What Does Queer Mean to You?
How an artists and activist chose to explore the meanings of “queer.”
While at a Vancouver Queer Film Festival artist, activist, and two time Lambda Literary Award finalist Vivek Shraya was struck with a question: “What if all I have to give are explorations of self-loathing?” Vivek felt overwhelmed that the dominant discourse in queer art and culture was one of death, violence and hardship. Where was the celebration of identity? The self love? What came to Vivek’s mind next was a simple question (or so he initially thought): “What do we LOVE about being QUEER?”
In October of 2011 Vivek invited 34 participants to answer the following question on film: “What do you LOVE about being QUEER?” This was later released as a short film in 2012. When I asked Vivek if there were any answers to the question that surprised him he replied:
“When I had initially thought of the question "What do you love about being queer?" I worried that it was too simple so what surprised me most wasn't the answers themselves but how consistently challenging the question was for participants. One of the participants said to me: "What you are asking is a lot. You are asking individuals to share what they love about an aspect of themselves that has mostly only elicited hate and violence." In short, not a simple question at all.”
It became clear to Vivek the answer to his question was too broad and complex to be concluded in one short film. It was then, the WILABQ (What I LOVE about being QUEER) project extended to a Tumblr page where anyone could respond and expand the dialogue. The response was so inspiring and successful that the WILABQ project developed into photo book in partnership with George Brown College.
Vivek’shope for the WILABQ project is that it will serve to deconstruct the notion of “tolerance” that Queer persons are subjected to.Having Queers express what they love about their identity nullifies the idea of tolerance and transforms Queer identity into something celebrated and valued, something we can LOVE about ourselves. WILABQ is a beautiful portrait of the LGBTQ community and a true celebration of Queer identity full of invaluable lessons on self-love.
Vivek was kind enough to offer Curve permission to use a selection from his bookWhat I LOVE About Being QUEER.
Queerness for me is the most natural, easy thing. It is what makes the most sense in my heart, soul, body. I am not here on this planet to conform to anyone’s expectations. I am here to live freely and honestly. Queerness is red lipstick, a great dress and a kiss, loving in the arms of a beautiful girl.
-Dainty Smith, Toronto
What I love about being queer right now is that we’re living through a time of changes and we’re getting to see people’s minds change. Most importantly, what I love about it is that I get to change some opinions around me and play my part on this big movement of diversity.
-BiaBonanno, São Paulo, Brazil
When I askedVivek about his own connection and experience with the project this is what he shared:
Vivek, have there been any responses you have really connected with personally?
Some of the answers speak of how queerness was an entry point into other identities or politics (i.e. being trans, fat activism). For me, coming into a queer identity has resulted in coming into a racialized identity—as a queer person of colour. It is a strange admission, given that I have always been brown, but growing up in a white-dominated city, I was often trying to assimilate if not hide my brownness.
Has your relationship with your own Queer identity changed since completing the project?
Coming into a queer identity, let alone being able to celebrate my queer identity, took almost thirty years. If anything, this project, and discovering that there are countless reasons to love being queer, only helped further solidify my queer identity and my pride in it.
Has this project helped you identify or refine areas Queer youth could use further supports?
The response to the project from queer youth has been phenomenal, and for this I am grateful as queer youth were a large inspiration behind it. One of the responses that has stayed with me was: "Thank you for including so many older queers as it has allowed me to imagine a future I never thought was possible." When I was a youth, I too couldn't imagine a future for myself because of my queerness and the lack of queer role models. As a queer artist, I feel a responsibility to continue to make work that offers some kind of future possibility.
Thank you Vivek for showing us many more reasons to love ourselves.