What does it mean to be a woman after coming out as transgender?
South Asian-Canadian trans artist Vivek Shraya explores this question and womanhood in her 12th album, “Part-Time Woman,” which debuts Friday. The album adds to a long list of books, short films and music she has produced to embolden LGBTQ people to live authentically, while also learning to embrace the intersections within their race, gender and sexuality.
"The album is dedicated to anyone who has been misgendered, made to feel not feminine enough or struggles to find home in a gendered, complex language," Shraya told to NBC Out in a phone conversation. "The album is very much for trans* people by a trans* person. I also see these as songs of love to other trans* girls."
The six-song album is her first solo music project in six years. Shraya collaborated in February with the 11-piece Queer Songbook Orchestra and inclusive singing group Choir! Choir! Choir!, which produces spontaneous, guerilla musical performances in museum exhibitions, art galleries and at political rallies. The Canadian government, Shraya said, gave her a grant to produce her latest album.
"Much of my older work is electronic, because you have to remember the funding aspect of this," Shraya said. "Making laptop music was so much more inexpensive. I wanted to produce an album of all originals, so I applied for an arts grant from the government."
While Shraya created her album with the help of government funding, she hopes to raise awareness of racial divides in Canada and within the LGBTQ community; she wants people to remember that her country was founded on land taken from Indigenous peoples. For Shraya, Pride Month is about augmenting individuals who are normally excluded from political discussion.
Last year, Shraya was Grand Marshall of the Pride Toronto march, and Black Lives Matter (BLM) stopped the procession for 20 minutes to share a list of demands. One of such stated LGBTQ police should not be able to march in a Pride event while dressed in uniform, because it causes trauma for a range of queer people.
"The history of Pride is born as a response to police violence, so the demand was quite important and vital," Shraya said. "They got booed by other gay people, and it is a strange thing being at a Pride parade and seeing white gay people booing BLM, because there is this idea that they weren’t queer or fighting a queer cause."
"Part-Time Woman," according to Shraya, is partially a response to those who ignore or are unaware of the various intersections of race, gender, class and sexuality. With her song "Brown Girls," Shraya sings an ode to the strength and perseverance of femme people of color.
"We talk about great things in Canada, but these attitudes exist but never have the opportunity to come to the surface," she said.
While Shraya grew up in Edmonton, Canada — her parents are Indian immigrants — she feels frustrated with the glamorization of the country, especially when Americans declare they will seek sanctuary in Canada if something goes awry in the U.S.
"We have a lot of privileges here in Canada," Shraya said. "For me as a racialized person, I think people don't acknowledge the fact that we are on stolen land and indigenous people continue to face incredible violence in this country."
"Part-Time Woman" is another extension of Shraya's work to create informative, comfortable spaces for LGBTQ folks and people of color. When she is not writing books or making music, Shraya works as a Positive Space Coordinator at George Brown College in Toronto. She has been there since 2003.
"In the U.S. you call them Safe Spaces," Shraya said. "A lot of post-secondary schools have these campaigns or programs so the university or college can be a positive space and safer space for LGBTQ students and staff."
Shraya runs a three-hour training workshop for allies, students, professors and administrators to learn terminology within the LGBTQ spectrum. Her work also centers on dealing with potential harassment on and off campus.
"Once people take the training, they hang a rainbow in their office to symbolize they have attended Positive Space training and they are open to supporting students with LGBTQ-specific issues," Shraya explained.
“The big thing that has helped me own my various identities — queer, bisexual, a person of color or trans — was meeting people like me,” Shraya continued. “In the past three to four years, I have followed trans women on Twitter and Instagram, and while that seems superficial, knowing there is a world where we are not alone, there are all kinds of us thriving, making art, these are things that have given me the confidence to own my various identities.”
You can pre-order "Part-Time Woman" here.