Nandini Krishnan's book Invisible Men garners criticism for its alleged transphobic rhetoric; author responds

Invisible Men, an extensive work that traces the transmasculine networks in India has come under fire on social media following a scathing review by Gee Imaan Semmalar. Authored by journalist and writer Nandini Krishnan, the book has been described by Semmalar as offensive, and as 'being a thinly veiled ethnographic account replete with caste prejudices and transphobia' in a report published on The News Minute. The author has also been called out on claims of weaving an upper caste narrative of the work that portrays one religion in particular as the saviour of the trans community.

Krishnan took to social media on 10 January to elucidate her take on the issue, following "a week of my enduring constant tags on social media, threatening and abusive phone calls in various languages from various numbers, and exhausting WhatsApp conversations."

Semmalar's review criticises the Foreword to the book by Manu Joseph as being steeped in Hindu mythology written with the 'audacity of a cisgender, dominant caste heterosexual man.'

It gives the reader ten reasons for not reading the book and Krishnan, in her article titled, No one who has ever loved a book could burn another, breaks down the review point by point suggesting that the "writer of this piece makes several assumptions about consent and has extrapolated the implication of certain sentences."

In the third point, titled transphobia, Semmalar compares the author to 'a character in a bad Manoj Night Shyamalan film' who conjures up images that violently deny the community their identities, trapped as she is in the binaries of the gender system. The review also describes Krishnan's references to surgeries and treatments as her obsessions. Deeming these statements as extrapolations, Krishnan writes, "A book cannot be called transphobic because it speaks about surgeries. Surgery and medical transition cannot be ignored in a book about transpeople."

The review has also accused Krishnan of deeply saffronising the issue of transmen, and the book as one that is steeped in Brahminism with a section accorded to 'three cis Brahmin women saviours.' The review attempts to question why conversations on the community should happen in the absence of transmen. "None of these three women — including me — has been identified as either a Brahmin or a saviour," Krishnan points out.

In her writing on the trolling and the review, Krishnan reiterates that the book contains testimonies of members from the community that has been read by the interviewees and published without any objections raised by them. The author had previously encountered few of the transmen that appear in her book in 2006 while shooting a documentary.

The author had reached out to the reviewer while the book was in its nascent stages however Semmalar declined stating, as Krishnan notes in the work, that a cisperson playing the role of conduit for stories that were not her own was in keeping with a history of knowledge production that has always been exclusionary.

Furthermore, several members from Manipur's transmasculine community have also taken offence to the chapter in the book on the Nupa Maanba, the indigenous name for transmen in Manipur. A News18 report quoted the trans activist Santa Khurai from the State as saying, "...in the book, Nandini Krishnan tries to paint us as part of the dominant Hindu community." Claiming that Hindu mythology is irrelevant to them, Khurai questions why the chapter on the community in Manipur begins with references to Chitrangada and Arjuna from Mahabharata, characters that the people from that region do not know of and ignores the indigenous narratives of the tribes in the state.

A video of the book being burnt in a bid to ban its distribution has also surfaced on Twitter. Krishnan writes that the copy she gifted to the All Manipur Nupi-Maanbi Association was set on fire by MSAD, SSUM, ETA and AMANA. She adds, "It says a lot more about the person who lit the fire than about the book itself."

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Updated Date: Jan 11, 2019 17:45:45 IST

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