Resisting Gender Definitions: Alok Leads the Trans Community in Social Change
Alok is a gender nonconforming writer and performance artist who identifies as nonbinary. Alok uses they/them pronouns, believing that their gender resists definition and continues in a fluid motion.
Alok’s work is focused on gender and racial justice. They also write about trauma, healing, and belonging. Alok has performed in over 40 countries and 500 venues across the world, speaking from their personal experience with social inequalities.
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Alok just released a book titled “Beyond the Gender Binary” that speaks about gender fluidity and ways readers can stand up for gender equality. Alok’s book is a life-changing account of the arguments that are used to delegitimize trans people, and it offers tools that people can use to respond to those attacks on the transgender community. The book can be purchased on Alok’s website; proceeds will be used to support Alok and partnering community organizations that work with LGBTQ youth.
“It is a handbook so that people can advocate for themselves,” said Alok.
Alok identifies as gender nonconforming and is defying what society thinks a man or a woman should look like. Alok exudes both feminine and masculine characteristics. Alok explains that they identify as neither a man nor a woman, but rather a person with their own unique gender. According to Alok, gender nonconformity is a political critique in that it does not support the political system that society has established when it comes to self-identity.
Alok often feels pressured to represent all transgender people who are currently facing pain, trauma, and violence caused by the lack of representation of minorities. According to Alok, no one person can represent an entire community and the groups within that community. According to Alok, generalizations are being made about the transgender community because of the lack of education about what is going on all over the world about the issues faced every day by people of the transgender community. Alok mentioned the pressure to meet stereotypical expectations that many trans people face in society.
“Strength doesn’t actually come from perfection. Strength comes from interdependence.”
Alok grew up in the small town of College Station, Texas. The community there was predominantly White, Christian, and straight. As a minority, Alok grew up feeling polarized between the Indian community, being Alok’s family, and the predominantly White community, living in the surrounding area. Alok experienced a lot of homophobia and racism in both communities and felt that they had to hide their true identity and pretend to be someone they were not.
As a young child, Alok’s feminine style was seen as “cute” and was accepted as something that was just a “phase.” But when Alok began attending public school, bullying and harassment made Alok feel ashamed of who they were. Not knowing that they did not have to identify as either a man or a woman, Alok felt trapped and alone.
“Dividing billions of people into two genders is a cultural choice, not a biological fact.”
Alok’s parents were concerned about Alok’s safety because of the overwhelming cruelty they saw acting against Alok in the world. But they ultimately accepted Alok’s identity and now support Alok in whatever ways they can. Alok’s parents’ acceptance has led to Alok’s realization that identity is mainly about the mental health of the individual. If a person is not happy with who they are expected to be, they have the power to change it.
“There is no loneliness like having people see you after you have erased yourself.”
Alok attempted suicide at the age of 13. The amount of homophobia and harassment that Alok was enduring had gotten overwhelming to the point that they believed there was only one way to make it all stop. But Alok reminds us now that there is a way to find support.
Poetry remains a huge coping mechanism for Alok. It provides a medium in which Alok can process their past experiences. Years ago, writing began as a way of releasing the pain that Alok had suppressed for so long. That way of coping has now developed into the art that Alok creates.
“That practice of taking my pain and turning it into my art has been how I still survive today.”
Alok compares being an artist to being a sponge, in that they are constantly absorbing conversations, media, and culture. Experimentation with photography, makeup, and theatre, sparks Alok’s artistic creativity. Though the exposure of so many stimulants is a great motivator for Alok’s artistic ideas, the most inspirational experience Alok has had is simply people watching.
“On the one hand, we are so close to each other, but on the other hand, we are so distant. It creates this need to understand how people are living their lives. What they think about, what matters to them.”
Art is not just inspired by violence or discrimination. It is an integral part of each of our lives and it speaks about universal truths. Art is a tool that people can use to access their emotions.
“Pain and suffering inform but never define.”
During the current global pandemic, Alok feels that they have a more clarified understanding of their role as an artist. To speak out about the inequalities in the world and ways in which those can be overcome.
“We are seeing a legal onslaught against trans people that is unprecedented, and no one seems to care.”
Alok has developed their own fashion line, and they have had a loud voice in the movement of the gender-neutral fashion industry. Conventionally attractive fashion is not inclusive to members of the transgender community; it is alienating them from it. It is not enough to just show gender-neutral fashion on runways and in magazines. It must also be used to educate people about the many struggles faced daily by members of the transgender community. It should not be safer for a trans individual to wear a dress on a runway than it is for them to wear it on the street.
“Anyone should be able to wear any article of clothing that they want without fearing violence or persecution.”
People hold onto what is familiar to them. But there is nothing more natural than people having the choice to identify as who they are, not what society tells them they are. People need to relearn how to relate to one another. If people truly believe in the change that they are trying to make, then perseverance is possible.
“When you actually focus on your own life and ask yourself, ‘what do I actually want?’ you can unlock your own creative purpose.”
Having to deal with extreme discrimination and pushback with each social media post and performance has helped Alok develop the strength to persist through it all. Alok knows that continuing the legacy of trans peoples is their purpose, as well as supporting others in being their true selves.
“You are part of a sacred legacy of people who have been persecuted for the truth. They are making you think that your gender is a lie, but actually their gender norms are the lie.”
Alok understands the pressure people face to fit into the crowd. Alok has experienced the feeling of not belonging. Upon reflection of these experiences, Alok advises others to live as their true selves. The parts of us that don’t fit into any ready-made mold are the parts of us that create connections with those who deserve us and love us for who we are. It is not our job to fit a stereotype while hiding the parts of ourselves that don’t.
“There is so much love waiting for you. Don’t give up.”
Alok celebrates who they are every day because that is how they find joy in life. Be yourself, and you may reach your own jubilation.
Host & Producer: Cielo
Lead Producer: Alla Issa
Developer: Samuel Holtzman
Editor & Writer: Sydney Murphy