by Laura Stricker, Featured in the Sudbury Star
From when he was very young, Vivek Shraya knew he was different from other kids.
“It started to become clear that there was something different about me, but in elementary school, we were kind of all in it together. We were all innocent. No one had been labelled a nerd or slut or jock or fag. In junior high, that’s kind of when everything changed.”
He knew he was gay, but it took a long time for him to come to terms to with it and come out to his family. Now Shraya, a writer, singer/songwriter and filmmaker, uses art to talk about being gay.
He was at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School on Friday for the Dare to Stand Out conference, where he screened his short film What I LOVE about being Queer.
Shraya, the son of South Asian immigrants, grew up in Alberta. He talked to students, many clad in rainbow colours, about his experiences and read from his first book God Loves Hair, a collection of 21 short stories about a child navigating the realms of sexuality, gender and belonging.
“I just wanted to be normal. I wanted to be like everyone else. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one,” Shraya said, explaining many are still teased for being gay.
In his job as a human rights adviser at Toronto’s George Brown College, Shraya said he sees queer youth who are around 16 to 17 years of age and are really struggling with who they are. “They ask me questions like ‘will this ever go away? Is this just a phase? I feel like I’m disgusting.’ These are the kinds of questions that I get asked. It breaks my heart, because these are the kinds of questions I asked myself when I was 17.
“I found myself really wanting to create something that was about looking at the complicated part of our identity, and finding things to celebrate about it. Finding things to embrace about it. Not telling someone listen, it’s going to get better 10 years from now.”
Shraya encouraged anyone that may be struggling with their sexual identity, and who are being mocked for it, to speak up.
“Really consider asking for help if you need it. That means if you’re getting harassed or bullied, tell your friends. Tell your teachers. Talk to your parents. Know that it’s a really hard thing to do, but it’s so important. I know that personally, I wouldn’t have survived high school if I didn’t regularly visit the school counsellor. There’s so many ways you can get help.”
And if someone comes out to them, he told the students, treat the person with respect.
“If somebody comes out to you, you might be the first person on the planet they’ve ever come out to. It’s so important that you handle that with care and respect. If you don’t, you might unintentionally put them back in the closet.”