ALOK Speaks of going beyond the Gender Binary to Kick off Pride Week

During the week of May 10, Pride Week was celebrated on campus with a visit from a keynote speaker and a variety of other events. Though many events had to take place virtually due to the ongoing pandemic, the virtual platform allowed students to participate and interact with students from other NESCACs while celebrating Pride Week. 

To kick off Pride Week, Bates was honored to have keynote speaker ALOK speak virtually with students through Zoom. 

ALOK is an internationally renowned gender non-conforming writer and performance artist. They explore themes of trauma, belonging, and the human condition as a mixed-media artist. They have been honored as one of HuffPo’s Culture Shifters, NBC’s Pride 50, and Business Insider’s Doers. ALOK is known for their work in the movement called  #DeGenderFashion, which hopes to degender fashion and beauty industries. 

ALOK is also an author of two books, “Femme in Public” and “Beyond the Gender Binary.” 

Their book, “Beyond the Gender Binary, aims to bring power to young LGBTQ+ people and help them navigate the world around them. ALOK begins the book with a look into their past as a gender non-comforming person and then connects their life to the societal misconception of the gender binary. The second half of the book gives advice and acts as a toolkit for the LGBTQ+ community, which has become disconnected during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During the talk, ALOK spoke of how the year 2021 has seen the highest number of anti-trasgender laws passed and the highest number of reported deaths of transgender people. ALOK also spoke about how the potential number of deaths is likely much higher because many transgender people are misgendered at death. 

When talking about moving beyond the gender binary, ALOK advised the audience to stop assuming gender from looks and to assume everyone is non-binary. This shift would include disgendering clothes, bathrooms, and pronouns. 

ALOK discussed how the goal of ending violence against transgender and queer individuals is not the focus. Rather, they would like to see a celebration of fluidity instead. 

“I begin to wonder why for hundreds of years, they have been so obsessed with us,” they asked. “Why did they pass hundreds of pieces of legislation to disappear us from existence? Why in their gender studies curriculums, do they learn about us [but] not listen to us? Why are they only comfortable with us on a stage entertaining them, [but] not ever alongside them educating them?”

To end the talk, ALOK discussed a few things that bring joy to their life. They love to experiment with fashion because they get to bring an art gallery to life through clothes, playing with people’s expectations. ALOK also enjoys long conversations over dinner because of the people they get to meet and discussions they get to have. 

“The violence I experience, it’s constant and relentless. But the pleasure is as well and that is the story of transgender that they don’t tell you. They don’t tell you that yes, we lose and we lost, but we also gain and are magnetized to a kind of purpose … For the first 18 years of my life, I wasn’t alive, rather, I was alive but not living. Certainly, my heart was beating, and my lungs were breathing, and mechanically I was there, but I wasn’t there. I was an omniscient narrator to my life,” ALOK said. 

ALOK’s work has lead to major strides for the transgender and queer community, but the talk communicated that much more needs to be done. Specifically, they expressed that people should not have to live in fear and hide their true selves due to the threat of retaliation.