The headliner for the Utah Trans Pride Festival 2020, hosted by GenderBands is Alok Vaid-Menon, a writer, performer, speaker, and fashionista with over 400,000 Instagram followers.
Alok recently released their book, Beyond the Gender Binary, which is an accessible primer to gender fluidity, showing how a world beyond the gender binary of man/woman creates more freedom for everyone. They equip readers with the knowledge to counter the rise of anti-trans discrimination and invites the world to see gender not in black and white, but full color.
“I’ve been creatively writing since I was 11 or 12 years old,” Alok tells Teen Vogue. “I was experiencing a lot of bullying at school and I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone about it, so I just started to write things that I was feeling down to get them out of my body. Eventually, they became poems, [which] I started to publish under a pseudonym online. What I learned was that in art we can name the things that we aren’t allowed to say anywhere else. There was something so thrilling and transformative about that, it made life worth living. In the halo of my lamp every night I would write myself into existence. I’ve been doing the same, ever since. When I don’t write or perform I exist, certainly, but I am not alive.”
Alok wrote the book in response to a number of anti-trans bills across the nation. One in Utah that Eagle Forum sweetheart Rep. Brad Dow was drafting was thwarted by strong and swift action from Utah’s trans leaders and Equality Utah.
“I wanted to summarize the arguments that are being used against us and equip people with rebuttals against them. In this way, I wanted the pocket-size book to be a handbook for people who want to get involved in advocating for trans rights but may not know where to start,” they said.
The current pandemic stalled Alok’s attempt at a nationwide book tour, but it didn’t stop anti-trans bills from moving forward.
“Unfortunately transphobia hasn’t taken a back seat during this pandemic, it’s still out there in full force. During the pandemic, Idaho has passed two unconstitutional anti-trans bills, the Trump administration is making motions [that could] permit doctors to refuse medical care to trans patients, domestic violence is on the rise (which already always disproportionately affects gender non-conforming people), and Hungary just banned legal recognition of trans people,” Alok said. “This pandemic is going to worsen every form of inequality. Gender non-conforming people who already were less likely to have access to stable employment and healthcare, are now even more disadvantaged. It’s all incredibly depressing, but I try to draw inspiration from the powerful mutual aid work that trans communities are engaging in all over.”
Alok loves the idea of Prides across the country.
“For me, Pride is a celebration, a public affirmation of queer and trans expression. It’s an opportunity for us to come together and validate one another when so many of us face rejection elsewhere. I think validation is incredibly important in a world that constantly tries to erase you. It’s a mental health imperative that reminds us that we aren’t going through this alone. It’s my hope that we continue to develop creative ways to affirm one another despite not being able to connect in person.”
The Utah Trans Pride festival will be an online event on August 15. A Pre-Pride Drag Show will be held on August 14. Information can be found at genderbands.org/utahtranspride