Alok Vaid-Menon

Alok Vaid-Menon @alokvmenon

gender non-conforming writer, performer, fashionist@

feeling fruity 🍋🍊🍐🍌
flower child
This month to #ReclaimPride I am writing love letters to the queer and trans people of color in my life who have made me who I am. Next up is my dear friend @thozmellow ! Thozama is a Black queer femme activist and artist from Cape Town. We met in 2011 when I was interning at Gender DynamiX, a trans activist organization there. I remember she came over to my place for some house party and we ended up staying late and talking about everything: violence, legacy, history, dreams, desire. my favorite thing in the world is meeting people who i have never met but already know. Connecting with souls and spirits who when we (re)connect we feel the devastating energy and overwhelming force, "this is forever." Since then T and I have been dear friends: just galavanting around Cape Town causing a ruckus everywhere we go. She has sat with me in so many hospital emergency rooms when I caught on fire in 2012 (let's save that story for another time) when I had a pimple in my ear (it's possible) and she never left my side, that is until she had to go get us some Vietnamese food! T is messy and she allows me to be messy and we spill ourselves all over the floor and somewhere in that chaos we find ways to critique each other with love, hold each other accountable, identity one another's patterns and triggers. T is one of those friends who you are less excited to go to the event with as you are to debrief the event with and then debrief the debrief the debrief. We love the art of debriefing -- of working through EVERYTHING! all of the feels and hurt and inadequacy. T is one of the few people in my life who allowed my my complexity, who gave me permission to demand consideration and time and effort. It's so rare to meet people who witness you in your entirety, and what I've found is that being seen like that gives you permission to take up space in a different kind of way, say "I am worth it." Can't wait to see you in a few days T! I am proud of you!!
i always identified with the villains in disney movies: misunderstood & socially undesirable femmes, demonized for the survival strategies they developed to navigate white cisheteropatriarchy. 💕 u forever ursula & wicked queen & the rest of the girls...
last night at my workshop we spent a few minutes looking at each other in the eyes. i could barely last a minute before i felt like breaking down. when i thought about why it was so intense i started to think about how traumatized i am from being looked at. being visibly gender non-conforming means that people everywhere (but especially europe!) just stare at me nonstop. it's like i am always being watched, surveilled, hunted. it's like people are waiting for me to fumble so they can laugh. when i perform i am often the only trans femme of color in the room -- which means that i am on stage with predominantly cis white people looking at me & calling that encounter progressive. i struggle a lot with this scenario: is this recognition, to be looked at? is it possible for them to look at me without reducing me to an aesthetic prop? why are trans femmes of color only invited in the room as entertainers & never friends? to live in this body is to be constantly watched, dissected, critiqued, reduced to spectacle. is to have everyone waiting eagerly for you to confirm their suspicions of your degeneracy, your insufficiency, your inherent fallibility. i dream of people experiencing one another in their entirety, in all of our complexity. how do we love one another for our entire composite, not just the convenient parts? how do we relate to difference with trust & not fear? but the structural reality of racism and transmisogyny make it that i am often the first person who looks like me that people have ever seen. this makes my work excruciatingly painful; makes me constantly grieve the disconnect between who i know i am & who they think i am because of their internalization of a culture that hates people like me. every time i meet another trans femme of color there's this feeling of relief -- like we can finally be seen for what we are & not just what we are not. being on tour away from my friends hurts because i want to be seen but am instead often used: as a symbol, a prop, a discourse, an argument. i miss all trans femmes of color -- even the ones i haven't met yet. navigating this world that watches us but never sees us. 😢💔
This month to #ReclaimPride I am writing love letters to queer and trans people of color in my life who have made me who I am. Next up is my dear friend Sangeetha ( @kaliandkalki ! ) Geetha is a fierce Tamil femme from Singapore currently living and teaching in Melbourne, Australia. Geetha is, well, everything. Her political and intellectual work is vital -- she talks about the erasure of South Asian diasporas outside the West, the failure for diaspora to confront caste and colorism, the limitations of applying western centric ideas of race uncritically across the world, the particular dynamics of misogyny in South Asian communities, and so much more. Her work on Chinese Privilege/Supremacy in Singapore has created space for so many to express the injustice they have faced. While Geetha is a genius; what I appreciate most about her is her emotionality. I think we live in a world that incentivizes us at all levels to jntellectualize our trauma -- how many big words have we developed to keep us from saying "I am scared?" What I appreciate most with Geetha is that we have found a way to turn off the theory, turn off the talk of systems, and actually look at each other in the eyes and say, "this is the pain i am working with," and, because of that, maybe even work together to imagine what healing and recognition and justice would look like. It's the moments we are just walking for hours laughing and making fun of each other, the moments we are helping each other get ready (ok the moments she helps me get ready cause i am so bad at tying sarees lol), the moments we are talking about love and loss, these are the ones that feel most sacred. I have always had a traumatic relationship with south Asian women -- they were some of the first to punish me for my femininity and shame and ridicule me for who I am. My friendship with Geetha feels so important because it has given me the space to feel connected and part of South Asian femininity, not rejected from it. I believe that the love between femmes is powerful and earth shattering and Geetha makes me feel that on the dance floor and back at home during the slumber party debriefs. Thank you Geetha, I am proud of you!
