June 11, 2020
Indian-American writer, performance artist, and media personality ALOK joins Jameela this week to discuss all things Trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary, the problem with those who are gender-critical & TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), and how to be a better ally to those that are shunned by the rest of the world.
10 — ALOK
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:00:00] Hello and welcome back to “I Weigh” with Jameela Jamil. I wasn’t sure if this was still too soon to come back, but we are also in the middle of Pride, which is the celebration of all things LGBTQ plus. And there are so many important conversations to be had around that right now. And so I felt I would bring you a conversation with one of my favorite voices on the whole of the Internet, someone who I’ve learned so much from. I am talking about Indian-American writer, performance artist, and media personality, Alok Vaid-Menon. Who just goes by the name of Alok online. They are such a great educator. And they put things in a way that have just explained so many nuanced and historical issues to me. And so therefore, I invited them on to explain to me all things trans and gender nonconforming, all things nonbinary, and how to use pronouns and how to be a better ally to those who are shunned by the rest of the world, even sometimes within their own LGBTQ community. And so it’s incredibly complicated and it feels like a relatively modern subject, even though these people have existed from the beginning of time, which Alok educates us on during this episode. I just think I couldn’t possibly have a better voice right now. I am just in love with them and I hope you will be too. And I have tried to ask all of the questions that I am most asked. And, you know, I am learning these things alongside other people and I have more to update myself on. And so that is really the point of this podcast, is to be able to educate myself and just share those lessons with all of you. So we can all grow together. So please enjoy the wonderful Alok. Alok. Hello and welcome to “I Weigh”, how are you?
ALOK [00:01:58] I’m thrilled to be here.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:02:00] It’s such a shame that not enough people can see you right now because you look bloody stunning. Alok is giving me body con and there’s pink and there’s red and there’s ah, this bright orange. You got, what is going on behind you? Is that part-, it looks like a party. Looks like New Year’s Eve.
ALOK [00:02:17] Yes. I’ve got a whole party set for Zoom with like good lighting. I figure if we’re gonna have to be in these quarantine times, I have to make it glamorous.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:02:26] Oh, I love that. How is your quarantine going?
ALOK [00:02:28] You know, I want to say that it’s actually been the most creative time of my life. And I feel like such an irritable person saying because I’m just so productive. And I hate that about myself. Like, I want to be able to just, like, relax and, like, chill. But instead, I’m like reading tons of books and like writing a lot. And I feel like it’s not going to be sustainable though. So we’ll see what happens.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:02:49] It better not be, otherwise we’re not gonna be able to be friends because I can’t handle that level of overachievement. How dare you be constructive with this time?
ALOK [00:02:58] I know.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:03:00] God, are you growing spiritually or feeling emotionally better?
ALOK [00:03:02] Absolutely. I am, I am that obnoxious friend on the phone just being like, can we please name our intentions for the rest of our life? Like, what’s our five year plan? Let’s go.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:03:11] What were you like at school? Were you this much of a nerd?
ALOK [00:03:13] Yes, absolutely. I literally have to admit this is the first moment I ever said this in my life. I used to make pie charts on how many hours I was hanging out. How many hours I was working. How many hours I was organizing. And how many hours I was sleeping and try to get my optimum distribution of time.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:03:30] Such an Indian.
ALOK [00:03:33] Absolutely. I’m just like-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:03:34] I’m, I’m a rotten part of the pack. Like I’m the runt. I don’t have any of these, I don’t have any of these organized skill sets. Well good for you.
ALOK [00:03:41] But it’s to my fault because I need to learn how to relax a lot more. So that’s part of my goals too, is I’ve been watching “90 Day Fiancé”, I know I’m like five years late to the show, but it’s the first time in my life I’ve fully understood what binge watching was.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:03:54] Well, you’ve been really busy. I have watched your career just grow and grow and grow as an activist, as a writer, as an artist, and just as such a voice of resonance in our time over the last couple of years. I also I wonder, and this is a more serious note, but quite a few of my friends who are trans or gender nonconforming visibly, obviously, have found this to be a nice respite because going out day to day, while important because it’s great to be able to socialize. It’s also not very safe. It doesn’t feel very safe. Has that been your experience?
ALOK [00:04:30] Yes. You know, what I’m doing during quarantine is I’m wearing mini skirts and body con dresses. And like my entire body is just basically revealed because for the first time, I don’t have to fear harassment on the day to day. And these are obviously pieces that I would wear still, but I would wear them knowing that I was going to be harassed and being able to wear them and develop a relationship with my own self-image without fear. I think has been so therapeutic for me.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:04:57] For sure. What does your harassment look like? Do you mind me asking?
