There is a lovely story in Navaneetha Mokkil’s Unruly Figures describing a moment from the sex worker and activist Nalini Jameela’s Autobiography of a Sex Worker. Jameela, used to doing sex work in a darkened room, is asked by her client to go into the light so he can see what she looks like. His face lights up when he sees her, and Jameela realizes for the first time that she is beautiful. Mokkil likens this to how we often ‘see’ ourselves through others.
How others see us, or how certain ‘sexual figures’ such as the sex worker and the lesbian emerge in the public sphere is the focus of this remarkable, paradigm-shifting book. Through close examination of cultural materials, Mokkil maps an alternative history of the politics of sexuality in Kerala to show how it has followed a path that is distinct from the globalized, identity and rights-focused queer politics that dominates the national and global discourse.