Poet discusses challenges transgender people of color face at APAC, SASA event


Samantha Handler/The Daily Northwestern

Gender-nonconforming artist Alok Vaid-Menon speaks to students about the challenges transgender people face. They also performed poetry at the event in Lutkin Hall on Friday, sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Coalition and South Asian Student Alliance.

Samantha Handler, Reporter

Alok Vaid-Menon said they did not start to identify as transgender because they wanted to be a woman, but because they wanted to reclaim their femininity “from the women who stole it.”

“There’s a difference,” Vaid-Menon said. “What you learn when you learn your history is that people like me once led our people, but then when the British and the French and the Dutch and the Portuguese came and colonized us, the first people they killed upon point of contact was gender nonconforming transfeminine people, was us.”

Vaid-Menon, a Malayali gender nonconforming artist who uses “they/them/their” pronouns, spoke Friday about the challenges transgender people of color face. Vaid-Menon spoke in Lutkin Hall as the fall speaker at an event hosted by the Asian Pacific American Coalition and South Asian Student Alliance.

Asian American Studies Prof. Douglas Ishii, who moderated the event, told The Daily that Vaid-Menon’s work reveals the need for intersectional perspectives that go beyond “superficial naming” of terms and identities, which Vaid-Menon discussed in their performance.

“It was a great success,” Ishii said. “I loved the turn-out. I loved the engagement that audience members had, and I loved the performance of course.”

Communication senior Dominique Teoh told The Daily he did not know what to expect going into the event, but was “blown away” by Vaid-Menon’s performance.

Teoh said he knew a few gender nonconforming people in his family.

“Personally I am very gender-conforming, at least in my experiences,” he said. “For me, it’s just been really good to learn more about outlooks and experiences and … how that might reflect the experiences of people in my life who are going through similar things.”

Vaid-Menon used a combination of spoken-word poetry and stand-up comedy to discuss their experiences with identity and oppression imposed by Western society.

They said colonization has led to the suppression of Asian cultures, which in turn have caused transgender communities to be alienated.

“My ancestors were colonized twice,” Vaid-Menon said. “Once by the white man, and then by our own people who pretended overnight that they were not once worshipping us, too.”

Once they started to learn their own history — not “white history” — Vaid-Menon said they found that gender was imposed by Christianity and Western society.

Vaid-Menon said they should not have to choose to be either a man or a woman because gender is an “artificial equation.”

“The true nature of gender is that it is inherently non-binary and fluid,” Vaid-Menon said. “And if you think that your gender is binary and fixed, then you are the one who’s the exception, not me.”

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