Part-Time Woman starts with one finger plucking out nursery rhyme notes on a piano before expanding into something more nuanced, complex, and conversation-worthy. This six-song collection exploring and examining the concept of the self, womanhood, and femininity is as multifaceted and fascinating as its creator, Vivek Shraya. A celebrated writer, filmmaker, and musician, Shraya parlays her complicated experiences as a South Asian-Canadian, trans woman artist into Part-Time Woman. It is deeply affecting, and often humourous, but most of all, Part-Time Woman is an enlightening window into how we as individuals, and as a collective, have internalized the social construct of gender binary and the similarities in how it affects both the cisgender and transgender communities.
“You know we outta be no one else / but they keep telling us something else,” Shraya sings on “Hari Nef”, named after the actress/model and transgender activist. Like Nef, Shraya publicly voices the internal dialogue between who they know they are and who society dictates they are: “ You know we outta be no one else / but they keep showin us someone else.” The transphobia experienced by members of the transgender community is often overlooked in favour of the more marketable, click-bait worthy narrative (think Caitlyn Jenner). This is not to say that the destination is not worth celebrating, but the real masterstroke to Part-Time Woman is that Shraya sheds just as much–if not more–light on the journey to self-acceptance and the toll it takes on the psyche.
In the midst of writing this piece and repeatedly listening to Part-Time Woman, LCD Soundsystem’s Gavin Russom came out as transgender and publicly shared her story. Russom says “I have spoken publicly about trans rights previous to my transition, and if anybody would have asked me, ‘Do you think a trans woman can be a synthesizer technician’ I would have said absolutely—a trans woman can do anything she wants. But I noticed as I started transitioning, there [was] all of this internalized transphobia and all kinds of other garbage that I actually carried with me… I think it’s a similar thing to racism. I’ve had a lot of experiences that have helped me overcome this culture’s racist programming, but it’s still in there. I don’t want it to be—I find it abhorrent. But the reality is I do work on it every day.”
It’s been awhile since I went through my own coming out, and my memories of the journey are most likely influenced by where I am now in the present: living with my partner, open with family and friends, living a generally happy life. I have privilege that Shraya, Nef, and Russom are not afforded, but I do recognize the internal phobia, and like Russom, I also have to work on it every day. I empathize with the struggle to overcome cultural programming even though I cannot even begin to fathom the fraught journey that’s brought them to where they are today.
I’m not trying to make a direct comparison, I just recognize the struggle. It’s a connection to my own lived experience that helps me to understand the lived experience of another person. In a recent CBC interview, Shraya notes that Part-Time Woman is a series of connections and conversations she’s had, with individuals and with herself, that have shaped the narrative of her journey. From “Sweetie”’s solitary piano notes to the swelling strings of the record’s title track, culminating with the orchestral, anthemic reprise of Shraya’s 2016 single “Girl, It’s Your Time”, Part-Time Woman is an undeniably powerful music trip. Backed by The Queer Songbook Orchestra and Choir Choir Choir, Shraya and producer James Bunton have added a vital voice in the ongoing conversation about trans rights and human dignity.
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