“I am often mistaken for a girl. Not just because I like to wear dresses or makeup. I don’t mind. My parents are from India and Canada isn’t quite home. School isn’t always safe and neither is my body. But I feel safe in my love for God. And God loves hair.” – Vivek Shraya
Vivek Shraya (top image) was inspired to write God Loves Hair, a series of short stories because he wanted to write “the kind of book that would have made a difference to me as a sixteen year old, gender creative kid with Hindu immigrant parents, facing daily homophobia.”
God Loves Hair was originally self-published in 2011 to acclaim and was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for young adult fiction. It has since found a home with Arsenal Pulp Press. The collection continues to resonate with readers for its “poignant insight. . . and ultimately joyous portrait of the resiliency of youth.”
Shraya will read from God Loves Hair this Monday, December 1, 2014 at 6:30 p.m at Fountain Bookstore as part of “This is an Event for Parents of Gay Kids.” Shraya will join Danielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo, authors of This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids.
I had the good fortune to interview Shraya in advance of the event. His answers to my questions were as compelling and hopeful as his beautifully-written short stories.
Hair is clearly something that is important to every culture, and has significant meaning, tell me more about this? What does it mean to you?
I don’t think I actively thought about the way hair connects to identity until writing this book as themes and memories relating to hair were consistently emerging. Hair particularly connects to my gender expression and mental health. I have worn certainly hair styles when I have wanted to portray a particular gender and I often cut my hair as a form of release when I am depressed or want to instigate change.
Clearly the non-hetero-normative population is underrepresented in serious literature. What can we do about this?
One thing we can do is empower LGBTQ youth to share their own stories and explore themselves creatively. In Toronto, I had the wonderful opportunity to facilitate a weekly drop-in writing group for LGBTQ youth and I would love to see more funding for programs like this. That said, I think a broader issue is that despite the influx of LGBTQ books in recent years, they are often filed by readers, press, and/or publishers niche, and not, as you say, “serious,” legitimate, literature. This is connected to the idea that the only readers who appreciate LGBTQ books are themselves LGBTQ, which is not true, especially not in my experience. This often means that it’s harder for LGBTQ writers to get published or for their works to reach a wider audience, creating a vicious cycle. I am not sure how we change this aside from making concerted, vigorous efforts to purchase and read more LGBTQ books.
God Loves Hair provides a “safe space” for those not fitting gender/social norms. Did you have such a safe space growing up? Is that where the stories come from?
One of the only safe spaces I had growing up was the religious community I belonged to. In that space, my gender expression wasn’t perceived as negative as it was outside of that space. If anything, being a sensitive boy who loved to sing was celebrated there. So one of the intentions behind the book was wanting to complicate the dominant narrative that queerness and religion can’t co-exist.
Who are your heroes/heroines and why?
My mother is my biggest hero. She has never been the one with a mic in her hand or at the front of a room but the one who was has been behind the scenes, making sure everything runs smoothly, listening to and caring for others, and intuiting the needs of others. She really demonstrates to me how a good leader is someone who knows when to step forward and maybe more importantly, when to step back to create space for others.
What books are currently on your nightstand?
I am currently reading Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. My next read will be The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Tell me your 5 favorite novels
Tough question! Some of my favorite LGBTQ books include Stone Butch Blues (Leslie Feinberg), Fruit (Brian Francis), Funny Boy (Shyam Selvadurai), Holding Still for as Long as Possible (Zoe Whittall) and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal (Jeanette Winterson).
What is the LGBT communities’ biggest strength? It’s greatest weakness?
Our biggest strength is our ability to come together, especially in crisis. On the flip side, I think that because of our histories of trauma and lack of representation, sometimes we are hardest on each other. How do we show love when so many of us weren’t shown love?
What are you working on currently/next?
This fall, my debut novel, She of the Mountains was also published. It is a bi/queer love story interwoven with a re-imagining of Hindu mythology.
I am also working on a project, Your Cloud, which explores the weight and disposability of digital communication. For this project, I am looking for sent texts/emails that were never responded to. Anyone interested in participating can forward these to: firstname.lastname@example.org