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Daniel Pillai’s He/She Project Growing up in a traditional south Asian community in Canada, Daniel Pillai didn’t quite fit in. “There was an inherent non-acceptance to who I was and how I acted,” he says. “I stuck out like a sore thumb.” Pillai spent his childhood in what he calls a “conservative atmosphere,” surrounded by […]
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Daniel Pillai’s He/She Project
Growing up in a traditional south Asian community in Canada, Daniel Pillai didn’t quite fit in. “There was an inherent non-acceptance to who I was and how I acted,” he says. “I stuck out like a sore thumb.”
Pillai spent his childhood in what he calls a “conservative atmosphere,” surrounded by a largely south Asian and Indian community. There, his personality and mannerisms were viewed as feminine by members of his large family, and his love of Bollywood actresses was seen as abnormal. At school he was bullied and often disparagingly called a “he/she.”
Identity and Acceptance
“I internalized a lot of that bullying,” Pillai said in a recent conversation with Smart Gay Life. “I became shy and introverted.” While it is difficult to imagine Pillai, an entertainment journalist with almost 1,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, as “introverted,” he says the journey to be the person he is today was a long path toward self-acceptance and affirmation.
Daniel Pillai developed a new photography project that explores gender and sexuality while promoting self-acceptance and positivity. The “He/She” project, which pairs photographs of Pillai with inspirational quotes about self-love and empowerment, is Daniel’s way of showcasing how far he’s come in his journey toward self-acceptance and inspiring people who may be dealing with the same issues of rejection and bullying as he did growing up.
Becoming Your True Self
“I never had a role model growing up,” Pillai says. “There was no one to look at as a positive example.” His work on the He/She project presents Daniel with a unique opportunity to become that role model for the next generation.
“I hadn’t given much thought to having this responsibility before,” he says. “But being in the public eye, you end up affecting lives. You have influence. I didn’t realize that I could be that figure people look up to.”
The project is heavily informed by Pillai’s personal experiences, which may be why it’s struck such a chord with the public. “I’m always changing and being shaped by experiences, and I wanted the project to reflect that,” he says.
While one particular experience–being called names like “he/she” while growing up–influenced the project, Daniel is quick to note that bullying has gotten worse today. “Kids can be cruel. You used to be able to go home and escape it,” he says, “but now there’s online harassment and bullying on social media.”
By sharing his He/She Project with the world, Pillai hopes that young people who are feeling marginalized can begin the long and difficult journey toward self-love.
The Future of Daniel Pillai’s He/She Project
Initially, Daniel viewed the He/She Project as a short-term idea: he would take a few photos, pair them with inspirational quotes, and move on.
“It was my own personal healing and self-therapy,” he says. “It was a selfish project, but I decided to put it out there.”
In fact, Daniel nearly kept the project to himself in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. “After that happened, I became insecure,” he says. “I was worried that if I put the project out there, the people closest to me would be afraid of the consequences. It would make me vulnerable.”
Eventually, Daniel realized that his vulnerability and willingness to put himself out there was another part of the journey. “I realized there was bravery in vulnerability,” he says.
The response has been “overwhelming,” he says, and mostly positive. “People have reached out to me to tell me what the project has meant to them. I heard from one young South Asian man who said he had been shunned by his family and rejected, and the photographs helped him deal with those feelings.”
Journey to Empowerment
Now, he’s trying to figure out what the next steps will be for the He/She Project. So far, Daniel has made the book of photographs and quotes available as a PDF download on his website, and a video on his YouTube page takes viewers behind the scenes of the photo shoots.
“I’d like figure out a way to take the project beyond me,” Pillai says. “The book is a journey from bullying to empowerment, transforming the definition of ‘he/she’ from a derogatory phrase to a positive one.”
In hearing from fans of the photographs and video, Daniel has realized the project could do even more. “I’m so happy to hear from people I don’t know who tell me that the project has meant something to them.” While it’s not clear what form the next phase of the He/She Project will take, Daniel Pillai has already had a positive impact on hundreds of viewers.
We’re excited to see how he uses this project to continue to share the journey toward self-love and empowerment.
See the He/She Project book at www.danielpillai.com.