Alok Vaid-Menon says their aunt, famed lesbian activist Urvashi Vaid, was their first queer protector.
“Having an openly queer person in my family changed everything and made it possible for me to do the work I do today,” Alok says. “Urvashi was my first queer protector.”
Alok – who identifies as gender non-conforming and transfeminine – is a writer, comedian, and performance artist who raises issues of gender politics, race, and trauma. In 2017, Alok released their first collection of poetry, “Femme in Public”, a meditation on harassment of trans females.
They appeared on the podcast “The Man Enough” last year and discussed the issues with the gender binary and how people can fight against it.
The gender binary is an issue that Alok addresses in their tour of live shows. They will tour Europe in July, August, and October before returning to the US.
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Growing up in College Station, Texas, Alok was bullied for their race and gender expression, experiences they describe as “terrible” and “tough.”
Vaid visited the family many times and gave Alok emotional support and guidance from one queer person to another.
Vaid, who died of cancer last month, had a lasting impact on Alok.
“I learned from an early age that patriarchy was a thing. I learned that homophobia was a thing. I learned that people could love regardless of gender,” says Alok.
“Urvashi always bought clothes for me and income my artistry and creative session.
“I’ve always known that even when I was bullied or harassed, some people were called activists and didn’t accept that. That was important, says Alok.
“I knew that what I was going through was not permanent. I knew there was a way to change society. I knew people like me somewhere in the world,” says Alok. “From a young age, I had the opportunity.”
In an interview with Q Voice News, 30-year-old Alok talks about being on the road with their tour, observing toxic masculinity in comedy, and confronting the gender binary.
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The tour: ‘Let’s go big.’
“I’ve wanted this for so long. I told my agents, I was like, let’s go big. Let’s do as much as possible. I’m going worldwide, which I’m very excited about.
“What made the pandemic so difficult for me as a performing artist is that I truly believe in the preciousness and sanctity of live art. It can’t be replicated even if you have videos or photos. It’s the ultimate. You must have been there to experience it.
“It means so much to me spiritually and personally that I can fully show my heart when performing.”
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Why the tour is important
“It’s been difficult and difficult for people like me,” Alok says. “In 2022, we will see more anti-trans legislation than ever in US history. Transgender people are used as scapegoats to get cheap shots for political and financial gain.
“We’ve just been knocked down repeatedly,” Alok says. “I feel a deep need to respond to time in multiple ways. First, to provide my community with a safe space to laugh and feel joy and celebration amid so much invalidity and rejection.
“And then two, artful, poetic, and comic, show how absurd it is for people to come for us,” says Alok. “Comedy offers a unique way to do that because for so long, people like me, who are not gender-matched, were seen as a joke just because they existed.
“But the real joke is how much money, time, and energy people put into dividing billions of complex souls into one of the two genders. That, to me, is the farce’, says Alok. “What I’m excited about in this show is that inversion of showing; you think I’m the joke; look at yourself.”
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Toxic masculinity in comedy
“I have this line in my set where I say there’s a real crisis in this country, and they’re not trans people in bathrooms. They are men in comedy. We need to protect jokes from men in pants.
“It now seems like a fever pitch where so many patriarchs face the aging of their hegemony and in their dying breath. They cling to everything they can to fix it.
“It’s funny. It’s funny how desperate they are to stay relevant. It’s funny how pathetic their jokes are because they’re no longer funny. It’s not humor anymore,” says Alok.
“What an exciting time it is to be a queer comedian. We have, and have in the past, reinvented this genre and made it relevant time and time again.”
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Pushback they heard about non-binary gender.
“It doesn’t surprise me because of all my reactions against myself,” Alok says. “This often frustrates me about contemporary LGBTQ politics. LGBTQ people pretend we were born proud. And actually, I had so much self-loathing, self-rejection, and self-loathing.
“I had to do the work. I had to work on myself to become proud, a process that will last my whole life,” says Alok. “In my own life, I’ve seen how I’ve gone from being so self-loathing and self-defeating and self-denying to so brazen and blatant that I believe transformation is possible.”
Responding to the hostility: ‘It’s not really about me.’
“When faced with such outright hostility, I know it’s not really about me. It’s about people’s relationships with themselves,” says Alok. “They have curtailed their freedom. They have suppressed their peculiarity. They have done away with their dignity for sympathy.
“If they see people living in freedom, they will retaliate. It is easier to demonize me than to reckon with the heartbreak. The only way their love has been shown depends greatly on their disappearance. They are literally under so much pressure.
Confronting Gender Binary: ‘This Is About Everyone
“What empo is that people realize that gender norms are ridiculous and are looking for a new vocabulary to describe it.
“This is about everyone. I would very much like to see the adoption of the binary gender concept as a universal concern,” says Alok. “People still believe that when I say I want a world without binary gender, I want a world without men and women, and that’s not true.
“I have to constantly clarify to say, no, it’s a world where you can choose to be a man or a woman. A world beyond the gender binary is one where people can determine their genders. It’s about challenging a society that genders people without their consent.
“That’s the missing link. My concern for the future of gender politics is how we pay attention to the disproportionate violence facing trans and non-binary people but understand that within the artistic resistance of trans and non-binary people lies the creation of a world that everyone will help.
“It’s going to be a world where we have undefined masculinity and femininity so that people finally have the space to write it for themselves. What does it mean to you to be a man? What does it mean to you to be a woman?”
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Q Voice News is a digital news magazine that brings LGBTQ news out of the closet. It serves the LGBTQ community in Los Angeles and beyond.