"When we travel to India to visit my parent's family, my aunts tell me how pretty I am. I seize the opportunity to test out their observations. Maybe you should dress me up in a sari and see what I would look like as a girl, I say coyly. They jump at the chance. They spread out their rainbow sari collections on the bed, and I feel like a princess as I choose the bold magenta and black one. It looks like something my mom would wear. They spin me around in the endless sheer fabric that smells like oil and mothballs and pleat it a couple times at the front so it looks like an accordion hanging from my waist. But my transformation isn't complete. Bangles all the way up to my elbows, thick black eyeliner, a string of white jasmine flowers in my hair. From afar, my dad thinks I am some sweet village girl. I am the prettiest little girl in the world."
Originally self-published in a limited edition in 2011, God Loves Hair is an alternately humorous and heart wrenching collection of short stories from queer artist Vivek Shraya, exploring his childhood as he grew up navigating his Indian parents and the realms of sexuality, gender, racial politics, religion, and North American suburbia. Featuring artwork by award-winning illustrator Juliana Neufeld, the book is a Lambda Literary Award finalist and winner of the Applied Arts Award for Illustration. It has been approved by the NYC Department of Education and the New York City Council as part of an initiative to introduce LGBT themed books to the classroom.
"My experience of growing up genderqueer in North America and with Hindu immigrant parents was often isolating," Shraya explained. "My inpsiration for God Loves Hair was to write the kind of book that I needed [when I was growing up]- a book that explored these intersections."
When I asked Shraya whether it was difficult or joyous for him to pen God Loves Hair, he responded, simply: "A bit of both. There were certainly times when I found myself crying in the writing process or feeling the urge to cry during book readings."
As Shraya explained, he's often disappointed that it's reduced to a simple boy in drag message. "Often what is highlighted about God Loves Hair is, 'This is a book about a boy who likes to wear his mom's clothes and has a crush on his gym teacher,' and these elements are there, but the book also delves into challenging territory including homophobia, heartbreak, masturbation, suicide ideation, and sexual abuse."
Not ending on a dour note, however, he explained that the book's dedication, 'For the boy who was almost lost,' is intended to "speak to the joy of knowing that the parts of myself I thought I had to destroy to survive--the queer parts of myself--have been resuscitated through the writing and sharing of my story."
Attempting to communicate to queer children who might now be in a similar situation to the one he faced growing up, Shraya added: "Please don't be afraid to ask for help. Use the resources that you have around you, whether it's at school, in your community or online."
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