ALOK [00:05:01] No, totally. I think it’s really important to talk about the specificity of harassment against gender nonconforming people, because oftentimes in dialogs around on street harassment, we imagine it only to be cis women experiencing harassment from cis men. But when you’re a gender nonconforming person, you experience harassment from everybody. It’s an equal opportunity buffet and everyone is trying to hit at the piñata, if you will. So I literally have people spitting on me, throwing trash at me, commenting on what I wear, taking photos of me without my consent, following me, making fun of me, inquiring about my genitalia, inquiring about why I’m wearing what I’m wearing. I literally have complete strangers come up to me and say, can you explain to me why you’re dressed like this? And I’m like, oh, my gosh, I have people touch me. Like, they’ll just hugged me even when they’re saying that they’re supportive of me. There’s this idea that because I transgressed gender norms, I’m not allowed to have boundaries at all. So people can transgress whatever boundaries with me. So people come up and just kiss me all over my face and say, you’re fabulous, darling. Or like, hug me and squeeze me. And I’m like, I’m literally just trying to get to a meeting right now. This is not a performance for you. And I think that what it has really taught me is people don’t see us as humans. They see us as spectacular kind of freak shows for their entertainment. And that’s both people who are supportive of us and people who are trying to bring us down. It’s like, can you actually just see me as like a regular person living a regular life and not someone here for your entertainment?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:06:28] And do you fear violence when you go out? In particular at night, etc.?
ALOK [00:06:32] Yes, I have to be really intentional about where I’m going, when I’m going, who I’m going with, who I communicate, where I’ll be. I share my location with my friends all the time. And we’ve developed a kind of practice a lot of my friends are other gender nonconforming people of color. And what we’ve learned is like we can’t rely on other people to keep us safe. We have to keep each other safe. So we share a location and we check in with each other when we’re getting home. And we also process like, what was it like for you to wear that outfit today? And I think that’s how I’m able to keep going is when I was younger, I didn’t have anyone to process the harassment I was going through. But now I have a vibrant community that’s like, “That’s awful. I’m sorry. You’re amazing”.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:07:13] And I think what’s frustrating as well is that you have so many people who then blame you for your own harassment based on what you’re wearing, which is something that, you know, typically cis women have to deal with all the time if we are assaulted or harassed on the street. We’re asked, what were we wearing? And I feel like you get that from every single side of the fact that, well, you chose to wear a, you chose to wear a dress. And also you don’t visually, technically conform to either side, which perfectly stands in line with your gender nonconforming. And the fact that you still maintain your chest hair or sometimes have a beard, but also you wear the dresses and the makeup. And I think that you look stunning for whatever it’s worth. But because of that, there’s like an extra layer then where perhaps even trans people sometimes don’t know what to do with that.
ALOK [00:07:59] Yes. Absolutely. You know what, I think that one of the most painful parts about being gender nonconforming is we have been fighting for everyone since the very beginning. And yet everyone turns around and betrays us and says that we’re too much or not enough. They’ll say, you’re too flamboyant, you’re too feminine, you’re too hairy, you’re too brown, you’re too vocal. Or they’ll say you don’t pass enough or you’re not beautiful enough or you’re not quiet enough. And it’s heartbreaking to me because I realize that it’s other people working out the lessons around beauty, around desire, around worth that have been indoctrinated into them out on me. So they’re just regurgitating exactly what has been said to them, to me. And I’m like, wasn’t that painful for you? Why would you do the same thing to someone else? And so I think a lot of what I’m trying to work through as an artist is how do we transform pain so that we don’t transmit it to other people? And how do we actually recognize that we have to heal before we can actually love other people in the way that they deserve to be loved? And when we don’t heal, we actually can be very dangerous to other people. And I see this especially when it comes to trans community. You know, when I first started to become part of trans community, I was in my early 20s because I didn’t have access to trans community before them. And I would start to attend trans support groups. And when I was wearing a dress. People would think that I was a, quote, “pre-op trans woman” is the term that they would use. And they would say, oh, are you going to change your name? And they would call me she and they’d be like my sister. And I’d be like, Hey, everyone, actually, like, I feel comfortable with who I am right now. And then people would be like, well, actually, no. You have to change your name. You have to have surgery. You have to have hormones. Otherwise, you’re going to continue to experience violence. And I’d be like, I totally understand that. And I recognize that, like a lot of us are having to be worried about violence every day. But I actually feel like who I am right now is who I want to be. And they wouldn’t understand that. And then I would come to a meeting. Wearing a pair of jeans and then they would call me he/him and think that I was just a male ally. And there was just no space to actually be like, hey, everyone, my gender is who I am, not what I look like. My gender expression is something that I do on the basis of what I’m feeling in a given day. But my gender identity is internally what I know myself to be.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:10:17] So what exactly is nonbinary for those who don’t know? Let’s just break it all down.
