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PAC event subverts beliefs about identity

On April 4, the Political Awareness Committee (PAC), in collaboration with Celebrate Southeast Asia (CSA), GLOW! and the Intersectionality House brought Alok Vaid-Menon to campus for a performance exploring and interrogating assumptions about gender, race and identity.

Under the stage name ALOK, Vaid-Menon is a gender non-conforming performance artist, writer, educator and entertainer. They began their performance in the Pause with a moment of silence for all the transgender individuals who are murdered every day.

PAC Coordinator Nouf Saleh ’19 came out on stage to introduce the audience to the upcoming performance.

Throughout their performance, ALOK utilized a combination of song, speech and spoken word poetry to dismantle assumptions surrounding identity, especially the notion that white, cisgender and heterosexual is the default identity in our society.

“We are all born gender nonconforming and we become men or women or whatever,” they said. “I believe we are not born minorities – we are minoritized.”

ALOK also highlighted the privilege of St. Olaf. They addressed the larger issue of trans and gender queer performance artists, believing that performance itself can manifest as the tokenization of those identities.

“What I want you to understand is that it’s 2019 and people like me can only exist on a stage,” ALOK said. “As if a stage is not a cage.”

ALOK reiterated the sentiments Saleh expressed during the introduction, pointing out the irony the St. Olaf community exhibits concerning gender nonconforming members of the community. They said that while St. Olaf invites a trans person to come perform at the College, the campus environment and community doesn’t provide the same treatment to its own gender nonconforming students.

“Every trans person on this campus is a blessing,” they said.

The end of the performance centered around issues of love and loneliness. ALOK believes one of the biggest problems in our world and society today is that many people refuse to validate and empathize with others’ emotions.

“Oppressed people are not asking you to understand,” they said. “We are asking you to feel.”

One of the major themes of the talk was the idea of friendship and showing up for one another in times of need.

“Maybe friendship is the most revolutionary thing we have,” ALOK said. “Friendship is the most powerful form of politics.”

ALOK answered questions for the final ten minutes of the event, both personal and about the larger systematic issues addressed in their talk.

One question asked about dealing with unsupportive people in life, specifically about what to do if families do not support a person’s desired identity.

The answer, ALOK believes, comes as a result of freeing yourself from the power structures surrounding the status quo.

“Trans people have given up everything and risked losing everyone they love,” ALOK said. “This is why I believe some of the most oppressed people are also the most free.”