beep beep
This month to #ReclaimPride I am writing love letters to the queer and trans artists of color in my life who have made me the person I am. Next up is the beautiful, the brilliant, the inimitable @staramerasu ! Star is a Black trans woman musician and singer song writer from Oakland (via Texas!) who tours across the world sharing her sonic art as AH MER AH SU. Every time I watch Star perform I cry. Her voice is angelic, her talent is unmistakeable. Last year Star opened for some of my shows in Portland and we spent a couple of days together eaten vegan pizza and just hanging out. I somehow convinced her it would be a good idea to give me a voice lesson?? So we found a piano and just started singing. TLDR: I have a lot of trauma around my voice. For years I didn't listen to recordings of my voice because I was embarrassed about how feminine it sounded. But somehow star got me to belt it out! And after working with her I have started to experiment more with singing in my shows, I have started to use loop pedals and sound effects, which goes to say Star gave me permission to grow, to shake, to sing. Which goes to say that Star's work directly nourishes so many of us and makes us feel like we can use our own voice. Not only is her music just the best! she is also so funny, snarky, charming -- with vegan cooking tips and #millennial jokes to boot! Despite constant racism and transmisogyny in the music world, Star continues to keep being the star she is. She's just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to the fact that she is the global pop star we have all been waiting for! I am proud of you Star!
good night 🌚
#TGIF ! thank goddess i am femme!!!
this month to #ReclaimPride ! i am writing love letters to queer and trans artists and activists of color in my life who have made me the person i am today! next up are all of the gender non-conforming femmes i hung out with in Cape Town!!! this is a photo from a project we collaborated on called #FemmeInPublicSA where we celebrated transfemininity in public and did a fashionable direct action! we are here! we are queer! we are fabulous! each one of these people are just so brilliant, beautiful, and exquisite and spending time with them fundamentally changed my life. this project was motivated by a desire to celebrate friendship and solidarity between trans femmes: that when we walk alone on the street it's terrifying, but when we have each other we are less afraid. truth be told: many times i feel lonely as a gender non-conforming person of color. this collaboration and the friendships it engendered for the first time in a long time allowed me to feel like part of something greater than myself. In a transmisogynist and racist world, femmes are encouraged to hate each other and compete -- coming together like this in love and solidarity was so important to me. meeting people who i did not know but already intimately knew. the way that we could see and recognize each other in our entirety, in our complexity, like no one else could. all of these girls are brilliant artists, fashionistas, stylists, performers, dancers -- but more importantly they are lovers, dreamers, feelers who at a basic level are fighting for all of our right to live and thrive outside of the gender binary! we are told continually and systematically that we don not exist, that we are not enough, that we are not real. but when we come together in our power and vulnerability we unravel all of that bullshit at the seams. thank you friends -- i am proud of you!! photo by @shakalulu
missing georgian dumplings... #tbt a portrait of me in tibilisi by @lenivaya.plenka
handing patriarchy a pink slip! you have been a bad, bad boy! your time here is done!
This month to #ReclaimPride I am writing love letters to queer and trans artists and activists of color in my life who have made me the person I am. Next up is the inimitable @zinziminott ! Zinzi is a Black queer femme dancer, dreamer, fashionista extraordinaire based out of London! I first met Zinzi on a euro tour two years ago and I have been enamored with her ever since. Where to even begin! Zinzi is hands down one of the most brilliant artists I have ever met. Her commitment to her craft is unparalleled -- she hustles so hard to sustain herself as a dancer who refuses to compromise her truth and her politics. She is a visionary artist true and true and demands a world that respects, compensates, and celebrates artistry. She thinks so deeply about the world and it's reflected in her practice -- her work directly engages some of the most important questions of the past and present. I recently had a dance lesson with her and besides kicking my ass it showed me first hand her skill, her poise, her elegance. On top of all of this Zinzi is just such an emotionally intelligent person -- she can trudge through some intensely complicated situations and provides me and so many others with clarity and purpose. Conversations with Zinzi linger, they do not leave your mind. Her words have the potential to change your life (that is if you heed them!) On a lighter note my most favorite memory of zinzi was when she stayed with me in NYC last year and we had to pull her huge suitcase up the stairs. Never in my life had I met anyone who packed more than me! As she took out heel after lace after skirt she said, "Who knows! I might need this!" And I just smiled and loved it because fuck yeah -- that femme power is so real. She brings it to every space with gravity, beauty, conviction. I truly believe she is one of the most talented dancers of our time. Thank you Zinzi for all that you are. I am proud of YOU!
