For Vivek Shraya, the beautiful part of being a multidisciplinary artist is how one of her pieces can evolve into several different versions. This is currently occurring with her song “I’m Afraid of Men,” which turned into the recently released book of the same name I’m Afraid of Men. That song would then be remixed by her electro-pop group Too Attached with a rap feature by the iconic Peaches, and, now, that song has a music video. Phew. “I like blurring the lines between these projects,” she says. “I feel like it’s an opportunity to bring different audiences in so people who like the music can get exposed to the book and vice versa.”
Shraya and I are having lunch in downtown Toronto during the launch of her now chart-rising book, I’m Afraid of Men, talking about how one track evolved into four, distinct and different iterations. The song originally appeared on her 2017, Polaris Prize long-listed solo record, Part-Time Woman. (The project featured a collaboration with the Queer Songbook Orchestra). Shraya tells me the song was something she wanted to contribute to the feminist canon of music she’d grown up listening to. “In some ways, I felt—especially coming out as trans— like, wow, how fortunate I was to be exposed to music by women who were talking about miscarriage and sexual violence as then a male listener,” she says. “I felt sort of responsible to give back. What can I contribute to this incredible, rich, you know, body of work made by women?” Shraya’s work, though, gives voice to the perspective of a trans feminine, brown, queer person—helping close a much-needed gap earlier feminism left wide open and ignored.
While “I’m Afraid of Men” meant a great deal to her, she felt that was not entirely the case for her audience at the time, saying it was the underdog on the record. But this is where the beauty lies in being able to make more art around a similar theme or narrative. The remix of “I’m Afraid of Men” came out earlier in 2018, on the heels of Shraya and her brother Shamik Bilgi’s Too Attached record, Angry. The remix is much more aggressive which is something Shraya wanted, admitting that while the original is great with the orchestra, it was missing a vital component of defiance on it.
Shraya initially reached out to Peaches to do the remix of the track herself but Peaches didn’t have the capacity to take it on. When the mix was complete, on a last ditch effort to see if Peaches could be involved, Shraya emailed her with a clear ask of a feature. “And she got back to me right away and was like, ‘how would you feel if I rapped on it?’ And I was like, ‘yes!’ And she’s like, ‘is it okay if I get nasty?’ And I was like ‘yes, please.’ [Peaches] kind of nailed it in a weekend. The way she explained it, she wanted to talk to the singer to be like ‘yes, you are afraid of men’ but also [make it] confidence boosting.”
Establishing the thread of fear throughout each version was important to Shraya. For the video, she is in a forest, which, she says, connects back both to masculinity and fear, and she’s dressed in a metallic suit, almost futuristic ethereal, constantly moving. She’s tapping her foot, chanting, rolling around on the ground, performing as what she calls ‘Veaches’—a hybrid persona of both her and Peaches—pompadour included. But the video is striking and sombre when we are introduced to plastic and, importantly, Shraya wrapped in that plastic.
My pop cultural frame of reference immediately went to Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks. But this is not fiction: it reads as a very real comment on what happens to trans women and men. News stories or viral posts about the deaths of the trans men and women who have been murdered often miss the vital context of them as living, breathing humans. Shraya’s unsure of the exact intention her director Zachary Ayotte had for wrapping her in plastic, preferring to trust his vision for the overall video, but she agrees it’s hard to not immediately go to that place of death. But Shraya sees the positive, defiant contours that this visual provides.
“It’s exciting to have actual movement associated now. I think that’s the missing piece,” she says. “We have the text. We have photos. We have lyrics. But I think it’s important for there to be movement as indication or a reminder of life. One of the things I’ve been trying to communicate about the title, despite how vulnerable it sounds, [is that] it’s supposed to be a statement of resilience. I’m afraid of men but I’m here and continue to live my life and I live my life with a lot of fear but I still continue to live.”
Sarah is on Twitter.