*FINALIST FOR THE CITY OF CALGARY W.O. MITCHELL BOOK PRIZE*
“A deeply generous and honest gift to the world.” — Elliot Page
The author of I’m Afraid of Men lets readers in on the secrets to a life of reinvention.
Vivek Shraya knows this to be people change. We change our haircuts and our outfits and our minds. We change names, titles, labels. We attempt to blend in or to stand out. We outgrow relationships, we abandon dreams for new ones, we start fresh. We seize control of our stories. We make resolutions.
In fact, nobody knows this better than Vivek, who’s made a career of embracing many artist, performer, musician, writer, model, teacher. In People Change , she reflects on the origins of this impulse, tracing it to childhood influences from Hinduism to Madonna. What emerges is a meditation on change why we fear it, why we’re drawn to it, what motivates us to change, and what traps us in place.
At a time when we’re especially contemplating who we want to be, this slim and stylish handbook is an essential companion—a guide to celebrating our many selves and the inspiration to discover who we’ll become next.
Vivek Shraya is an artist whose body of work crosses the boundaries of music, literature, visual art, theatre, and film. She is the author of The Subtweet, Death Threat, even this page is white, The Boy & The Bindi, She of the Mountains, and God Loves Hair; and her best-selling I’m Afraid of Men was heralded by Vanity Fair as “cultural rocket fuel”. She is one half of the music duo Too Attached, founder of the publishing imprint VS. Books, and an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Calgary.
A very readable, thought-provoking book of essays that I gobbled up this morning. This is a short book but Shraya covers a lot of ground discussing change, reinvention, and fluidity through referencing fashion, trans identity, Sai Baba, Madonna, her own artistic practices in multiple mediums, bisexuality, friendships, divorce, her relationships with her parents, and more.
I particularly loved reading her thoughts on friendships and their intersection with your changing self after her fascinating investigation of that theme in her novel The Subtweet. It made me think of some growing pains I've had in longterm friendships where the person I or my friend was growing into was very different than when we'd established the friendship.
Shraya's writing on trans identity reminded me of Meredith Talusan's memoir Fairest, which also resists mainstream, simplified narratives about trans identities and finally arriving at an inevitable true self. If you like People Change, read Talusan or vice versa!
Not to go all academic and talk about Foucault, but her writing made me think of his work in The History of Sexuality which pinpoints the "invention" of the homosexual not as a site of proud self-identification but as a means to box in and control. Queer as a noun is a lot less slippery than queer as a verb.
I found it hard to read at longer intervals because I wanted to record so many passages! Here are some favourites:
"There's nothing more frightening than fluidity. At some point when the individual 'chooses' an identity in defiance (even rejecting identities is a kind of identity), we're then gaslit through arguments for the need to eradicate labels because 'we're all human.'"
"Like when newly gay friends state they weren't actually attracted to their previous opposite-sex lover or partner. This might be a genuine assertion, but even in queer communities there's pressure to deny bisexual attraction, or rather, bisexuality is commonly read as still being in the closet... how often do we embrace the narrative of a true self because it's expected of us? No one advises you to 'be yourselves.'"
"Seizing the moment has been less about embracing the present and more about understanding that I am not entitled to a future. None of us are."
"Our ideal self is actually holding us back, not propelling us forward."
"Reinvention requires both a kind of death and a desire to keep living."
"Let this book be a new prayer. One to rewrite the old ones, one for more growth, for more change."
A long-form personal essay about embracing change and how we evolve into our future selves. I most loved Vivek Shraya’s confident writing voice, especially as a trans woman of color. She integrates analysis of popstars like Madonna, commentary on Indian culture, and reflections on her personal life in powerful ways. I liked her honesty about her struggles growing up as well as her consistent themes of self-compassion and self-acceptance throughout this book.
