In this letter, educator Kim Katrin Milan writes to Vivek Shraya about how the author and singer has impacted the way she thinks about femme style rules.
Dear Vivek Shraya,
You and I first met working in Toronto's queer community. Back in 2013, we worked to co-curated an event at Buddies In Bad Times theatre called Resistance & Raunch, that explored slut-shaming and sexual violence. We've also performed at different readings together, and you even invited me to speak at George Brown College. It has been incredible to watch you blossom and support you over the years.
Seeing much of the work you've done first-hand, I've always been so impressed with all that you do, and the impact its had on the LGBTQ+ community; whether it's been through writing, speaking, or performing. And through it all, you always manage to look exquisite. You could be wearing an abstract, oversized T-shirt and make it look runway-worthy — and I'm not sure anyone else could rock a purple lip as well as you do.
But your style isn't just about vanity — the way you dress is impactful. And I want you to know the power the diversity of your style holds for our community, especially for those of us who are high femme, and haven't always felt like we've fit in. Over and over again, you prove that there's no right way to be feminine and no right way to be queer. Your presence, Vivek, has undeniably changed the game so for many people who look up to you, myself included.
Growing up, my mom didn't necessarily talk about loving traditionally feminine styles, but she always had on a bright skirt and red lipstick. She worked as a librarian, and would constantly bring home Vogue magazines that I loved to look through as a child. Aside from the glossy, it was through my grandmother that I got my first introduction to super feminine style. I remember she had this little powder puff she would carry in her purse, always wore beautiful statement earrings, dresses, and heels, and she had really long hair that she'd usually put in twists. Her presence definitely helped me to appreciate high femme style.
But it wasn't until I was around 14 years old when I started to articulate that I was queer. At that point, I never felt that I had to wear one thing and not the other — I was always very feminine. But the first time I went to a lesbian club, while I was at university in Montreal, I decided to wear a stretchy tank top and tights, which is considered to be a straight way to dress but I thought it was cute. Then, this girl, who was a lesbian, came up to me and asked if I was in the right place. When I told her, "Yes, I'm gay, I'm into women," she looked shocked — all because of how I was dressed.
Even in my other interactions in the queer community, I felt like my version of femininity wasn't always being taken seriously. That led to a period of time where I felt like I needed to change who I was to be accepted. So I shaved my head, and didn't really wear a lot of makeup for a little while. My appearance was a lot more serious, even though I've always I really loved an aesthetic that's all about acrylic nails, bright colors, and baby hairs. Eventually, I realized I wasn't being true to myself, so I went back to embracing my femme style.
But Vivek, as a brown woman, who is so unabashedly yourself, your style sends a strong message that folks like us that we do not have to fit into a single box when it comes to fashion; something that would have meant the world for me to see at that time in my life. Your representation shows both queer and cis hetero communities alike that rocking a high, curly ponytail, with hot pink biker shorts is just as feminine as wearing a shimmering red dress that shows off your divine chest hair.
You show the world that queer womanhood is not necessarily about ascribing to certain norms. Even on a personal level, I learned from you that I could be wearing a floral dress, still have arm, leg, or facial hair, and none of those things precluded me from being the who I am. Your presence is what helps our community understand that there's a possibility for hair — which I think is often associated with masculinity — to exist in any kind of gender spectrum, and that doesn't change anything about the person.
I'm intrigued by everything about your style when it comes to clothes, but your love of colors is my favorite part of your whole aesthetic. You wear so much shimmering gold, and bright, vibrant hues, which is totally my thing as a Caribbean girl. It's just so playful, but there's queerness to it. I really think that queer fashion in particular takes color, brightness, and texture to another level.
Of course, I can't finish this letter without talking about the glorious hair on your head. I've always really been into all the ways you've styled it. And I have to admit, at one point, I dyed my hair and got a ton of blonde highlights after seeing you with your pretty blonde hair.
Even though I had to grow out my highlights — the color just made my hair so dry — you've always reminded me to always go with more hues, more texture, and be to just be really expressive with my hair, and I'm going for it. One day I'm going to be very old, and I want to be able to look back at all the periods of time where I lived with blonde or purple hair, and having long waist-length braids. I want to be able to do all of it and really explore everything with my presentation. And you continue to inspire me by showing off a beautiful range of style, color, and evolution through your many looks.
The final words I want to write to you, Vivek are "Thank you." Thank you for wearing a bindi as much as you do, and also writing about it, too (my daughter loves your book The Boy and the Bindi). Thank you for being so willing to share so much of yourself, your style, and your vulnerably with so many people. And finally, thank you for showing so many other women like you in our community that we have the power to create femininity on our own terms. I hope you realize just how much your existence truly means to all of us.
Sending you eternal love,
Kim Katrin Milan
As told to Bustle's Fashion & Beauty Features Editor, Kayla Greaves