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ALOK (CSRE '13) on Making a Life

Alok Vaid-Menon (CSRE '13). Image Credit: Kohl Murdock

CSRE Alum ALOK (AKA Alok Vaid-Menon) ‘13 is about to embark on their first world tour. Three of their live shows scheduled later this month in Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle have already sold out.

Last summer, CCSRE Communications/Events Associate Perlita R. Dicochea spoke with ALOK via Zoom about their time at Stanford, their approach to their career, and how they are making their place in the world. We share this story with you now in advance of ALOK’S stop in San Francisco. Tickets for that show remain available in case you want to go!

A previous version of this story first appeared in the 2020-2021 CCSRE Annual Report.

Alok Vaid-Menon creates life-affirming public scholarship at the intersections of race, gender, and transness. They teach us the power of an education in Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity for crafting alternative ways of being in—and transforming—the world. 

BY PERLITA R. DICOCHEA

You might know ALOK as the gender non-conforming model who has a stylist for their body hair. Or you might have seen ALOK’s writing or image in The New Yorker, Huffington Post, CNN World, GQ India, PBS NewsHour, or Teen Vogue. Or you might follow ALOK on IG, where their posts offer scenes from the cutting edge of non-binary fashion photoshoots and the personal notes of a cultural critic.  

Image Credit: Kohl Murdock

Alok Vaid-Menon (CSRE ‘13) is also a researcher, writer, poet, and performer. Last year, they participated in New York Fashion Week modeling for Batsheva Hay, a New York-based designer whose styles retool “feminine” dress. ALOK regularly shares their research on social media, explaining in accessible terms such things as how body hair removal is rooted in colonialism and white supremacy. And their poignant essays, including “being non-binary is not new” and “double standards of transmisogyny,” connect the dots between white supremacy and heteronormativity–and sometimes get cited by celebrities like Demi Lovato.

ALOK attributes their wide range of creative and scholarly pursuits to their Stanford education where they engaged deeply with both comparative studies in race & ethnicity and gender studies. “CSRE helped me prepare for what it means to live in society,” said ALOK.  They furthered, “As an undergrad, I remember people would be like, ‘How are you going to make a job out of [a CSRE major]?’ …Actually, making a life is what CSRE did for me. It allowed me to interact with the world, to be enmeshed in a larger field of orbit than just my identity. [It] exposed me to alternative ways of living and thinking and knowing and teaching and being.”

ALOK frames their life and career as representing a commitment to intersectionality. For Alok, “being pigeonholed in one identity, one place, one space, is unnatural.” Having received at Stanford a critical education about race, Alok understands the power of affirmation, which fuels their courage and confidence to do things their own way.

ALOK Instagram Post, May 21, 2022.

“We grow up in a society that tells us that we’re wrong and that we shouldn’t exist. And as an undergrad something that I was allowed to do was to ask ‘am I allowed to be here?’” says ALOK. They further, “And to learn and know ‘Not only are you allowed to be here, you belong here.’ Belonging gives you the kind of confidence and conviction to take up space in every meeting and believe in yourself…a sense of emotional rootedness has allowed me to claim space in a culture that constantly makes me feel as if I shouldn’t be there.”

While ALOK observes that racial discourses have made some movement toward the center of U.S. sensibilities around systemic inequity, they see much work yet to be done to foster a deeper understanding of transness both within and beyond the academy. This is why ALOK approaches every interview, performance, research endeavor, writing project, and photograph as a contribution to knowledge production—as a form of public scholarship. One of their current projects is a collaboration with colleagues in various industries to build a historical archive of trans lives, ways of knowing, activism, and community building to share how transestors (trans ancestors) survived societal attempts at disappearance. “History for me is about hope-making. It’s about saying there is another way.”

 

 

Perlita R. Dicochea is the CCSRE Communications/Event Associate and Program Coordinator for CCSRE's Mellon Arts Fellowship and Public Writing Fellowship. She earned her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from U.C. Berkeley.