Toward the middle and the end of People Change though, I felt that her writing got more abstract and based on broader platitudes without a grounding in deeper analysis of pop culture or herself. I also thought at times desired more from the logic of the book. For example, Shraya writes about how we judge people, especially femmes, who change themselves using things like Instagram filters, and then she critiques that judgement because of how change can be powerful in and of itself. While Shraya does critique the pressure on femmes to look thinner and whiter, I thought at times her core message of “embrace change” ignored the ways that marginalized people are taught to try to change themselves to fit dominant beauty standards and cultural standards of patriarchy and white supremacy – in those instances I would argue that change is indeed harmful. I found it odd that she did not delve deeper into this given her past film, Seeking Single White Male, that is all about internalized racism. Overall, a quick read with some thoughtful ideas.
vivek shraya's writing is, as always, so compulsively readable and resonant. i didn't know it when i started it, but i picked up this book at a time when i really needed its words and wisdom - so many parts of this extended essay touched a soft space in me.
i found people change to be eloquent and open and affirming, and i especially appreciated shraya's writings on friendships changing, on the limitations of identity labels, and on accepting the fluidity and multiplicity - and contradictions - of our changing selves.
Slim and enjoyable, this is not a hard-hitting examination of change but an attempt to consider it from a few angles. I particularly enjoyed Shraya's consideration of identity with respect to transition and creating art.
Short and sweet meditation on the ways in which society forces binaries. In art, gender, heck, just about everything. Whereas people reinvent themselves all the time. They code switch, they go through phases, they have less or more time available, their interests shift. Many of the things discussed I resonated with and I think are approached very thoughtfully.
I loved the flow of this long form essay; it challenged me to reflect on my own relationship with change. I think Shraya poses many interesting ideas about friendship and I re-read a lot of those pages trying to understand my own position.
Reading this book was like having a really lovely counselling session. It was full of so many great musings on life. I particularly loved her discussion on living with multiple truths and contemplating why we confine ourselves and our relationships in such tiny spaces. Shraya comes back to this a few times in the book in different ways. I also appreciated her thoughts on labelling:
'Perhaps I might have explicitly chosen to identify as 'non-binary' had it been a more prevalent term then. But it now seems foolish that I thought I could sagely express my femininity without adopting a formal identity.
'Identity levels can be invaluable as a means to self-actualize and connect with community. They're also crucial in naming inequalities. But if the question is 'What comes first: self-identification or oppression?' my experience has been the latter. Othering often beings with labelling. My labels are often acquired as a response to being labelled, given to myself never out of real choice but always as an act of reclaiming.'
What a lovely little book! As I neared the end, I wanted this to be about twice as long, and I think Shraya could have done that easily. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this read. Also has one of the coolest acknowledgement lists I've seen in a while. Shraya is a very cool person and she has some very cool people in her life.
Mid. Catastrophe is the mother of reinvention but we can also be the catalyst for our reinvention? Change is essential in the desperate chase for growth and the constant reminder that there is more to life than what society projects and bounds us to. Whether it be your pronouns or faith, change requires the reevaluation and shedding of a skin that you were once too comfortable in. The author serves a perspective where the reader can only agree with her prayer for more life. A life where you are not desperately living but one where you are conscious, aware and receptive. A life where shifts are welcome, eras are encouraged, and who you were before is an unreachable maybe untraceable memory.
Here’s a book of feelings and expression I know too well and never really thought could be put into words. “We’re vast and immeasurable,” Shraya writes. “When you consider all the people you’ve been this year, this past decade, this life, can you easily pinpoint which self was most true? Most authentic?” Truly a read I needed at this point in my life.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
i believe that shraya’s personal connection to hinduism and how that coincides with her identity is a very valuable perspective, and it is certainly not one that is commonly discussed. her stories and lessons made me think about my own experiences, which i can really appreciate. i read this book in one sitting, though alternatively, one may perhaps choose to spread it out over a period of a few nights.
In People Change, Vivek Shraya discusses what it means to reinvent yourself and grow. This essay covers a lot of situations in which growth can occur— in friendships, romantic relationships, aging, coming out, within careers, with art, and even with learning to be more socially conscious. Throughout these situations she focuses on why growth is a good thing and considers why society perceives it as a negative thing.
I thought this was a really interesting meditation on change and reinvention. It was a welcome way to think about the world, and aligned with how I think about my own growth. There are a lot of points I love in this book, but I especially love how Shraya emphasizes fully embracing all of our identities. Many of us may have a picture of our ideal self in our head, something we strive for and we think it will make us happy once we are that version of ourselves. But Shraya argues that there is no ideal self, because everything we experience and all of our desires for our future are a part of who we are. All of the versions of ourselves are valid. If you achieve your ideal self, then what? What comes next? It’s not possible to stay the same, we are always going to change. And Shraya’s main message is that we should appreciate and embrace it.
