The emergence of individuals like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, as well as shows such as Transparent, are making it clear to an ever-growing number of people that gender is not a box that you have to chain yourself to for your entire life. Gender is fluid, and it is your decision — not that of parents, peers, doctors, or the marketing machine — which gender you want to identify with. In our new What’s Underneath, the trans-feminine Indian-American poet Alok Vaid-Menon dismantles not just this suffocating gender status quo, but Western society’s disturbing stereotypes about people with brown skin.
With a politics that finds its radicalness in simply being nice, everything about Alok halts the “Western colonial system that's invested in categorizing every single thing about us." Alok, who's one half of the performance art duo Dark Matter, prefers they/them pronouns, but they would rather not be categorized by gender binaries at all. Indeed, Alok's crusade is less about pronouns and more about standing up for the harassment that trans people everywhere face daily. As Alok points out, even NYC is no “safe haven for freaks” and the people who call Alok “fabulous” at the club, aren’t concerned about Alok’s subway ride home.
“I had this big beard and I was about to get off the train when this white man entered and screamed ‘Osama!’” Alok reveals. “I knew that no one would stick up for me and that I needed to run. But then there was this weird moment where he looked down and saw my stiletto heels and I no longer fit his stereotype as a terrorist man of color.” But Alok isn’t about to shave the body hair or suppress the-great-aunt-marries-the-tweedy-professor style: “We always put the onus on people to change their bodies versus on society to shift their norms. I see my body hair as a part of my femininity. I wasn’t born in the wrong body, I was born in the wrong world.”
Through sharing Alok’s post with your friends and loved ones, spread the message that gender is not about what body parts you do or don’t have, it’s about who you are at your core. As Alok announces, “I am Alok and Alok exists outside of your heteronormative gender binary.”
With warmth and love,
Elisa + Lily
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Alok's video was edited by Andrea Cruz
What's Underneath is produced Elisa, Lily, & Mona