Alok Vaid Manon Interview Activist Artist Author
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Dany Niederhauser
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September 14, 2023
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Community Talks: A Heart-to-Heart interview with Alok Vaid-Menon

As Alok Vaid-Menon prepares to share their poetry and comedy during a monumental EU tour, they graciously took the time to address the burning questions posed by our community. Let me tell you, their responses were deeply moving, humble, and heartfelt. Catch Alok on stage in Zurich on September 23rd, or at any of their other European tour dates.

Ezra, Artist and Author : Could you share with us a significant moment of queer euphoria you have experienced?

Alok : Recently at my birthday party I had a table full of friends who have been there for me for years. I felt so proud, so elated, so lucky to be a part of this community. Growing up I was made to feel that if I expressed myself, I would lose everyone, but actually I’ve found the people I was meant to meet all along. That reminder -- that my queerness has helped me find real family -- brings me continual joy.

NYX, DJX and Artivistx : How do we care for our communities when we ourselves are feeling exhausted?

Alok: Sacrificing our wellbeing in community advocacy is ultimately detrimental to community advocacy, because we are part of the communities we are advocating for. It’s okay to tap out, to focus on rest and replenishment, to prioritize the slow and deliberate ritual of healing. Martyrdom and self-sacrifice – though often glorified – are not careful strategies of sustainability.

Loic Valley, Comedian and Artivist : Where do you envision the trajectory of gender heading in the next 5, 10, 50, and 100 years?Alok : With history as our guide, we can witness that we are re-entering a period of constriction of gender norms. In response to various instabilities, many are seeking refuge and comfort in the re-entrenchment of the gender binary: the idea that there is only one way to be a man and one way to be a woman, and that these ways of being are inherently oppositional. With history as our guide, we know that this ultimately will not work. That gender non-conforming people will find ways to survive and show the world that another way of being is possible. My hope is that this time the world will truly listen. And that a future beyond the gender binary, one where all people are able to express themselves on their own terms outside of the vice grip of gender norms, will be realized.

Lari Medewar, Co-Founder of Le Fessestival : As a person of color and non-binary transgender individual, I often find myself in situations where I can't discern whether the encounters I face on the street are rooted in racism or transphobia. I'm not even sure why I feel the need to understand what exactly disturbs them so much. Do you ever find yourself in similar moments, contemplating why these people react with hostility? Can you share your reflections on this?

Alok: So much of my work has been about that very question: why does me simply existing elicit so much antagonism? I have so many theories that feel right. But what feels even more devastating is that it doesn’t matter. I can’t explain my way out of the violence. That’s a trauma coping mechanism I developed as a young person to survive the bullying I experienced: Maybe if I know why people are treating me this way, I can convince them to stop? But increasingly I began to realize – I can’t make people stop harming me. In fact, that shouldn’t be my responsibility. It’s a profound shift, and something I’m still wrapping my head around what that means for me and how I show up in the world.

Lari Medewar : How do you feel when facing a non-queer and ally audience?

Alok : It’s hard to determine whether people are laughing at or with me. So often people think that gender non-conforming people like me are a joke simply for being. It’s hard to trust that people are engaging with my humor, not my humanity.

Deborah Abate, Head of Incubator at BØWIE : You are a true resource for many queer and gender non-conforming individuals on their journey of healing (of the soul, the body, in this society). What provides you with support?

Alok : One thing I’d like to shout out here is…books! I am constantly reading (or listening to audio books). Books provide me with so much comfort, and replenish my sense of possibility. I’ll be reading a novelist describe something and want to shout like “Yes! Absolutely this! This is exactly what it feels like!” And I feel this profound sense of connection like someone who I never met, who lived in a totally different world than me, feels the same way, gets it. I’m reminded of our fundamental interconnectedness, reminded that I’m part of something so much greater than myself. That really moves me and helps me continue to move in the world.

Deborah Abate : What would you say to someone who is searching but hasn't yet dared to accept themselves and reach out to their community or communities?

Alok : Perfection is the process, not the product. We each have our own journeys, our own timelines. Community will be there when you’re ready for it.

Do Aileen, Member of QueerBox : Are there things you've learned or experienced since writing your book "Beyond the Gender Binary" that you would retrospectively have liked to have added?

Alok : I wish I had added more about compassion: how it’s not enough to learn or understand the technicalities of gender if we don’t also educate our hearts. How important compassion is as a precursor and companion to comprehension.

Elo Member of Ekivock : What was the turning point for you to send love to your haters? What drove you to make that effort for them? And does this practice enable you to simply be?

Alok : When I started writing my first poetry book Femme in Public (2017) I’d sit down after being street harassed and write down what I wanted to say to the people who harassed me. I found myself writing about love. It was through those poems that I began to really learn how the gender binary harms everyone, recruits us into its shenanigans with the promise of a reward that never actually gets delivered. Through these poems I found myself releasing myself of resentment and bitterness, and being able to remain open, vulnerable, me. This practice has stayed with me since. People often think it’s about the other person, but I’d say it’s also about me. It’s about maintaining my internal peace, keeping my heart as the sanctuary that it is. Compassion has sustained my ability to keep going.

Linn Molineaux, Artist and Author : You’ve often mentioned how trans and gender non-conforming people are living in deep connection with their authenticity and that bringing your true self to the surface is a powerful act of self-love - in the queer community we are desperately lacking ancestors as they have been violently taken from us and their existences and stories hidden from us, making the path towards self-discovery for each new generation that much more sinuous. What do you wish you could say to people who are going through - and often stumbling through - this process of embracing their authentic selves?

Alok : All of us are stumbling through this awkward process of embracing our authentic selves. It’s not about a fixed destination, it’s continual. We never actually arrive – we continually approach. I think that’s what it means to be human on this earth. Is to spend our lives trying desperately to align with our purpose. To be human / is to try. So I would say have grace for yourself during this awkward ride. Find other humans to be human with, people to try and talk about how tough it is to try, with. Remain committed to the journey – no matter worth. Because it’s worth it.

Find your tickets for Alok's show directly on their website. Until the Zürich show, you can find Alok in one of the following city :

Sept 19: Madrid

Sept 20: Rotterdam

Sept 22: Berlin

Sept 23: Zurich

Sept 24: Basel (sold out)

Sept 25: Warsaw

Sept 26: Barcelona

Sept 27: Prague

Sept 28: Gothenburg

Sept 29: Porto

Sept 30: London

Oct 1: Reykjavik

Oct 10: Brighton

Oct 15: Belfast

Oct 16: Leeds (tickets live 9/15)

Oct 17: Manchester

Oct 18: Glasgow

Image courtesy of Mamadi Doumbouya

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