Artivist Poem Essay: Studmavati

Interviews by saahil m. and curation by Q Chaghtai and curation also by Q.

For this month’s artivist feature, Brown boy had the honor of sitting down with W. Shayk, lovingly known as “Studmavati” to discuss his identity as a poet and as a well-known community organizer based in Toronto.

Scroll through to trace Studmavati’s direct thoughts on imposter syndrome, intersectional identification, occupying space, finding comfort and the importance of community, journeys and joy.

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Growing up, you always have that imposter syndrome because you have this idea of what a writer ought to be like. [Poetry] was something I didn’t necessarily want to identify with. I didn’t feel like I was well-read enough to take on writing in that way. So what I did for a year before I started sharing poetry publicly, I had an anonymous poetry account on Instagram. The moment you were aware [that] even one person you know, personally [has read your poetry] it shapes what your output is going to be.


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Whether we realize it or not, everything we do on social media is intentional. I come from a very traditional Muslim family, even though that wasn’t the entirety of my identity. It wasn’t so much about trying to pretend to be anyone else, but just being comfortable with revealing more of yourself.

And so I said, okay, instead of writing in private, why don’t I just start sharing? My writings as part of my social media, it is a part of who I am. I think we can’t make progress until we can embrace all of that.


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I think for me, what became a dual presence on social media was in my early years on Instagram, my reach was very much targeted at the queer brown community. On there, [they discovered me] because they were looking to connect with a queer brown person. They might not be necessarily interested in the writing, per se. I think my decision in those years was to be like, well, this is both me.


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My initial writings were very macro level, these universal nuggets of positivity that you can sort of just kind of apply onto anyone. As the years have gone by, I’ve become more comfortable. Like, it’s okay to share that you’re broken, it’s okay to share something that might not have a wide-reaching appeal, but might be very uniquely just your story.


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I had issues identifying with frankly—anything—I was very focused on wanting to sort of being mainstream and as neutral and as bland as I could. So liking anything was a challenge. Because I felt the less I identified with it, anything, the more I could be malleable to whatever I was required to be in a certain moment in that way.

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No matter how much you pretend to not be anything, you’re going to be something. Maybe your truth, in the end, will just be that you were the person who tried very hard to be nothing. And that’s not a very satisfying thing to sort of be at the end of the day.


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I grew up in South Africa, I went to college in Texas for a couple of years, came out of the closet, was shipped back to South Africa, and then we moved to Canada when I was about 24.

So I had this lust. Speaking—Hindi or Urdu with queer people—that was my fantasy when we moved to Toronto and I was fortunate to find those people. My close friends are all brown queers—Sri Lankan, Indian Pakistani—and so that was the biggest blessing for me.


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During my college years, I was part of a not-for-profit called ASAP—the Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention. So the sexual health organization had these support groups for queer and trans-identified brown [folks].

When the Haiti earthquakes happened, I was very sort of taken aback by all the effort that the gay [community] put into doing fundraisers for Haiti. Shortly after there were floods in Pakistan and about 20 million people were displaced, and there was radio silence. Understandably because Pakistan doesn’t have the greatest rep in queer circles. But that became that kind of critical juncture at which we thought, “Well, someone’s got to do something.”

We have access to these support groups, and we’re positioned in a South Asian not-for-profit. Why don’t we just put the word out, get a DJ and just do this one-time event. We raised $3,000. We thought we had done our civic duty and felt really good about it.

[Over time, it] kind of brewed to be like, why not just do this on the regular? So we had our first official Rangeela, the following pride in 2011. It’s the work we do with Rangeela. Nightlife has a certain connotation to it, and there’s this sort of association that you’re party people and whatnot. That’s something that I’m not ashamed of whatsoever.

I think it’s an important space and I’m very proud of being involved with it.

I was having a conversation with a close friend, the summer of 2018, and I said, “I don’t know why it is that people always just kind of perceive me to be a bit of a party boy.” And he said, “Well, have you looked at your social media? Like, it’s pictures of you partying all the time.” And I said, “but that’s not, that’s not necessarily who I am in real life.”