This is a thought provoking and interesting book. If you enjoyed Shraya’s other essay “I’m Afraid of Men,” I think you’ll enjoy this one too! Make sure you check the content warnings before you read it.
Shraya is a fantastic writer and this series of books (not sure if it's an official series, but I view this as a spiritual successor to I'm Afraid of Men) is so impactful. She takes things that you'd assumed and flips it and makes you question everything. This book in particular takes a look at identity and challenges a lot of your assumptions. Her books stick with me long after reading them. They're super short, and I'm not sure the reading experience is the best, but the audiobook is a great way to spend an afternoon.
This was a curious, tiny book. More like a stream of consciousness conversation with Shraya than anything else for me. I read it on a day I was feeling listless, and several passages stopped me in my tracks. An interesting perspective on change. I liked it a lot.
I love love Vivek’s angle of activism. She says such simple ideas that make you go wait, hang on, that’s profound. I want to underline the entire book and I never want to write in books. We change a lot in our lives but this change is often labeled with either inaccurate or negative ways — mostly invalidating who you were before that change. Vivek challenges these norms and forces us to examine change, what it means for ourselves and how other people interpret it.
About a year ago I reviewed a work of fiction called The Subtweet by multi-disciplinary artist Vivek Shraya, and along with many other critics I really enjoyed it, so I was excited when another one of her books People Change landed on my doorstep a few months ago. Unlike Subtweet, this is a short work of non-fiction, only 100 pages long. It’s a small taste of a big subject – people changing, how they change and why they change. Tens of thousands of books will never be able to fully cover this topic, but I appreciated the entry that Shraya offers us in this bright and reassuring read.
Broken up into approximately five sections, the book begins with a brief introduction to the Hindu guru known as Sathya Sai Baba, and the Hindu beliefs around reinvention – this quickly transitions into another guru of reinvention we are all familiar with: Madonna. Shraya’s view of these two people ultimately shaped her craving to reinvent herself, which follows the thread to her future artistic reincarnations and the many versions of herself that she will pursue as she ages. She touches upon her transitioning into presenting as a woman, her many stages and platforms as an artist, the way previous romantic partners have shaped her current long-term relationship, her father and his shifting attitude to parenthood, and many other examples of people changing in her life. She also analyzes the contradictory way our society views change; some embrace it, while other are suspicious of it. For those who are questioning their gender, this change is especially fraught by the expectations of others, which is a subject Shraya can offer valuable insight into – most interesting are the complaints and questions that supposed ‘allies’ confront her with.
For those who aren’t familiar with this highly lauded Canadian artist, it’s important to note that (from what I understand) Shraya is a trans woman who presents as female, but has not undergone any physical surgery, so the concept of people changing is one she is intimately familiar with. Perhaps it’s because she lives in Calgary and has done quite a few high-profile projects lately, but I would assume she is one of the most recognizable trans people in our country, and her popularity keeps growing, mainly due to her incredible output – she is one of the hardest working people in the entertainment and artistic industries. This book, just one of many, is another example of how successful she is, but also how desperate we are for voices like this; voices like hers that are typically marginalized are now being given a platform (at least in Canada), for which I am grateful, of course there is always more work to be done in this arena; trans voices and representations are still very much relegated to the sidelines.
Above I refer to this book as bright – and I stand by this description, as I found her thoughts on change to be comforting – she is reassuring us of the importance and beauty of change. But I do want to mention that for many, including Shraya, this change can blossom from a very dark place; within the first few pages of the book she admits to suicidal thoughts, and was bullied for presenting as queer in her teenage years. But as much as this book is about her, it’s also about change in general. One of the most interesting quotes describes her feelings around Halloween, a holiday (and the one time of year) where changing our dress is encouraged and celebrated:
“I’m eager to observe how transposing someone else’s aesthetic onto mine creates someone new. This is why Halloween makes me uncomfortable: the intention behind dressing up is to scare (or for jest). Why must transformation be monstrous and frightening, or something to be laughed at, instead of an opening for self-discovery?”
