Alok Vaid-Menon takes on Trans Rights, Feminism through Poetry

Alok Vaid-Menon

In a bid to broaden the mindset of people when it comes to gender, violence and conformity, Pune witnessed a series of poetry performances by Grace Dunham and Alok Vaid-Menon on Wednesday. Dunham is a writer and activist based in New York City who works for transgender rights. Menon is a South Asian writer, poet and performance artist who is non-binary, a person who does not conform to any gender and prefers to be addressed with the pronoun ‘they’. Pune365 caught up with Vaid-Menon for an interview where they speak about their journey and how feminist dialogue needs to incorporate transgender rights.

How difficult is it to carve your niche and find your identity when you have no role model to look up do? Or is having a role model not necessary at all?

I feel like I do have role models. I don’t think role models necessarily have to hold the same identities and appearances as you. Role models just have to inspire you. There are many people who inspire me to fight for the right to be myself against all odds. I think everyone has a different relationship to role models; not everyone needs them, but some people really do. For me it’s helpful to know that I’m not in this alone – that I’m part of a longer and greater legacy.

Feminist discussions rarely include transfeminist talks and rights. Do you think it is for the better that feminism and transfemininity don’t integrate?

Absolutely not. Feminism without trans inclusivity is not feminism, it’s sexism. Centring transfeminine people isn’t about being politically correct, it’s about being correct. If we accept that feminism is about challenging misogyny and patriarchy, then we have to understand that transfeminine people bear the brunt of this. Many cis gender women don’t want to acknowledge the theory and politics that we offer to address this violence – namely the violence of the gender binary -because it would require them to have a narrative of complicity. Trans rights aren’t just some separate, small minority rights project – they are fundamentally about feminism.

Are there enough safe spaces being created for trans people since public spaces are becoming more restrictive?

I think this looks different depending on the location and the context but what I have noticed across my travels is that there are rarely ever enough spaces or resources for trans people. This is not only because of the restriction of public spaces, but it’s also about the decisions and priorities of feminist and gay movements who continue to disregard us. Despite experiencing the brunt of the violence, trans and gender non-conforming people are rarely granted opportunities, resources, and meaningful support and infrastructure. This is because many cis women and cis gays and lesbians gain victories by differentiating themselves from us (i.e. “this is about love, not gender.”)

Can you describe how your journey has been when it comes to accepting yourself the way you are? Did you have enough support?

No, I did not have enough support. It took me until my twenties to finally have access to language, spaces, and people to support me in my transition. Prior to that, I didn’t even really know that it was possible to be a non-binary person (someone who is neither a man nor a woman). My process has been one of trying on different words and identities throughout time and nothing fitting quite right. What has been so liberating about finding out about non-binary identity and politics is that I no longer feel pressured to identify as anything all together. I’m just myself and that self is beyond gender. It’s still a constant struggle to argue for the legitimacy of my identity and my experiences of harassment. But I think there are a few things more rewarding in the world than being yourself. With the support of my loved ones and my art I find ways to persevere.

Vijayta Lalwani

Vijayta Lalwani

The young lady from Lagos has always been keen on a career in journalism. Pune365 was hence the right stop. We agree. vijayta@pune365.com
Vijayta Lalwani

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