This week, I was asked to read at Converge, an annual event about creativity and queerness held at Ursula Franklin Academy in Toronto. The audience is mostly queer and queer positive high school students, a few teachers, and the 45 or so invited adult presenters. It was a terrific day, just like going to queer art camp, a day that made me wish that such a school and conference had existed in the ’70’s Whitby suburb where I grew up.
The main question posed to the invited artists was about the connections between queerness and creativity. I ruminated over the question all week, finding that it was a difficult one to answer. It’s hard to untangle one aspect of identity from another and to figure out its specific impact on writing. Here’s the answer I came up with for now:
For me, my identity path started with coming out as a feminist, then I acknowleded my South Asian-ness, then my queerness and then my Muslim identity (not that all of these aspects of identity are always settled, or completely clear to me–it’s a work in progress). And when I look back at my writing over the years, that’s what I was writing about, these various “coming out” journeys. Perhaps writing helped me stretch into those identities, to come to terms with them, and to begin the long process of unpacking the bags of internalized oppression that each brought, the sexism, the racism, the homophobia and islamophobia..
My family’s immigration journey also played a significant role in how my writing unfolded. I think the experience of immigration is a difficult and fearful one. Expectations turn to the future, to the success of children. It’s an insecure existence, learning how to live in a new country without roots, roots that eventually, after a generation or two, start to form a safety net. My family’s narrative for success goes something like this: get a good career, settle down have a family, buy a house, have a secure life. Security is important. So, needless to say, a writing life was not encouraged in me at a young age. Writing isn’t what one would can an affluence-buidling career. It wasn’t until I’d played out most of my family’s immigrant and class narratives that I could get down to being more of a writer. By then, I had a career, I’d bought a condo, was in a committed relationship with my girlfriend (not exactly the settling down that was envisioned, perhaps), and I was firmly middle class. I sometmes wonder if my writing path would have been different had my family not been immigrants, if they had been here for several generations, and if dreams and success didn’t fall so heavily on future generations.
I heard other Converge speakers talk about how difficult it is to talk about queerness and creativity separate from race, gender, and other aspects of identity. Perhaps one thing that that draws together these identitities and influences my writing is that I haven’t read enough novels that speak to who I am. And this is probably why I write characters like Nasreen, Salma and Shaffiq, characters of colour, who are queer, who are immigrants. Characters with identities that converge to create stories that are interesting to me.