Sibling electronic duo challenges expected narratives for trans people and People of Colour
“So, sister/brother duo, how’s that going?” Shamik Bilgi, one-half of the electronic music project Too Attached, asks. His sister Vivek Shraya laughs, leans into the mic and says, “Ask my therapist.”
Too Attached is really busy. They released their new album, Angry, this January, and there will be two new singles and videos before the year is done.
They’ve got a gig opening for Tanya Tagaq for Edmonton’s Up + Down Festival in October. They’re talking about a new album. Oh, and Shraya is on a book tour.
What was so remarkable about Too Attached’s Sept. 7 performance for the Uniter Speaker Series, produced along with Synonym Art Consultation’s Wall-to-Wall Mural + Culture Festival, Winnipeg Women’s and Gender Studies Student Association and The Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies, was that they didn’t talk about the media visibility, or how Vivek flew to the concert right after teaching a class at the University of Calgary or the band’s big plans.
Instead, they talked about us.
I felt this emphasis on the shared experienced we were having in the little theatre at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film in the band’s narration of their own mythology.
Too Attached is deeply rooted in family, tracing their origins to singing together as kids at religious gatherings in Edmonton and listening to their parents' music (“extensive Bollywood collections and a mix of Rod Stewart,” Shraya says with a laugh).
After becoming distant in their 20s, Shraya and Bilgi went on a family trip to India with their mother in 2013 and while there, made musical contributions to each others’ artistic projects. This led to their first EP, Bronze, in 2015. Too Attached is not just a sibling duo; it is an intricate network of family and cultural intimacies.
I felt it in the music.
“Rage of People of Colour is supposed to be put away,” Vivek says. “We were like, ‘let’s embrace our anger.’”
Bilgi describes Angry as a “political project with POC anthems from start to finish,” including vocal contributions from a “Women of Colour CanCon” chorus made up of Kamilah Apong, Casey Mecija, Jenny Mecija, Lido Pimienta, Ansley Sampson, Alanna Stuart and TiKA.
The album is a fun and ferocious electronic music manifesto against performative allyship (“Bare Minimum”), diversity tokenism (“Diversity”) and the demand marginalized communities must diminish themselves so society can feel comfortable (“Grateful”).
At one point during the concert, backed simply by Bilgi’s beatboxing, Shraya sung an unreleased poem made up of lines from songs by Black women in the music industry. All of these voices and relationships were brought into the space with us.
I felt it in the excerpt from her new book, I’m Afraid of Men, that Shraya spoke to us, alone on-stage.
“I’m afraid of men, because it was men who taught me to fear,” she said, inviting us into the experiences of isolation and anxiety that have characterized so much of her life as a trans woman.
This space was one of empowerment, but it was also one where the intricacies of suffering and desire as trans and gender-nonconforming people could be articulated, and we could witness each other and ourselves in our sadness and our fear.
I felt it in Too Attached’s interactions with each other. Bilgi’s first words to Shraya were “how are you doing?” to which Shraya replied, “I’ve taught him the lesbian art of the check-in.” The band was present with each other.
Most of all, I felt it in the band’s interactions with us. We were asked how we were doing, not to hype us up or request that we perform what an audience ‘should be,’ but as if a space was being opened to feel what we were actually feeling.
I’ve been noticing something as a recently out non-binary trans person with quite femme-leaning tendencies. I’ve noticed that, as trans people, we are expected to conjure our own visibility, to create narratives in which we are self-made individuals rising above culture, in which we are allowed to speak our suffering but not our fun, in which our loneliness is fetishized as courage, in which we are expected to accept whatever support – emotional, sexual, political – we can get with humble gratitude.
At a time when Too Attached is negotiating visibility and publicity to an unprecedented degree, it would be all too easy to make the trans success story we’re supposed to want: we’ve finally broken into the culture, we’re finally getting our turn with the keys to the kingdom, we’re finally all valid, like coupons.
Too Attached felt extraordinary in their insistence that I deserve more than permission for my identity: I deserve to be known in my entirety, to be compensated for my labour, to live without fear.
Too Attached opens a space in which I might desire the complexity of intimacy, might learn to speak of the ways that my becoming is inconceivable without community, the ways it always already exists in proximity to others.
The tragedy that Angry and I’m Afraid of Men articulate is that this proximity is so often non-consensual, that I am over-determined in my ideations and expressions of gender by the violence of others, that I so often don’t get a choice about who touches my body or my being.
The radical possibility that I feel in Too Attached’s work is that I might embark on my journey of becoming together with others, that I don’t have to pretend we made myself out of nothing.
When Shraya looks into the blank space where I sit, in the dark, and says, “I see you,” she is affirming that we have a relationship, that in this space between us we might, possibly, impossibly, carve a space where I could exist, declaring my joy in public, rewriting the rules of gender in the image of our desire, holding each other as we learn to heal.
At a time when the experiences as trans and gender-nonconforming people are constantly subject to the self-hatred, fear and anxiety of strangers, friends, family, institutions, lovers and legislation, affirming intimacy as resistance seems like a ridiculous proposal, but I also love it.
“So, sister/brother duo, how’s that going?”, Shamik Bilgi asks. “Ask my therapist,” answers Vivek Shraya as she grins, and we all laugh, because we know. We have no choice but to be in this together, and this is both a deep ache and enormous ecstasy. We’re all too attached to get this right. I don’t think I’d want it any other way.
Angry can be found on Apple Music, BandCamp, SoundCloud and Spotify. I’m Afraid of Men can be purchased at McNally Robinson.
Published in Volume 73, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 13, 2018)