Even in a society where actress Laverne Cox and television personality Caitlyn Jenner are celebrated, queer people still face discrimination today. And in the latest installment of StyleLikeU's viral video series "What's Underneath Project," one self-identifying trans-feminine, Indian-American addresses the issue head on.
The episode, titled "The Pain & Empowerment of Choosing Your Own Gender," shows 23-year-old poet, activist and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon not only opening up about gender identity, but also stripping off their clothes — proving that true style isn't about what you wear.
"The way I understand my gender is I'm both a man and a woman, and neither a man and a woman. I'm outside of these entire categories." Vaid-Menon says in the episode. "I am Alok and Alok exists outside of your heteronormative gender binary."
Vaid-Menon is "gender non-conforming," and prefers the pronouns "they" and "their."
Vaid-Menon grew up in small town in Texas, predominantly made up of White, Republican, Evangelical, and cisgender people. Being both Indian-American and trans made life difficult, and Vaid-Menon remembers being called a fagg*t, a tranny and a terrorist every single day.
"I would go home and tell my mom I kept on washing my hands, but this brown wouldn’t come off of me. I thought we were all ugly, and we all needed to be White to be beautiful."
At age 13, the harassment became too much and Vaid-Menon attempted suicide. But later, decided to turn things around by working extremely hard, and moving somewhere filled with open-minded people. That's also when writing poetry became so important. "Art is the space we go when language fails us," Vaid-Menon explains.
But moving to California and then New York City wasn't exactly the perfect safe haven they thought it would be. (Story continues)
“The world I’m fighting for is when we stop making assumptions around everything, when we allow people to self-narrate their bodies."
Vaid-Menon makes that point that they, and other trans people, aren't trying to trick anyone by wearing a dress. That just might be the article of clothing they feel most comfortable in, and that is that.
“The very core of trans-misogyny is that we’re always masquerading as something were not. We are always seen as worthy of our violence. That’s why people don’t stand up for us."
Vaid-Menon's dresses, beard, and lipstick are all parts of who they are.
"Why do we always put the onus on people to change their body, and to prove or authenticate themselves to other people versus have society shift their norms?"
It's an important question, and one we should ask ourselves more often. (Story continues.)
"I wasn’t born in the wrong body. I was born in the wrong world.”
Through poetry and activism, Vaid-Menon hopes to help change the world so people will accept trans people for who they are.
Watch Vaid-Menon's eye-opening interview and poem below:
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