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Alok Vaid-Menon: 'The Future of Trans' Extended Interview

November 19, 2020 32:39

The Future of Trans, produced by TransLash Media, explores trans futures with some of the brightest, sharpest, creative minds in trans and gender non-conforming communities including Chella Man, ALOK, Dominique Jackson, Angelica Ross, Toni-Michelle, Aria Sai’d, Isa Noyola, Alok, Patricio Manuel, Shea Diamond, Fatima Jamal, and more.

Imara Jones: Today, we are with Alok, period. No, today we are with Alok at the Invisible Dog art space in Brooklyn to talk about what a trans future looks like. I mean, for one thing, I think a trans future could look like my dress and your hair matching, which, that’s really good future.

Alok Vaid-Menon: Right, totally.

Imara Jones: But Alok, of course, is a performance artist, a writer, a thinker, a fashion designer, so much so that I heard you say that all of your various identities, you’re in a polyamorous relationship with all of your identities, and are trying to figure out how to get them all along. So we are glad that you, and they, and them are all together with us today to have this conversation about what trans futures look like.

Alok Vaid-Menon: That was such a beautiful introduction.

Imara Jones: Oh, thank you!

Alok Vaid-Menon: I love how you brought in the pronouns through the polyamorous relationship with my identities.

Imara Jones: Right, exactly.

Alok Vaid-Menon: That is so clever.

Imara Jones: Thank you! Thank you, we try. So I want to really begin to have us engage in a conversation about what trans future looks like, because I think that at this moment of backlash, which we were actually talking about before we actually started, that in this moment of actual oppression and violence, that it’s important for us to imagine and think about what we want the future to look like, what our role is in it, what possibilities are.

Because so many of us, when we were growing up as trans and gender-nonconforming people never had that opportunity. How we ended up is not what we imagined was possible. And so before we kind of get to the future, I wanted to go back to the past a little bit and to talk, to hear you talk a little bit about how you came to imagine yourself as you were, as the children of immigrants in Texas, right? Because in so many ways, if someone were to look at your birth, and the circumstances of your birth, who you are shouldn’t exist, but it does. And so what was the process even of you as a child imagining what your life could be like, and what your inner life could emerge into?

Alok Vaid-Menon: I think I quite literally gave birth to myself, because I think there’s this kinda emphasis right now on trying to have representation in media, and I understand where that desire comes from, but one of the good things about not being represented is you get permission to create your entire own journey and path. And so because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me at all, I had license to just basically scavenge hunt and make a collage.

And so much of what I am is just a collage of disparate things that I had to assemble together to make a possible life. Because one of the perversities of growing up in an Indian household is even though there’s such, thousands of years of history of gender-variant people, in the diaspora, I was taught a very traditional, formal gender binary. And so I thought it was impossible. And the only kind of queerness that I thought was possible was always through whiteness. And so at the beginning, there was already this war instilled in me between man and woman, but then also between the Western world and the Indian world. And I think creativity was the only place that I could go to escape from those kinds of false dichotomies and dualisms. So I started to write when I was 11 years old. And I just would literally listen to really tragic emo music, I still kinda do, and I would just cry, and kinda just write this journal. And I posted online with a pseudonym, which is such a trans moment of being able to find the most intimacy in a kind of anonymity.

And so I would just be online, and I would be under the name of Larry, which I don’t even understand where that was, I created an inner name club when I was in sixth grade, where we could choose our own names, then I chose Larry. So unambitious, but a marker of Texan times. And I just started to share my poetry online, which I didn’t understand was poetry, and people were like, “I feel the same thing.” And I think that taught me a lesson that I now hold really true in my art practice, which is the thing that we feel the most shame about, the thing that we feel is the most private, is actually shared by people all across the world.

Imara Jones: It’s the thing that humanizes us, and when I heard you say that, it was interesting. When did you realize inside of yourself, or begin to realize, that you were beyond what you were being taught that you could be?

