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Toronto trans artist’s deeply personal art honours mother

My story has always been bound to your prayer to have two boys.

Maybe it was because of the ways you felt weighed down as a young girl or the ways you felt you weighed down your mother by being a girl. Maybe it was because of the ways being a wife changed you. Maybe it was all of the above. So you prayed to a god you can’t remember for two sons and you got me. I was your first and I was soft. Did this ever disappoint you?

You had also prayed for me to look like dad, but you forgot to pray for the rest of me. It is strange that you would overlook this, as you have always said, “Be careful what you pray for.”

When I take off my clothes and look in the mirror, I see dad’s body, as you wished. But the rest of me has always wished to be you.

Artist Vivek Shraya recreates images of her mother in Trisha, an online art project on femininity and misogyny. The vintage photo is on the left, with the new scene featuring Shraya on the right. (Photos by Karen Campos Castillo)

I modelled myself – my gestures, my futures, how I love and rage – all after you. Did this worry you and dad? Did you have the kinds of conversations in bed that parents of genderqueer children on TV have, where the dad scolds the mom – “This is your fault”?

No one is to blame. Not you, not the god you prayed to. I was right to worship you. You worked full time, went to school part time, managed a home, raised two children who complained about frozen food and made fun of your accent, and cared for your family in India. Most days in my adult life, I can barely care for myself.

I remember finding a box of photos of you three years ago and being astonished, even hurt, by your joyfulness, your playfulness. I wish I had known this side of you, before Canada, marriage and motherhood stripped it from you, and us.

The vintage photo is on the left, with the new scene featuring Shraya on the right.

I learned to pray, too. My earliest prayers were to be released from my body, believing that this desire was devotion, this was about wanting to be closer to God.

I don’t believe in God anymore, but sometimes I still have the same prayer. Then I remind myself that the discomfort I feel is less about my body and more about what it means to be feminine in a world that is intent on crushing femininity in any form. Maybe I got my wish to be you after all.

You used to say that if you had a girl, you would have named her Trisha.

Vivek Shraya is a Toronto-based author and multidisciplinary artist. The full set of photos from the Trisha project can be seen at vivekshraya.com/trisha.

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