Naples. Castrato is a term that refers to boys who were then castrated before they attained their puberty to retain, and in many cases develop, a “unique voice” required for an opera-crazy Italy.

As a writer, Fernandez has fearlessly used his pages to campaign for the rights of homosexuals in France and worldwide. His book “The Pink Star” (based on the discriminatory symbol the Nazis used for homosexuals) fired a debate about the subject in France following which Francois Mitterand abolished discriminatory laws against homosexuals in 1981. An alumni of the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, he is also the recipient of Prix Medicis and Prix Goncourt, two of France’s most respected literary awards.

Writers, he said, have always been at the forefront of progressive movements in France, which he termed as “one of the most liberal democracies in the western world”. “The politicians are always late and that is why I consider it my responsibility to speak for those like me,” Fernandez added. Homophobia, he felt, is a preconceived notion like anti-semitism. “It’s perfectly natural to be a homosexual and its better to live life they way you are rather than in a false façade,” he said.


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