Alok Vaid-Menon: I think that there were so many mini realizations. It was never this one kind of cataclysmic, cinematic, me ripping off the boy clothes, and running into. I think style was always a really helpful medium for me, because as I’ve written about, I couldn’t consent to the sex that I was assigned, or I couldn’t consent to the race that I was assigned, but style became a way to interrupt people’s gazes. So they would very much typecast me as, “Oh, you should be like this because you’re an Indian boy, “you should be like this because you’re in an Indian boy.” And so what I would do is just dress really weird, so I would dislocate that and they would be like, “I don’t, what’s going on with you?” And then in the suspension of that gaze, I finally had a moment to actually be like, “What am I? “People are saying that I’m this, “but now I have to ask myself, “‘No, I am,’ fill in the blank.” And then I think that for me as an artist, what I continually return to is that unknowability, which is seen as a crisis in this country, and that’s the justification for so much militarism, the justification for so much security culture is fear of the unknown.

Whereas as an artist, fear of the unknown is where I live, it’s where I hang out, it’s where I relax, It’s where I invite friends over, because the best art is when you don’t recognize that you made it. And for me, my own gender journey was an extension of my art making, where I didn’t have a conclusion of, “I’m going here,” it was just like, “Let me sense what makes me feel good. “Oh, it makes me feel good to start wearing dresses, “I’m gonna do that. “Oh, it doesn’t make me feel good to be called a man, “I’m not gonna do that.” And then I just sort of ended up here. And it’s not for me like I’m like, “I know who I am definitively.” It’s more like, “I feel like this today.”

Imara Jones: And so it’s interesting, because these two things were moving in tandem, that… Your creativity, and your artistry, and the ability to create a collage, as it were, as you were saying before, moves at the same time as your gender journey. And they’re kind of walking together, building on each other, right? As you were saying that you put this stuff out in the world, that was artistic. And then once people responded, you know, then you do more of that, and it pulls you along as you go. So as you were going along, you were making the road, in a way.

There wasn’t a sense of what you were building towards, as you were moving out into the world. When did you get a sense that you were doing that? That is to say that the thing that you were working on becoming, I mean, we’re all in the process of becoming, but I mean that you found a way to find visual, an actual language to express yourself? When did you have that realization that, “Wait, hold on, I’ve become something different”?

Alok Vaid-Menon: I think that was when I moved to New York City in 2013, that kind of era of my life, because I think I, for a long time, had a lot of imposter syndrome, because I was made to feel, as many are in this country, that to be an artist is to be a white cis man. Because to be an artist is to have the audacity to universalize your particular experiences. And I was told, “No, that’s just your experience as an,” insert identity, insert identity, insert identity. And there’s a way in which that reproduces our irrelevance, ’cause people will be like, “Oh, you’re just in the margins. “You have nothing to contribute.” But what I actually learned is my marginality is mainstream, this distinction we need to resist. And it’s just that, actually, other people are allowed to speak for humanity, or abstraction, whereas we’re constantly supposed to be, minority, minority, but that actually minoritizes us.

I think ideas of gender are not just about trans people, they’re about everyone. Ideas of race and not just about racialized people, they’re about everyone. Ideas of loneliness and trauma are not just about people who struggle with mental health, they’re about everyone. And so I think that that ability to be like, “What I have to say expands “beyond the parameters of my identity,” only happened to me when I met people who gave me permission to do that. ‘Cause I think that for a lot of us in the communities that we’re a part of, we’re never given permission to create. We’re given permission to critique, but we’re rarely ever given permission to create, because to create is to insist on another world. And I think that’s where I really am locating myself now, and especially as we’re thinking about future, is I think the best forms of criticism are the creation of worlds that are so irresistible that when people come to them, they’re like, “I’m never going back,” you know? I feel like what I’m really trying to do is to create the sensations, be that images, ideas, words, performances, that give a glimmer of what things could be.

