2 min

Farzana Doctor touring new novel

Therapist and activist turns novelist

Credit: Nicola Betts

An accomplished therapist, community activist and film producer, Farzana Doctor is adding novelist to her already impressive resume.

“I’m calling it a doomed love triangle of sorts,” Doctor tantalizingly says of her book Stealing Nazreen. Seven years in the making, what promises to be a pioneering portrayal of the queer immigrant experience was released this summer by Inanna Publications.

Doctor will stop in Ottawa Nov 30 for a reading at Collected Works.

Because of her demanding full-time job, Doctor didn’t envision creating a novel when she first put pen to paper. But as the story kept growing, this professional social worker soon turned into a full-fledged writer.

Still, Doctor doesn’t feel trapped between her literary world and the world in which she counsels people on issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and substance abuse. The two complement each other, she says, because social work demands a writer’s eye for the human detail — the way people move and talk — that makes a great story.

At the same time, writing gives Doctor a creative outlet for the realities that confront her in her work. In addition to her private practice, Doctor spends time as a consultant at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health training service providers to be aware of specific issues facing queer clients. She tries to combat widespread assumptions that addiction is somehow the result of queerness, shedding light on the homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia that puts added stress on people already dealing with illness.

Like the characters in her novel, Doctor wrestles with her converging identities as an immigrant lesbian of colour. Reflecting on the impossibility of separating one aspect of herself from another, Doctor says it’s hard to fit comfortably into mainstream queer or South Asian space. She feels most comfortable in an environment that has a combination of both.

“I couldn’t completely come out until I met South Asian dykes and was able to see ‘Oh, wow, South Asians can be dykes, too.’ That’s what helped me make the big click in my head when I was coming out. So I really needed various parts of my identity to be coming together,” she says.

A novel about a South Asian lesbian would have helped assemble that puzzle for Doctor as a young woman, and she hopes that her book might help others going through the same thing. Mostly, though, she just wants everyone who picks it up to have a good read.

Doctor’s creative output doesn’t stop at the printed word. As a member of Friday Night Productions, a queer South Asian video collective, Doctor co-produced a documentary that takes an intimate look at the lives of queer South Asians and their families. Rewriting The Script: A Loveletter to Our Families examines what relationships are like after someone comes out, providing a resource for parents with queer children. It has just been released on DVD.

Oh, and with the ink still wet on Stealing Nazreen, Doctor is already a third of the way through her second book. Asked for a sneak preview, she would reveal only that it is the story of middle-aged man who has made a “huge, awful mistake.” She won’t say what this colossal blunder was, of course, leaving us hanging until it rolls off the press. But despite remaining tight-lipped about her writing, Doctor has provided plenty of reason to believe that whatever she does next — in fiction or reality — will be something to watch out for.