IN CONVERSATION WITH ALOK VAID-MENON: „FEEL HEARD“ x PRIDE MONTH

vor 4 Monaten

They need no introduction. Utilising a wide array of tools to communicate with their audience including poetry, performance, fashion or comedy, ALOK wishes to explore and educate the world on the themes of gender, race, trauma and their infinite intersections.

They are the author of Femme in Public (2017), Beyond the Gender Binary (2020), and Your Wound/My Garden (2021). Their overarching activism spreads to the realms of fashion, by initializing #DeGenderFashion- a movement aimed to blur the lines of the gender binary and its aesthetic expression through clothing. Today, ALOK teams up with UGG’s Pride month campaign “FEEL HEARD“ to shed light on the importance of mental health and wellness within the LGBTQIA+ community. As an extension of this mission, UGG is supporting Switchboard together with the Trevor Project- one of the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning young people. As the majority of the visual media does, fashion has the power to construct -or deconstruct- representation and meaning surrounding gender and sexuality. Thus, constitutes an important medium through which individuals can express themselves.

Fashion can be defined as a cultural institution which has the power to shape discourses regarding the visual representation of individuals. To what extent do you think the promotion of fluidity by this industry can stimulate societal discussions and increased awareness on the experiences of minorities such as the LGBTQIA+ community?
I really do believe in the power of fashion to shift culture. As a perpetual student of fashion history I always think it’s important to remind people that it used to be illegal for women to wear pants. Gender non-conforming people like me used to be thrown in prison for “cross-dressing” legislation. Clothing was politicized as a mechanism of social control: to confine women to the domestic realm and to police all people into traditional gender norms. How did things change? Individuals cultivated their own sense of self outside of the uniforms that society gave them. They existed boldly and unapologetically. And their cultural impact allows us to exist as we do today.

The UGG ‘FEEL HEARD’ campaign can be a great tool for increased visibility on topics surrounding gender expression in the fashion industry. How important is it to deconstruct stereotypes related to sex, gender, and aesthetic presentation?
It’s absolutely essential. In 2022 we have the highest number of proposed anti-trans legislations ever in US history. There’s a coordinated effort to target trans and gender non-conforming people and reinforce traditional gender norms. This is endangering our lives leading to higher reported suicide and murder rates in our community. So many of my friends are living in constant fear. I wish that people would understand that moving beyond gender norms in fashion isn’t just a trend, it’s an anti-violence mechanism. If we just normalize humans being humans – fluid, gender non-conforming, hairy, fat, real – that can go a long way in making people’s everyday lives more manageable.

Growing up between conservative or deeply religious communities can cause gender non- conforming individuals to oppress their sexuality for fear of verbal or physical violence and exclusion from society. What would be your suggestion for the people who struggle to find acceptance from their surroundings?
I grew up in a deeply conservative place so I definitely empathize with this struggle. What saved my life was connecting with other LGBQIA+ people online. Social media can be a powerful tool for connection, empathy, and community. Even though I live in a more accepting place now, it still is rewarding and beneficial to be able to interact with the content of other gender non- conforming people out there in the world. It makes me feel so much less alone. Like I’m part of something greater than myself.

Often and unfortunately, safety means conformity with dominant heteronormative narratives? How do you tackle the rise of hetero and homonormative discourses?
I make the daily decision to choose my joy over their shame, love over fear. I know that many people aren’t going to like me or understand me. I know that many will have negative reactions to me. But I know that’s not about me, it’s about them. Life started feeling so much more luscious when I decentered other people’s approval and started prioritizing my own self-appraisal. I get dressed for me. The only person whose opinions about my appearance matters is my own.

Vulnerability defines our humanity. It is the common bond amid the diversity of cultural 
beliefs and values. But it takes courage to let that delicate aspect outside of ourselves. How do you learn to be vulnerable and strong at the same time?
I learned that vulnerability is a form of strength. Vulnerability is how I was able to make the friends who support me today and help me show up as the most empowered version of myself. Vulnerability is how I was able to make my art and connect with thousands of people across the world who help me going. What I’ve learned is that you have to push through the initial discomfort, because actually the kind of care that vulnerability creates around it is far more durable than that which comes from playing pretend.

Living in a society where parameters and standards define who and what we are as individuals, what is the most effective way to explore our identities?
One of the joys of being a stage performer is that I came up on the open mic. What I love about open mics is that people just have time and space to experiment with their art, their style, their narrative with an open and eager audience to hold their hand through it. That’s what we need more in the world. Laboratories to figure it out. Places where we can be witnessed in our unfurling. I truly believe that we become our best selves through one another. We need one another at a fundamental level to get 

Outside of our solitary practices of self-care, what would you suggest to be the most efficient method of collective healing?
We really need more public spaces for processing grief. We have no infrastructure to work through it. So most people compartmentalize their grief and it manifests as rage, resentment, and bitterness. It prevents them from remaining porous and being empathetic. With my live shows across the world I try to create a space for grief. Where people can just release and feel the things they have been putting off feeling. Be witnessed in their pain and know that they are loved in it. That they don’t have to be perfect or triumphant, they can just be. So I suppose I’d say that art and performance are necessary vehicles of collective healing.

We all have moments in which nothing makes sense, where the questions are more than the answers and confusion is all we’re left with. Where do you go when you’re in pain?
I write. Writing has always been my grounding practice. I don’t know how I feel about something, or I feel overwhelmed, and then I spend a few hours working it out on the page. Writing always gives more precision and clarity. But sometimes clarity can feel terrifying. Sometimes it’s actually easier to not know. So I have to really be intentional about scheduling time not only to write, but to process what it is that I’ve revealed.

What is the meaning of ‘chosen family’ for you?
It means people who see me for me, not for themselves. People who prioritize my reality over their projection. People who are there for me even when I’m struggling. People who are honest with me: about how difficult (and how beautiful) it is to be alive.


Interview by Costanza Acernese

Picture courtesy of FakePR

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