And I understand that work now to be vital and urgent, whereas previously, I was misled to believe that artistic work was kind of not the real thing, or the real struggle is policy change. And not that that stuff is not important, obviously it’s really important, but I just, I think New York was the first time I could be part of a group of artists that were like, “Hey, actually, cultural change is a strategy unto itself.”

Imara Jones: Right, because to a certain degree, you can’t fight for something until you know what you’re fighting for. And so imagining what’s possible is essential to change. You can’t have it without it. So in this creation of a world that’s so irresistible, what is irresistible about the world that you want to create, that you want to live in? What are some of the things that that looks like, or what are the ideas that you’re playing with in that?

Alok Vaid-Menon: I think that us as trans folks are living that world right now, and I understand the harassment and violence that we experience as a response to that. Yes, of course it’s about gender, but it’s also because we are living artfully in a world that requires a kind of conformity. And when people see us, they’re confronted, because they’re like, “I’ve lost my relationship with my creativity, “and you had the ability to do the thing that I couldn’t do, “which was emancipate yourself and say, ‘this is who I am.’” And I think trans and GNC folks, we know who we are, and a lot of other people in this world don’t know, they know what they’ve been told that they should be, but we had the audacity to say, “I know who I am.” And so I kind of, what I’m speaking about is, it’s not that it’s the world I want, it’s the world that I’m living right now. And it’s a world that so many of us are living right now, and we’re being persecuted because of it. Because to live in the kind of world I’m living is one of constant fluidity, meaning tomorrow, I could be wearing what society perceives as quote, men’s clothes. The next day, I could be wearing what society perceives as women’s clothes. I could decide that I’m shifting, and going, and there’s fluidity and transformation. And this world wants me to say, “This is my gender identity.” And the entire movement thus far has only been around people with a stable gender identity that can become a protected class of people for access to institutions.

But what about those of us who, it’s in flux? What about those of us who, on a given day, experience harassment on this gender, and this gender, and this? And people don’t want that because what I’m actually saying is, “I’m complicated.” In my world, we accept that people are complicated. In my world, we accept that people are in flux, and that homeostasis actually comes from a recognition of the infinite variability of the world, not from its being pinned down. And then I think in my world, it’s one of profound vulnerability. And I remember that the origin of vulnerability comes from vulna, which means wound, and vulnerability means willingness to be wounded. And what that means for me is in my world, allyship is not just like, “I love you,” or, “You’re amazing,” or, “It’s fabulous.” It’s, “I’m willing to be wounded alongside you.” And that means that we are exposing ourselves to pain, and to hurt, and to trauma, but we’re doing it because we know that’s how we heal, is by actually encountering the wound, sitting with the wound, feeling the wound. And in the world we’re in, that we’re supposed to be in right now, but we’re not, ’cause we’re transported in this conversation, but they tell us to just do everything we can to ignore the wound, to pretend it’s not there. That’s the history of this country. And in our world, and I see in so many trans worlds, we’re being insistent to be like, “I am hurt, and I am traumatized, but I’m working on it, “and the way I work on it is through ceremony. “And the ceremonies that I require are where people “can actually understand me beyond visuality.” In my world, we are energetic.

I just think about the trauma of the visual, how so much of anti-trans violence is, “You look like.” And I’m like, “I contain so much more “than what I look like.” That’s always gonna be an approximation. But energetically and spiritually, I have entire ecosystems in me. Are you going to be committed to what you don’t see? And I think in my world, we are just as committed to what we don’t see as what we do.

Imara Jones: And in what ways, so in many ways, it’s expanding the space for the world that you inhabit to be a larger space and a larger ecosystem that encompasses and pulls in other people. So in part, it’s interesting, right? It’s very weird, but it’s, it’s actually to give space for other people’s liberation.

