Vivek Shraya: Why Are You Wearing Nailpolish?

One of the first people I shared the first draft of The Boy & the Bindi with was my friend Robin Phillips. Robin is an elementary school teacher and a parent, therefore makinthe-boy-and-the-bindig her an expert on children. I figured if anyone could honestly tell me if the draft had potential as a children’s picture book, it would be her. I was also concerned about rehashing old ground. While writers and artists tend to be consumed by specific themes, my first book, God Loves Hair, also featured a brown, genderqueer child with a close connection to his mother and faith.

 

Robin responded enthusiastically to the draft and said children were still in need for as many non-normative representations of masculinity and gender creativity as possible. For this reason, she also suggested the book would make a useful teaching tool in the classroom not only to discuss gender and difference, but also spirituality and culture. Her excitement and ideas for the book gave me the confidence to keep working on it and eventually submit it to my publisher.

 

This past spring, Robin invited me to her Grade Two class at Guy Weadick School, where she and her colleague had been piloting lessons for the teacher’s guide to accompany The Boy & the Bindi. It was a surreal and moving experience to be in the province I had grown up in, surrounded by six- and seven-year-olds listening, wide-eyed, while I read the story to them. Many of them knew a lot of the words already!

 

After I was finished, I asked them if they had any questions. One girl boasted that she had chosen her outfit—a tropical-print dress—to match the magical garden that grows in the bbindi-illustrationook.

 

Another boy asked me: “Why are you wearing nail polish?”
“Because I like colours and I think anyone should be able to wear nail polish,” I responded.

He paused and then said: “OK!”

 

While I am cautious about over-romanticizing that “OK” and making platitudes about the innocence of children, I have to admit his response, as well as the many responses and thoughts expressed by his classmates during my visit, granted me a rare feeling of hope. After facilitating dozens, perhaps hundreds, of anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia workshops in my day job as Positive Space Coordinator at George Brown College, I have heard, first-hand, discriminatory sentiments expressed by adults. Often these sentiments are veiled in statements like, “It doesn’t matter if you are gay or straight, I don’t want to see two people kissing,” which has made my job even more difficult. In this classroom, I was grateful to be asked questions directly, and to have my responses be met with curiosity and openness, as opposed to defensiveness.

 

The Boy & the Bindi is out this month (with a free teacher’s guide), and I am most excited about the possibility of this book continuing to spark the kinds of discussion and learning about gender and culture with children, like the one I participated in Guy Weadick School.

 

 

vivekshraya_press_theboyandthebindi_300dpiVivek Shraya is a Toronto-based artist whose body of work includes several albums, films, and books. Her first novel, She of the Mountains, was named one of The Globe and Mail’s Best Books of 2014. Her debut collection of poetry, even this page is white, was released this spring, and her first children’s picture book, The Boy & the Bindi, was published this fall. Vivek has read and performed inter­nationally at shows, festivals and post-secondary institutions, including sharing the stage with Tegan & Sara. She is one half of the music duo Too Attached.
Vivek is a 2016 Pride Toronto Grand Marshal, a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, a 2015 Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award finalist, and a 2015 recipient of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize Honour of Distinction.