Vivek Shraya has a question for you. Even though his query is seemingly simple, set aside time for a bit of chin scratching, a few pensive glances, and possibly some giggling. Though he embraces the narratives of survival inherent to a lot of queer media, the Toronto-based musician, performer, filmmaker, and writer set out to document stories that weren’t tinged with elements of pain or sadness. How did Shraya tease out celebratory insights? He asked a carefully worded question: what do you love about being queer? The result is a revealing film called What I Love About Being Queer that features 34 participants of varying racial backgrounds, ages, and gender presentations pondering the filmmaker’s request. Shraya continues to receive replies—the project now has a Tumblr component where contributors are invited to submit their responses along with a photo.
Shraya is currently on the road screening What I Love About Being Queer. The film tour will stop in Montreal on Saturday night as part of the Concordia Co-op Bookstore’s Local Legends Reading Series 10th Anniversary Shenanigans. NIGHTLIFE.CA spoke with the artist about the movie, the Montreal screening, and the evolution of What I Love About Being Queer.
Nightlife.ca: How is the tour going so far? What kind of reactions is the film receiving? What kinds of discussions are being generated?
Vivek Shraya: So far the screenings have been going very well. A common response is that the film feels like a giant queer hug! One recent comment that I really appreciated was at the University of Waterloo screening where someone said that what they liked about the film was that the word “queer” wasn’t used just to speak of sexual identity but also in relation to spaces, movements, communities, and families. At most of the screenings, attendees who identify as queer have the opportunity to get their photo taken and write on an index card what they love about being queer, which then gets scanned and uploaded to the online extension of the film. I love watching participants consider their answers and listening to the conversations they have with each other about their answers.
Are there common themes that surface in the film, or are people’s responses to your question wildly varied?
There are definitely common themes in the film but the way each response is crafted and delivered is unique, which made the editing process quite challenging.
Do you see this work as something that’s in dialogue with the more familiar narratives of queer tragedy and survival or is it a completely different conversation altogether?
The project is partially a response to the dominant narratives of queer tragedy, a conscious effort to create more space for discussion about the positive aspects of being queer, but I don’t think it’s limited to that. One of my friends recently said that because the word “queer” is never defined for the film/website participants, they end up defining queer through discussing what they love about being queer. So in that sense, the project is also an archive of how different people define queer.
I really enjoy this quote from you in Sad Mag about the queer youth you work with: “I wanted to create something that didn’t ask them to wait for ten years to pass for things to get better, but rather, provided some reasons, here and now, why being queer is special and worth celebrating.” Do you encounter queer youth who aren’t struggling, who aren’t waiting a decade, who are already firmly planted in that celebratory place?
Of course! I am constantly inspired by queer youth that are doing amazing work and outreach in their various communities. Though, to clarify, I don’t think that struggling and celebration are mutually exclusive. I think for many of us, youth and non-youth, the daily experience of being queer does involve a variety of challenges and this project is not about denying those realities or implying that only queers who aren’t struggling can celebrate queerness. If anything, this project is about celebrating our resilience, that we find ways to love this part of ourselves in spite of—and sometime through—the struggle.
The project’s online presence is a really concise and effective way of saying a lot. What lead WILABQ in this stylistic direction?
The online presence was created as a way to further the dialogue past the film, so that any queer, anywhere, could participate. As a minimalist, I am a staunch believer that less is more, so after brainstorming with friends, we agreed that requesting submissions to be kept to a photo and a couple lines/paragraph would have the greatest impact. This also neatly corresponds to the minimalist quality to the film itself, where the focus is mostly on the individual’s face to minimize any distraction from the answers themselves.
What do you love about being queer?
I often think about how fortunate I am to have so many older queer friends and mentors in my life, who are incredibly generous, supportive and wise. They are definitely what I love about being queer, as most of them I wouldn’t have met without being queer.
Are you able to discuss the WILABQ book project in the making?
Absolutely! This fall, there was a plan to do a WILABQ exhibit, featuring the film, outtakes and all the answers generated at screenings and online. Upon discussing the exhibit with my friend and recent tourmate, Farzana Doctor, she suggested the project would make a great coffee table/art book. I was moved by the idea of flipping through dozens of beautiful answers and photos and the possibility of presenting this book to queer youth as a tangible source of support or inspiration. The book is being created in partnership with the Diversity, Equity and Human Rights Services office at George Brown College, as the project itself stemmed partially from my work in this office (as Human Rights Advisor/Positive Space Coordinator), and will hopefully be out in February 2013.
Vivek Shraya presents What I Love About Being Queer
Saturday, October 27 at 7 PM
Concordia Co-op Bookstore | 2150 Bishop | co-opbookstore.ca