Alok Vaid-Menon: Right, totally. Yeah. A fundamental belief, I believe that my theory of liberation, as it currently is, ’cause it shifts whenever, is I don’t know what’s gonna work for everyone, and I don’t actually think it’s useful to say, “This is what’s gonna work for everyone.” But I know what’s working for me, so I’m gonna do what’s working for me, and my hope is that that will give license and permission for other people to do what works for them. And I think that’s what I’ve found so beautiful to be part of TGNC communities is I think that the cis gaze will make us into like, “There’s one way to transition. “There’s one way to be real.” But with other TGNC folks, I’ve actually been like, each person has their own gender. And we’re actually saying, “My womanhood is this, your womanhood is this, “your non-binaryhood is this.”

We contain so many eons and so many ancestral traditions, it’s just said the way that we get read and spoken about is as a monolith. And I think that’s why I’ve always loved the kind of plurality of gender-neutral pronouns, because there’s been this insistence of being like, “They are singular.” And I’m like, “Yeah, they kinda are.” But I like actually being in the space between singular and plural, because when I’m saying, “I am,” I’m saying “We are.”

Imara Jones: And in this, I mean, I was thinking about it more kind of the concepts that you were exploring in it. In some ways, right, it’s, it’s a world without erasure, all erasures. There’s no compromise. You don’t have to not be. And in the way that you exist, presently, there’s nothing about you in terms of how you’re feeling, what you want, what you’re thinking, that you cannot manifest.

Alok Vaid-Menon: Right.

Imara Jones: If you choose to–

Alok Vaid-Menon: This is coming at a really great time, because yesterday, I just did, my astrological sign is Cancer, so I’m kind of a walking campaign for Cancers being extremely hot emotional messes, but that’s me. And I just resolved to myself, for all of February, I was not gonna allow myself to have any small talk at all, with anyone. So if that’s just anyone on the street asking, “How are you?”, if that’s a store clerk being like, “Have a good day,” any opportunity I have to bring in intimacy, I’m going to. Because what I started to realize is, I physically cannot do that work of erasure, because it just makes me depressed, because I know what the world could be if we were actually talking about the things that were going on. So we were just speaking about before, I’m navigating a lot of pain in my family, a lot of illness, and death, and sadness.

And it’s just such a surreal experience to go from, “Okay, wow, we’re all crying together,” to, “Oh, have a great day!” Why should we have to do that? Why can’t we bring that pain with us, and be like, “I am struggling.” And then the other person could be like, “Hey, I don’t have the capacity to deal “with that struggle right now, but, “so we wish you the best.” Why can’t we get to that place where we’re honest with each other about our emotionality? And I think that that’s a trans politic for me, because I spent so much of my life having to suppress myself that when I came into myself, I said, “I’m never gonna suppress what I feel again.”

Imara Jones: I wonder as well, one of the things that you have spoken about, and written about, and posted about, and given talks about is the amount of violence that you experience on a day-to-day basis. And, you know, I’m wondering, one of the things that occurs to me as you talk is that a part of the violence is resistance to possibility, right? There’s something where in people, they’re, people are deeply afraid of all that they are. And a part of the policing is about that possibility. But we can’t actually have a future that works for everybody unless we have possibility.

Alok Vaid-Menon: 100%, it’s about infinity. Infinity is a concept of something that I really wish that we could appreciate more, because we’ve been taught that we live in a template culture, where there are these options, and this is the pathway. But there’s as many ways to be as there are beings. There’s infinite way to be. And I think for me, my relationship with infinity has been the most beautiful and romantic relationship of my life, because every time I try out something and it doesn’t work, it’s not like, “I’m ruined, I’m over.” It’s like, “Wow, there are a million other ways to be.” It’s kind of like how I’m trying to challenge the idea of being bored. Being bored is so unambitious, because, actually, there’s a billion things that we could be doing. You’re bored? Take up bowling, or start gardening, or learn to plant. But I just realized, “Wait, this world tries “to desensitize us to everyone, “and to ourselves, and to one another, “and make it so that if we don’t have “an attachment to these categories, “then we’re like, we don’t know who we are.”

