A Review of PEOPLE CHANGE by Vivek Shraya: “Our ideal self is actually holding us back, not propelling us forward.”

People Change is a very readable, thought-provoking book of essays that I gobbled up in one morning a few months ago. It’s 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, 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. It reminded me of 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. I am excited to see more work, fiction and nonfiction, investigating the complexities of friendship and taking it seriously as a relationship.

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 Shraya’s 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 this book 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.”

Have you read this book? Did Shraya’s writing and ideas strike a cord with you too? Let me know! And if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend it!

About CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature. She lives and works in the unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation (Nanaimo, BC). Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ2IA+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Autostraddle. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian. Some of her old reviews, especially the non-Canadian variety, can be found at the Lesbrary.
This entry was posted in Bisexual, Canadian, Non-Fiction, Queer, South Asian, Trans, Trans Feminine and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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