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Gender Whisperer Alok Is an Advocate of the Year


Gender Whisperer Alok Is an Advocate of the Year
Laura Shepherd

Laura Shepherd

This author and performance artist is showing the world the way forward on love, gender, and handling cruelty.

There are times in life when it feels like, just when you thought there was little hope left, the universe miraculously sends you exactly what you need. And if there’s any truth to that, the universe has sent the world Alok Vaid-Menon, these days known simply as Alok. In a modern era that feels fueled by hate and division, Alok bravely leads with love. And I think we can all agree that’s something the world could use more of right now.

The internationally acclaimed author, poet, and performance artist is gender nonconforming and known for their colorful hair and fashion-forward ensembles — which can, of course, sometimes spark negative comments from haters. One person recently wrote to them online: “You do not have the body for that dress. Yuck!”

However, rather than retaliate, they used the opportunity to open a conversation about exactly where such hatred was coming from — and did so with a disarming amount of intelligence, compassion, dignity, and grace. Alok’s response? “Hi friend! You clearly have a need for my love! I’m sorry shame has recruited you in service of its shenanigans…. You know what’s not a cute look? You working as a publicist for sexism and fatphobia for free! You are worth so much more than that. You are an everyday miracle: divine, transcendental. I’m sorry you’ve been made to lose sight of that. Hatred is love that has lost its way.”

A natural-born teacher and educator, Alok also utilizes platforms like social media and public speaking to educate folks about oppressive societal systems — sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. — and how each began and evolved from a historical standpoint. Alok possesses a peaceful depth and wisdom rarely found in today’s bustling digital world; even the most well-read and enlightened among us will likely learn a thing or two by following them.

And don’t dare assume they’re all Zen and no fun. Alok, who can form and deliver a hilarious quip at lightning speed, has also parlayed their talents and experience into comedy.

“The way that I survive is through comedy,” they recently said during an appearance on Good Morning America, explaining that a clever clapback is how they often deal with awkward moments, like when people make unsolicitied comments on their appearance. “Comedy is a way I bring levity to my day-to-day experiences…. So I think what I wanted to do in my comedy show is challenge this idea that trans life is just defined by tragedy or violence. Actually we’re really funny, there’s so much joy here.”

As a mixed-media artist whose work explores themes of trauma and belonging, Alok has authored three books, Femme in Public, Beyond the Gender Binary, and Your Wound/My Garden. They also created the #DeGenderFashion initiative, a movement to degender the fashion and beauty industries, and have been honored for their trailblazing work multiple times, including receiving the inaugural LGBTQ Scholar in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, a GLAAD Media Award, and a Stonewall Foundation Visionary Award. While Alok has made several TV appearances (Hulu’s Planet Sex with Cara Delevingne, Netflix’s Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness and The Trans List), they will be making their feature big screen debut in two upcoming film projects.

Our cover star, Jamie Lee Curtis, who considers Alok a “friend and teacher,” recently discussed the gender binary with them at the 2023 Upfront Summit. When asked by Curtis, “Do you liberate others?” Alok’s response reminds us that, as much as we want to believe someone so inspiring and informative was sent here solely for our benefit, they exist to live their own life to the fullest, as we all should. In doing so, says Alok, it creates a better world for all.

After a slight chuckle and pause, Alok replied to Curtis: “I think we all need to live our life incandescently, and take our cues from nature, which is already writing the most exquisite poem, we’re just catching up to it. Which means we’ve got to blaze 'til we can’t anymore, and focus less on who the rays of light reach and more on that we’re doing our damn job — which is: be incandescent.”

Photo by Laura Shepherd

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