The mandate of VS Books doesn’t specify a genre, form, or style. Vivek says she is “looking for writers that take risks, and for unpredictable stories.” Perhaps these writers will also embody a part of the imprint’s name: V.S. stands for the initials of Vivek Shraya, but Brian Lam, the publisher at Arsenal, also noted the way V.S. creates the double entendre of “versus,” which implies pushing against the norm.
Essentially, our culture is terrified of any gray area. Any ambiguity is threatening and uncomfortable, and consequently, many of us are not allowed to live the way we should be allowed to. This includes people within queer and trans communities that have these very defined ideas of what “gay” looks like and what “queer” looks like and what even “trans” looks like. I feel a responsibility to complicate those narratives. Circling back to the album, calling it Part Time Woman felt like a gesture in complicating this idea of womanhood.
Part-Time Woman is a deep and tender dive into that place of internal struggle and slow metamorphosis – giving lie to the misconception that pop music, Shraya’s chosen genre, is necessarily shallow or superficial. Shraya’s crooning vocals, set to the backdrop of original compositions performed by Toronto’s Queer Songbook Orchestra, ponder the meaning of “woman” and the experiences of those whose right to the word is contested terrain. In its six brief tracks, the album covers an impressive amount of thematic and musical ground; tracing an emotional arc from the balladic disappointment of “SWEETIE” and “I’M AFRAID OF MEN” which excavate the hypocrisy of the male gaze, through the contemplative longing of the titular number “PART-TIME WOMAN,” to the triumph of “BROWN GIRLS” and the final track “GIRL IT’S YOUR TIME” (a 1960s send-up which Shraya jokingly refers to as “the selfie of the album”).
Full review and conversation about Part-Time Woman with Kai Cheng Thom here.
I started thinking about 90s feminist albums or feminist artists who really impacted me, like Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow, and Fiona Apple. These are women who were, of course, singing about love and heartbreak and were also singing about abortion, miscarriage, and sexual violence, and I felt I owed a debt to them. Even though I wasn’t identifying as a girl back then, I learned so much. I was wondering how I could contribute to this legacy of feminist music, but from a trans, racialized lens, as a gesture of repayment and owning the distinction of my own experiences.