And so I think that a lot of the violence that I experience, and a lot of other gender-nonconforming and transfeminine people experience is we call into question that entire regime of facts. We show that the architecture that they build, with science, and facts, and objectivity, is false. And in that falsity, they have to look at themselves and be like, “Am I as real as I thought I was?” And so that’s why I’ve written, and I try to reframe the conversation, this is not actually about me, it’s about you, because you are having an existential crisis on who you are, and your trauma is what’s showing up in this encounter. It’s not about me having a disorder, or me being wrong. I’m literally just walking down the street, dressed really cute, giving you a color combination, you know?

And that is literally seen as equivalent to moral, and especially as we’re thinking right now, locating this conversation to what’s happening in this country, right, we’re seeing hundreds of pieces of anti-trans legislation being introduced at the local, the state, and the national level. And I don’t know why I do this to myself, but I read the arguments that they’re using against us, the ways that they’re justifying it. And what they’re really trying to do is to restrict possibility. At a fundamental level, what they’re actually saying is, “You do not have autonomy. “We get to decide what your future is.”

Imara Jones: That’s right. It’s in the interest of the state to decide, because the state rests on our ability to be able to make these definitions. So in this world that you’re creating, and in this relation to pain that we’re talking about, what do you think, what pain that you experience or you acknowledge right now would not exist in the world that you’re trying to create?

Alok Vaid-Menon: That’s a really insightful question, thank you. Because I recently gave an art talk, and it was at a museum, which I rarely do. And so there was just a very different demographic of people in the audience. And there was an old white cis woman, who was like, “So if you didn’t experience violence, “what would you make art about?” And I was just at first mad, because I was like, “You would never ask that to another artist “without these identities. “You just don’t legitimate the violence that I experience, “that’s what’s happening here.” But then I started to think more ambitiously. And I was like, “There is something to be said “about how a lot of my art making “is linked to my experiences of pain. “Do I have a perverse relationship with being in pain, “because that’s where I get my creative energy from?” And so then I started to really question myself, and to be like, “Would there still be pain “in the kind of future that I want?” And here’s the truth, and the difficult truth, pain will be there forever.

And I’ve really been trying to surrender to that idea, because I think that we constantly try to believe that there’s this pure space outside of suffering, and that’s not true. Suffering is a foundational part of life, of any life, of any world. But the difference is that in the new world, we will have ritual and ceremony and protocol on how to grapple with suffering, and in this world, we don’t. So in this world we have suffering, it’s your shortcoming, it’s your fault, go figure it out, desensitize yourself to it. In the other world, it’s gonna be like, your pain is there, and it’s valid, and it’s real, let’s work through this together.

Imara Jones: But it’s also, in this, I mean, this is actually a technology, right? Actually, our friend Dora would say that this is a technology, that the technology of ritual is something that we’ve actually lost, because if you look at Buddhism, Buddhism, you encapsulated it in what you said, the world is suffering, here are the ways that we can deal with the impact of suffering on our life to not cause more suffering. And then there’s a religion and there’s rituals built around that. And there are lots of historical examples of that. It’s just that that’s a technology, in quotes, that we don’t have, or it’s not as available to us as it once was–

Alok Vaid-Menon: And that it’s been dispossessed from us.

Imara Jones: Dispossessed is exactly right.

Alok Vaid-Menon: And the reason it has been is precisely because, if we had it, people would recognize that they were worth something else. The way that this system can naturalize itself is when it dispossesses people of an alternative. And that’s what I read the persecution, in particular of non-binary and gender-nonconforming people, as. They want to disappear us so that they can naturalize a binary to say, “This is the only way to work.” And that disappearance masquerades as these pieces of legislation, but it’s really an orchestrated effort to make us not appear in the public. Because when we appear in the public, we call into question the very authority of a gender-binaried system. And I think that, bringing it back, to that conversation around technologies of healing rituals and whatever, I also am really trying to be generous to the ways in which, yes, there is dispossession, but there also is creative resistance within that.

