Bilal Baig, the co-creator and lead actor of CBC’s acclaimed series Sort Of, is drawn to the unexpected. Their show, which was just renewed for a third season, eschews TV stereotypes with Baig’s character, Sabi Mehboob, by portraying a more nuanced representation of transness. “I’ve felt for a while that trans people, and particularly racialized trans people, aren’t really given the space to be slower or more contemplative or quiet,” they say. “We’re not always one hundred per cent ‘on’ and fabulous and flamboyant.”
Thanks to its refreshingly nuanced storytelling approach, Sort Of has resonated with audiences and critics. Since its initial release in October 2021, the series has accrued a long list of accolades, including three Canadian Screen Awards and a prestigious Peabody. Here, 10 things that keep Baig feeling inspired to continue pushing the envelope in the Canadian TV industry.
Baig was recently a guest on the Toronto-based podcast, which serves as a space for deep-dive discussions with queer and trans artists from BIPOC communities. Guided by host Umang Antariksh Sagar, episodes cover a range of topics including self-love, disability advocacy and grief. “Umang is gentle and intelligent, and the conversations feel organic, so I like listening to them as much as participating in them,” Baig says.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
“I cried multiple times reading this book. It made me feel a lot, and I was really grateful for that,” Baig says. The novel, which explores themes of love, race, class and masculinity, doesn’t follow a typical narrative structure, instead blending different genres and styles of writing. “They just kind of did their own thing, and I thought that was pretty inspirational.”
Because their job involves being on TV and promoting their show on social media, Baig says technology inevitably plays a big part in their working life. However, they actually feel most inspired when they’re offline. “I am from another time, I feel. Even though I’m a millennial, I have a pretty non-existent relationship with my phone.” Instead, they like to go for walks and be surrounded by nature whenever they can.
New York City
While visiting the metropolis to promote season two of Sort Of on HBO Max, where it streams for its U.S. audience, Baig was inspired by the busyness of the city. “There’s so much going on, and there’s so much character and culture,” they say,adding that strangers eagerly approached them with compliments about their work. “It was kind of enchanting and bracing, all at once. I like places that hold multitudes.”
Anthropologie’s Pilcro pants
Comfortable. Versatile. Structured, but not body-hugging. Baig says their closet is filled with variations of this style of loose, wide-leg pants, citing a particular penchant for the Pilcro collection by Anthropologie. “They’re cool and stylish but also practical and comfortable—you can move around in them, which is important when working on set,” they say.
“Comfort matters a lot to me, particularly in relation to being creative,” Baig says. They draw much of that comfort from their favourite foods, and say nostalgic Indian and Pakistani dishes from their childhood, like chicken biryani, help them feel at ease, and ground them to tap into creative inspiration.
Artwork by Harmeet Rehal
The Toronto artist’s creations have been a big part of Baig’s career journey—from the book cover for their play Acha Bacha in 2020, to the background set of Sort Of season one, to the pieces hanging in Baig’s Toronto condo. “I love their individuality,” they say. “They embrace lots of colours and shapes. I love how expressive their art is. It feels dreamy and intense.”
“Lift Me Up” by Rihanna
When the singer released her first single after six years in October Baig was creatively energized. “I spent the night listening to it on repeat, crying,” they say. “Rihanna’s voice is powerful.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s live streams
The American politician and activist is known for her lengthy Q&A–style live videos on Instagram where she tackles a variety of topics, from taxing the rich to climate change. “As soon as I get a notification about a new IG Live, I jump onto it to watch,” Baig says. “I love hearing people talk about what they care about.”
Baig works with Toronto non-profit organizations Story Planet and Paprika Festival, where they facilitate workshops for creative writing and literacy. “I think they do really amazing work in their specific communities. It inspires me to give back more.”