Alice Sharma, speaks to the trans artist, author and musician on the subject of rigid gender binaries and how it’s important to break them
“I often feel the pressure to be wearing makeup or present the ‘feminine’ to prove my transness,” says 35-year-old, Vivek Shraya, a Toronto based transgender artist. As a child, she was often attracted to the femininity and this lead to the assumption that she was also attracted to men. While growing up, Shraya was often identified as gay, but now identifies herself as a Trans, bisexual person of colour.
Speaking strongly through art, Shraya has novels, short stories, poetry and songs to her credit. Her books include, God Loves Hair (2010), She of The Mountains (2014), even this page is white(2016) and the recent The Boy and The Bindi, a playful children’s book that explores a young boy’s fascination with the dot on his mother’s head. Her photo essay Trisha, where she recreates the vintage images of her mother plays around the same theme. “My story has always been bound to your prayer to have two boys,” she writes in the essay accompanying the project, “Maybe it was because of the ways you felt weighed down as a young girl, or the ways you felt you weighed down your mother by being a girl. Maybe it was because of the ways being a wife changed you. Maybe it was all the above, and also just being a girl in a world that is intent on crushing women. So you prayed to a god you can’t remember for two sons and you got me.” This is because growing up in a male body, she always wanted to be like her mother
In her mid-twenties she learned about transness and since then, there has been no looking back. Although this journey of brave self-exploration was not an easy one and was marked with a lot of abuse, “I faced daily verbal homophobia/genderphobia for most of my teenage-hood,” Shraya tells sbcltr, saying that she even tried adjusting to masculinity, oppressing the side she was attracted to and adhering to gender stereotypes and its baggage.
Choosing to ignore criticism, Shraya started to embrace her feminine side, but then too she was attacked by sexism. She blames it on the internalised misogyny of society, saying, “there is nothing worse for a boy in North America than to be feminine and the harassment I faced as a teenager (and adult) is definitely linked to misogyny.”
It was only in February 2016, Shraya announced on Facebook that she would be using female pronouns henceforth to “honour my femininity.” The discourse that Shraya opens up around the subject of personal choices is both, relevant and important in today’s context. The choices are not only limited to gender, but also to the policed oppression of race and the colour. “Growing up in Canada there is a semblance of multi-culturalism, but underneath lurks a fear of difference, which I have experienced,” she says, stating that all oppression is inter-connected and there is a dire need to have more meaningful conversations about this connection.
Perhaps the most powerful point that Shraya makes is that, how the ideologies of being feminine or masculine, have a damaging impact, on social as well as personal levels of an individual. The world needs more people like Shraya. People who refuse to bow down to a dominant culture, have the determination to create bridges of understanding by transforming differences into choices and identifying themselves outside gender and sexual binaries.