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One of the unfortunate realities that we contend with as queer brown folks, that our straight counterparts never have to contend with, is the fact that there are just entire parts of our lives that — whether required or not — just end up being hidden away from family.

I write about my mama, write about my dad. Beautiful stuff, that I’m proud of, but, they just don’t know that it exists online.


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The compulsion to come out is fairly reductive in my opinion because it’s never linear. It’s never clean cut. It’s never like, I tell you and now life is whatever it is. No, it isn’t. There are evaluations at every stage.

Coming out is a negotiation in every relationship. You are evaluating how much you can bend something before it snaps. And then you evaluate whether you are okay with it snapping or you’re okay with just keeping a somewhat bent kind of thing.

This always brings me back to the Dan Savage quote, that when you come out of the closet, uh, your parents go into it.


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By Brown boy

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The Futility of Trying to be ‘That Girl’

Social media has stretched a number of news headlines:

“Social media rots kids’ brains.”

“Social media is polarizing.”

Yet those most affected by social media ideals are the teenage users. Apps like Instagram and TikTok perpetuate an image of perfection that is captured in pictures and 30-second videos. As a result, many young women chase this expectation endlessly. “Her” personifies this perfection in an unattainable figure the narrator has always wished to be. These ideals deteriorate mental health, create body dysmorphia, promote a lack of self-esteem, and much more. Even so, social media is plagued by filters and editing—much of what we hope to achieve isn’t even real. Therefore, young women, much like the narrator of “Her,” strive for a reality that doesn’t even exist.

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When she walked into my life
Her smile took up two pages of description
In a YA novel.
My arms could wrap around her waist twice
If she ever let anyone get that close
Her hair whipped winds with effortless beach waves
And a hint of natural coconut
Clothing brands were created around her
“One Size Fits All” one size to fit the girl who has it all
With comments swarning in hourglasses
But when sharp teeth nip at her collar,
She could bite back biting back
And simply smirked with juicy apple lips
Red hearts and sympathy masking condescension
“My body doesn’t take away from the beauty of yours”
“We are all equal, we are all beautiful”
A sword she wields expertly
Snipping, changing,
Aphrodite in consistent perfection
Cutting remarks with sickly sweet syrup
And an innocent, lethal wink
When she walked into my life
She led my life.
My wardrobe winter trees
Barren, chopped in half
Unsuited for the holidays
Mirrors were refracted under in my gaze
Misaligned glass was the only explanation
For unsymmetrical features
And broken hands
Still I taped them fixed
Over and over
Poking, prodding
Hoping to mold stomach fat like wet clay
Defy gravity,
Move it upward
To chest
Instead of sagging beneath a belt on the last hole
In the spring
She would stir me awake at 2 AM
“You need to be me”
Lies spilled from her tongue but
Solidified, crystallized
Fabrication spelled dichotomy
And I drifted farther out to sea
When she walked out of my life,
I was drowning.
Reliance had me capsized
Others witnessed
Furrowed brows and glances away
Like spectators of a shark attack
They can watch but the damage is done
They clung to my mangled pieces
Gravestones spelled
But I was mourning too
Today I looked back at my mirror
But glass turned into prism
Broken pieces rainbow
Colors coating clothes
She didn’t pick
Perception changing
She wasn’t perfect
Just lost at sea

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By Kashvi Ramani

Kashvi Ramani is a writer, actress, songwriter, and singer from Northern Virginia. She has been writing songs, poetry, scripts, and … Read more ›

Reflection Comes From Within, not From Others

“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.

I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.

We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!

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Confessions to a Moonless Sky

Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.

If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.

But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.

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By Umrao Shaan

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Moving on After Breaking up With Your Cat

“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.

Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.

[Read Related: Artivist Poem Essay-Studmavati]

Take what you want//Take everything

I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.

A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.

It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.

Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.

I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.

I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.

She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.

I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.

I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.

Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.

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By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›