Excited About Everything: Serena Lukas Bhandar

Interview by 
Isabella Wang

A series in which Isabella is excited about everything that is happening at Growing Room 2019, so she sat down with some festival authors to hear about their work, and what events they are most excited to take part in. Learn more about the 2019 Growing Room festival by visiting our website, festival.roommagazine.com.

Serena Lukas Bhandar is a brown/queer/genderfluid essayist and collaborateur in decolonial transgressive art. Her writing comprises (in unequal parts): faction, mythopoeia, and solarpunk.

ROOM: Hello, Serena. I’m so glad to join you in this space, here. First of all, how are you? What have you been up to? I hear that you are currently working on a semi-autoethnographical novel, is that right?

SB: Hey Isabella! Happy to be here. I'm doing okay. Feeling an itch to get out of Victoria, so I'm pretty excited for Growing Room.

And yes, that is the current genre I'd put my novel in. It's a part-fact part-make-believe story about my attractions to (and trauma from) cis men in my life, and how the first guy I was ever attracted to drowned a few years ago. I've been calling it semi-autoethnographical because I've based major sections of it on my lived experience of growing up on settler-occupied Coast Salish territories as a trans woman of colour. But honestly you could throw a dart at a list of genres and whatever it hit would be pretty close but not quite right. I’m keen to chat with agents, publishers and other writers at Growing Room about its potential!

ROOM: Apart from being writer, workshop facilitator and writing consultant, you are also doing important work in the community. Tell me about your work with the Anti-Violence Project, the sexual assault support and resource centre of the University of Victoria, and the ways in which you are now able to call on those experiences and address them in your writing.

SB: So I do communications and organize events for the Anti-Violence Project, which means I'm regularly in touch with a bunch of cool folks doing this work across Turtle Island. One person I connected with last year was Nora Samaran, author of the viral article “The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture,” who ended up inviting me to collaborate with her on a chapter of her upcoming book, Turn This World Inside Out. It's not my first time appearing in print, I also had a short story published in an anthology last year, but it was my first time being solicited for a published work, which just felt so spectacular. Nora’s book explores how masculine-identified folks can do the work of nurturing their own and others’ masculinities in safe and healthy ways, and I was jazzed to bring my lived experience and knowledge to nuance the way we talk about trans masculinities and genders.

ROOM: As a young writer, I’m always interested to hear others’ stories. How did you come to writing? When did you know? Were there mentors that have had an influence on you? And, what are some of your hobbies outside of writing?

SB: Oh goddess, I can’t remember a time in my life that I wasn’t writing. Even before I could read, my mom would find me tucked in a corner at birthday parties flipping through magazines and novels, tracing my fingers over the page. I must have started (and abandoned) at least a dozen novels by the time I was 12. I got a chance to hone my craft in high school in a creative writing class taught by Patricia MacKay, and I also wrote and directed a one-act play through my school’s theatre department. These days, I have more peers than I do mentors, but some friends in my community that I’ve learned a lot from include Vivek Shraya, John Barton, Sophie Labelle, and Melanie Siebert.

As for hobbies, I’m not sure that I have any that don’t include an aspect of writing: I play Dungeons & Dragons with other queer folks, read tarot cards for friends and as part of a burgeoning professional practice, and devour a ton of slash fanfiction, which I feel is basically our generation’s harlequin romance.

ROOM: Speaking of mentors, you are also doing some far-reaching mentorship work yourself, with youth through The Trans Tipping Point Project. Would you like to take some time to reflect on that?

SB: Sure! I’ve mentored trans, two-spirit and non-binary youth through the Trans Tipping Point Project for a couple years now. The project is a series of weekend arts retreats that myself and other trans adults run for youth aged 10(ish) to 17. We’re based in Victoria, and we bring in youth and adult mentors from across Canada to attend. Last year we focused on creative writing, and helped the youth create a book of their writing that we’re currently shopping to publishers. This year, we’re focused on visual arts, and we’ve collaborated with the Maltwood Gallery at UVic to feature the youths’ artwork in April and then take the exhibit on tour.

All that spiel aside, I love the project. I’ve met so many rad trans adults and youth through it, and learned so much. As someone whose identities are not generally celebrated by mainstream society, I’ve struggled with internalized oppressive ideas that told me I wasn’t fit to be a parent. But working with youth through the project, and meeting trans adults who are parents, has completely changed my worldview around that. I couldn’t be happier.

ROOM: We have you featuring in several panels at Growing Room, including  “Cut to the Feeling: A Night of Queerotica”, “Transcendent: Writing & Surviving in a Cissexist Society,” and “Dream Me a Dream: Literary Futurisms.” But tell me, what are some other events that you are most keen on attending?

SB: I’m really excited for Invisible Womxn and On the Subject of Truth: Telling True Stories in Fiction and Nonfiction. I’m also definitely going to the Afternoon of Indigenous Brilliance on March 12th, since I sadly can’t make the full-day event on Saturday.

ROOM: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me, Serena. I’m so excited to have you for Growing Room 2019! 

Isabella Wang’s debut poetry chapbook is forthcoming with Baseline press in 2019. At 18, she is the youngest two-time finalist and writer shortlisted for The New Quarterly’s Edna Staebler Essay Contest. Her poetry and prose have appeared in over a dozen literary journals, and she holds a pushcart prize nomination in poetry. She studying English and World Literature at SFU, interning at Room Magazine, serving as the Youth Advocate for the BC Federation of Writers, and co-ordinating the bi-weekly Dead Poets Reading Series.

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