-p. 23 of People Change by Vivek Shraya She also uses examples from other aspects of our life to demonstrate the importance of change by addressing the way our personalities can shift and transform when we create new friendships. The inclusion of new friends into our lives can change us in a way too; introduce us to new activities and uncover a side of ourselves we never thought possible. I simply appreciated the very open and thoughtful way Shraya addressed this topic in the book, and it makes me want to seek out more of her non-fiction for this very reason.
A gift from my sister, who shares the hell of the constant conquest of self-actualization. Thank goodness someone wrote a book that is able to verbalize how much our world constantly pressures us to “live our truth” or “be our true selves” as if anyone knows what the f*ck that even means or how to do it.
“I have since clung to this advice and tried to extend it beyond my relationships, because it subtly acknowledges that truth changes” (!!!)
The thing with trying to find yourself, or be the best you!!!is that you’re ultimately trying to change. But change won’t always be positive or move you forward. But it’s still an experience, you’re creating a version of yourself that is just as true as the version of yourself you’ll be tomorrow or in 50 years. The truth changes. If I can remember and accept that each version of myself is just as me as this “ideal Allie” that I’m constantly aspiring to be, then maybe I might already be that person?
I devoured this book. It was truly incredible, and I agree with the quote from Elliott Page on the cover it is truly “a deeply generous and honest gift to the world.” As someone on the constant quest for self-improvement or reaching a true or idealized self, this book brought me so much wisdom I didn’t know I needed. I picked this book up to read on my train ride home from Toronto and listened to landslide once I finished it, which is very fitting. There is so much to take away from this book. I loved how Shraya speaks about relationships, including both friendship and romantic. This is a must-read that I think will bring people a lot of comfort and appreciation towards the way we change or reinvent ourselves throughout our lives. I will return to this it is now a sacred text in my library, and I have a newfound appreciation for the multiplicity of myself 💖💖💖💖💖💖💖
I may need to read this one a couple more times to fully process it, even though I read about 25 paragraphs out loud to Chris for impromptu analysis..
Change is such a constant and in some ways, I’m a natural embracer and adapter. I want to be and do so many things and change is the only way I see myself being all of that. The meditation on multiplicity of identity really spoke to me, and was very validating. I’ve always been forcing myself to make choices in my life and career so I can work towards the very narrow societal expectation of endurance and longevity, which has always felt constraining to me. I’ve called myself too ambitious, indecisive and a lot of other things, when I’m actually pretty certain about the diversity of my interests. This book showed me an alternative perspective that I want to take and explore more - that I can be all of my selves without one invalidating the other. That I can continue exploring and finding all my future identities, without invalidating the past..
I did not know of Vivek Shreya until I randomly picked this up, but I’m grateful and hopeful, so thank you for that!
I found myself agreeing with or nodding along to pretty much everything in this book. There is something about the tone that seems a little bit smug, or something to that effect? This was an interesting read… More of a series of pregnant thoughts with a couple of pie the one liners, that seem to transcend a bit into a string of rambles and truths someone has found for themselves, but it didn’t leave a lot of curiosity and its wake. But, I was really intrigued and interested in the idea of expressions of multiplicity, particularly how it relates to and informs trans identities. Definitely worth a read!
Short and sweet, but jam-packed with considerations for the advocacy of change when it comes to who we are. Change isn't such a bad thing, and in fact, it can be the thing that we choose to do with consistency. I'll be holding this one near to my heart as I continue to grow and change, not into my ideal self, but into the many versions of myself I will be.
Less a book than a personal essay in which the author talks about their own experiences as a trans person of color and their relationships with partners of different genders. Insightful and well spoken. An easy listen on audio. I personally found it a little indulgent but we definitely need more people speaking their truths so power to them.
Thank you Libro.fm for the ALC. It was fine. I struggled with parts that seemed to suggest that not wearing makeup was lazy, or that an authentic self is not possible because we are all many selves...ultimately it seemed like the thoughts oscillated between the need for change and openness, but then consistency is bad. Full disclosure I'm covid grumpy, so that could be colouring my interpretation.