This month to #ReclaimPride I am writing love letters to queer and trans artists and activists of color in my life who have made me the person I am. Next up is my dear friend @pivonari ! Nari is a Kazakh trans femme activist based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The minute I met Nari it was like we had known each other for years. We started joking &!gossiping and intermittently talking about politics and anti-trans violence. For Nari gravity & levity are harmonious. I took this photo of her a few days after we met when we are doing a "self care" date together. We went and got our nails done, went out for lunch, got a massage -- and all the while we shared stories about our lives and our dreams and our loves. Nari is a fierce warrior for trans femme people, and especially sex workers. She doesn't call what she does activism, she just does it cause she knows she's right. Her home is always a safe space for trans femmes to share knowledge & safely tips & recover. I learned so much from her commitment to joy (let's party!) and care -- she practiced a type of care that felt stronger than family. She made every effort to make sure that I was safe, to host me, to do my makeup, to dance. There were so many conversations we had that felt soul affirming. Like that time I talked about being non binary and she was like "Yeah I'm not a woman either, I am TRANS!" or that time she said "These cis people, these feminists -- they don't care about us. They don't care when we are raped, beaten, killed, sent to jail. All we have is each other. We have to do this for ourselves." The situation for trans femmes of color in Central Asia is bleak -- many face extreme violence, poverty, police brutality, and criminalization. Many struggle to find employment, community, and safety. My trip there made me recognize the extents that post-soviet and post-colonial Russian empire spaces are disappeared from our global conversations of LGBTQ rights. As always, it is under resourced trans femmes of color like Nari doing the bulk of the work who never get the recognition they deserve. Thank you for all you do Nari! I am so proud of you and I miss you so much! Can't wait to party again soon!
portrait of a young artist who just gave their first improv stand up comedy set at a comedy club!!!! my heart was beating so fast, but it was so fun! as someone who gets laughed at on the streets all the time it is so fun to finally be able to laugh at others on the stage! make them laugh and then stick the truth in their mouths while they're open! thank you for having me helsinki!
"shape of you" tonight in helsinki! thanks for hosting me @turkupride
princess peach ditched her misogynist partner mario & joined the trans femme squad to overthrow the patriarchy
This month to #ReclaimPride I am writing love letters to queer and trans artists and activists of color who have made me the person I am today. Next up is my dear friend @hodan.w ! Hodan is a Black queer diasporic femme dreamer based out of Amsterdam. Her work is so vital because she is examining the specific dimensions of white supremacy and colonialism in the Dutch context. Holland continues to be a very hostile place to Black and PoC queer/feminist imagining so Hodan's work is so essential precisely because it unsettles. We first met in 2012 and since then every year I see her my heart jumps leaps and bounds! We just dig deep, no small talk necessary: talk about our desires, our insecurities, our contradictions. We are able to relish in one another's complexity -- and give permission to one another to be more than the identities and words affixed to our bodies. Hodan reminds me that we are all just jugs of stories flowing around inside of us waiting to spill for the right people. I find myself making connections and ideas about my life that I couldn't without her -- she has taught me that the process of self discovery and self realization is relational/communal. Recently we were talking about the tensions between politics and joy -- and what it would mean to really prioritize joy in our lives without guilt or that nagging sense of obligation. We gave each other permission to experiment, to deviate, to transform. I so love her because she allows me to transform. I feel like often we require the people around us to remain static and one dimensional for our stability, but hodan makes me feel like it's beautiful and important and natural to be constantly transforming and that is just such a huge relief you know? We just get to have real talks -- about where our bodies begin and our politics begin and what it means to embody the ideas and dreams we have and to navigate worlds and relationships that aren't ready for them. I could go on about all of the political ideas she has taught me, but they don't feel as important as the political lessons she has shown me the way that she lives her life. The best leaders are our friends. I am proud of you Hodan!
ghent was cute (but i was cuter lol)