And I think what I really have felt so rejuvenated by, ’cause 2020 is a year for me of focusing on rejuvenation, I’m really trying. 2019 was really bleak for me. I was like, “The world is ending, whoa, “everything’s on fire, my life’s on fire, heartbreaks.” 2020, I’m trying to be like, “But what is being birthed still?” And what I’m really excited by is, so many of my peers, other trans and gender-nonconforming artists, are creating and reclaiming those ceremonies, where we’re having really profound rites of passage around trauma. And I’m trying to situate myself in that, to be like, “Yes, there is negative energy, “but there’s also such generative energy.”

Imara Jones: So one of the things that’s interesting is, I wonder if… Maybe not to stoke a narcicisstic moment, but in some respects, I’m wondering… I mean, as a person who is trans, and non-binary, and gender-nonconforming, in some respects, you know, are you the future, right? Do you represent where we’re actually going? Does that occur to you? And if so, how do you, how do you process that?

Alok Vaid-Menon: No, I reject that, because I don’t want to pinpoint what the future looks like. I might be able to say what the future feels like, but I don’t want to say what it looks like. And I think that what we’ve learned from social movements across time is that they protest norms and then they impose a whole new regime of norms. And I think when it comes to, oftentimes, the trans conversation, there’s this idea of, “This is the way that you’re being the true resistance, “is by being visibly gender non-conforming, “or being non-binary.” And I’m like, “Hey, actually, challenging the gender binary “doesn’t look like a certain thing, “it’s having a certain set of beliefs and practices. “It’s about supporting people who, in this regime, “are most harmed by it, but recognizing “that we’re all harmed by the gender binary.” So people could still identify as women, or men, or look at what society, look like what society traditionally conceives of as men and women. And that’s still part of my future. And I think people mistake my work and the work of people in our community as being like, “You must all be non-binary and use they/them.” And I’m like, I’m actually trying to resist the uniform.

And as an artist, there’s nothing less, nothing less exciting to me than a uniform. And a uniform for me is not just an outfit, it’s an idea. And this idea that we all have to be the same in order to be accepted, or we have to be the same in order to be revolutionary, we have to be the same in order to be, I say, break that apart. And I think that goes to what I was saying more about the limits of the visual. For me, I’m so much less interested in what people look like, and I’m more interested in how people think. And what I want people to think like is that there are potentially as many genders as there are people. That’s my vision of the future, where man and woman are two of an infinity, not the only options, and where man and woman are not seen as mutually exclusive, or oppositional, they’re just hanging out near each other. And therefore, my vision of the future totally accepts people who identify as men and women, but it doesn’t have space for people who have a belief in the gender binary, ’cause I think that’s a difference. It hold space for man and woman, but not for gender binarism.

Imara Jones: Yeah, I mean, I think that that’s a really powerful thing to say, because I think that we can’t, I mean, what’s really powerful about that is, presentation is commodified in a capitalist culture. That commodification then gets monetized. That monetized becomes a way of life. And so one of the things that you are underscoring in that is that what we have to hold on to is not specifically what the future looks like in terms of how we embody it, but what’s the mental space of the future? What’s the possibility of the future? Not to impose our ideas on that.

And what you said, I really agree with. I tell people all the time that, even as I present as binary, I don’t believe in the binary. Like, I can’t. I can’t, it’s impossible for me, or it should be impossible, right? And it is, rather, because I can’t. So, you know, who we are should not limit our thoughts about who other people can be, and what’s possible.

Alok Vaid-Menon: I think that point is the key, is the reason it limits who other people are is because of insecurity. We need other people to look, it’s kind of just what we were saying before about people voting for political candidates who look like them. We continually fear that if we don’t have someone who looks and thinks and acts like us, then we’re a freak, or we’re wrong, or we’re lonely. But what I want to actually challenge that, and I think this is where disability justice movements have been on the front lines forever, this myth that we are all interchangeable with one another, that actually, we all fundamentally have different bodies and different minds, and that there’s not one prototypical experience.

And I think that is such a beautiful concept, to actually be like, “No, it’s not loneliness “to have individuality, “it’s actually just what it means to be alive.” It’s to recognize that we could speak for 13 years and still never really know each other, that’s so exciting to me! And that no ability is obscurity. I don’t want to know you, I want to feel. And what feeling allows me to do is to be like, “I may never understand or comprehend, “but I will have a deep belief “in your fundamental worth and dignity as a person.”

Imara Jones: Right, and it, nor ability has to be a thing that is in motion, because we’re always changing. You’re not gonna, you’re not, the minute someone thinks that they know you, they’re sunk, because you’re not gonna be the same in a year, or two, or three years.

Alok Vaid-Menon: It’s like Battleship.

Imara Jones: It’s 100%, right? There always has to, I mean, we have to learn how to inculcate and enculturate the idea of possibility in everything. And that is to say that the possibility of what we know and what we are attached to will change. And that’s essential to the future.

Alok Vaid-Menon: And I think that people fear possibility, and my job right now is, how do I get people to develop a different relationship with possibility? And so a lot of the work that I’m creating right now, creatively, is, how do I literally convince people about something they don’t even know that they need? That’s such a deep question for me, creatively, right now, because I feel like I’m in a moment right now, when you were talking about the sort of commodification of these things, where the current conversation is, there are these non-binary people over there, and that’s where we deal with the problem. They are the exception to the rule, we’re gonna put them over there, we’re gonna contain them. But they’re not actually listening.

What we’re actually saying is, “Everyone,” we’re speaking to everyone, and they’ve put us over in this box, and they’ve been like, “My pronouns are she/her or he/him, “I’m within the binary, you’re over there.” AKA, we have to do the labor of everyone else’s gender dissonance. And what I’m actually trying to be like is, “No, what I’m trying to say is that “all of us benefit from the comprehension of man and woman, “femininity and masculine, “but as informed by a rigorous critique “of the gender binary, “and that a world in which we all accept “our gender possibility is a world in which “we’ll literally be so much happier.” It’s so hard, ’cause people resist that. They’ll be like, “I’m not. “I’m not that identity.” And I’m like, “This has never been about identity.” And so I think a lot of what I’m writing about now, and a lot of what I’m curating in my shows is, can I create spaces? One of the things that I’m doing here at this space for this residency on Thursday is I do something called a feelings workshop. And in a feelings workshop, I bring 30 strangers together, and my goal is that, at the end of the workshop, everyone is friends with each other, and has a meaningful sort of emotional support. And one of the things that I do is I just, we scream. I ask people to scream as long and as loud as they want. And most people at first can’t. They’re like, “I’ve never done that, that’s awkward.”

But then most people start crying, they were like, “I didn’t know I had so much rage in me.” And I’m like, “Exactly.” If we don’t have the technology, then we don’t know what’s within us. And I think that when it comes to the question of gender, so many people have had to repress their own incongruity with these systems so much that they don’t even know that it’s in them. It’s just become so desensitized. And so I’m just really thinking about, how do I create art which allows people to resensitize? How do I create art that doesn’t just critique harassment, but gives affirmation? I’ve been really thinking about affirmation. Just aggressively complimenting people and believing in people is so important to me as a practice. It’s just being like, “I’ve got your back 100%.” We really need to support each other in that kind of way.

Imara Jones: Well, I personally feel a sense of possibility in talking to you, and I thank you for that gift, and thank you for your vision, and your work, and your commitment. And I really appreciate the time, and you letting us invade the Dog space.

Alok Vaid-Menon: Thank you, this has been so great.

Imara Jones: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

Alok Vaid-Menon: Of course.

Imara Jones: And that’s a wrap!

Alok Vaid-Menon: Yay!

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