ALOK [00:10:23] Totally. So nonbinary refers to anyone who identifies outside of the binary of man, woman, male, female. So there are many identities under the umbrella of nonbinary. A nonbinary person could be bigender, meaning that they’re both a man and a woman. They could be agender, meaning that they don’t have a gender. They could be gender fluid. Like me. Meaning that my gender shifts on time and space and isn’t fixed into an identity. And it’s important to understand, that there’s as many ways to be nonbinary as there are nonbinary people. We would never assume that all cis women look the same. We understand that some cis women like wearing these clothes. Some cis women don’t, would never wear a gown and prefer a pant suit and a cis woman wearing a pantsuit doesn’t invalidate her womanhood. But for us as nonbinary people, because people fundamentally think that we’re making it up. And because people think that we’re not real, everyday is kind of like an examination on trying to reveal us to be frauds. So, so many times our detractors will like share photos of us prior to us identifying as nonbinary. Be like, see, look, they’re really a man. And it’s like, no, actually, we’re allowed to look like what we want to look like in the same way cis people are.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:11:39] And what is it? Would you say that made you uncomfortable with either of the binaries? What is it about either? And I say this from a place of no judgment whatsoever. I just would like to know your personal experience.
ALOK [00:11:53] So a lot of people ask me how I became such a good performer, which I am. And it’s because I spent the first 18 years of my life pretending to be a straight man. And I was really, I was kind of amazing at it, but also really bad at it. So it’s like both tragic and ama-, it kind of like a tragic comedy.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:12:09] That’s quite funny. That reminds me a bit of how, you know, American actors sometimes complain about English actors coming over and taking all their jobs. And I feel like the reason that the British make quite good actors is because we’ve been lying that we’ve been happy for a really long time because we’ve been told to cover up our depression.
ALOK [00:12:28] Right.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:12:28] And just drink it down with a pint of beer. I mean, I have a stiff upper lip, so I know what that means. I genuinely I’d never had acting lessons before I did “The Good Place”. And I genuinely think the fact that I covered down, I covered up a nervous breakdown for 20 years is how I know how to act, just pretending to be fine. So I hear you.
ALOK [00:12:46] Totally. I just picked up on all the cues. I was being like, OK. They do this. They do this. And so I was incredibly unhappy growing up, like I suffered from extreme depression, extreme sadness and suicidality. I never even use the men’s restroom once in high school. I would literally hold it from 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 p.m. at night because I was petrified of being around other men. Men terrified me because I was still very effeminate. And so no matter how much I tried to, like, wear the ugliest, tattered Hollister jeans and like Abercrombie and Fitch second hand polo’s, I never fit in.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:13:27] I’ve been there, my friend.
ALOK [00:13:27] I never fit in because my voice betrayed me, because my gestures betrayed me. And so I never allowed any video recordings. I hated being in photos. I didn’t want any audio recording because I really wanted to, everyone to believe that I was the straight man.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:13:42] Let’s go, let’s go back a second, because there’s a reason that you started trying to fit in with typical men in their aesthetic, right? You grew up with super feminist family members. Your mother is a feminist organizer. I believe your grandmother is one or your aunt?
ALOK [00:14:03] My aunt. Yep.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:14:04] Your aunt. That was it. And these are avid feminists and people who advocate against domestic violence and you grew up with lots of sisters in a very strong female background. And I want you to please tell the audience about what you were like as a little child.
ALOK [00:14:24] I was the definition of freedom as a child. So I had a very unique experience because my mom was an Indian feminist and my aunt was a major lesbian feminist. So I grew up around lesbian feminism, which I just wish every child was around.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:14:39] Agreed.
ALOK [00:14:39] Because my aunts would literally play video games with me and would choose the strongest bad asses, female characters. I’d be like, look, women are strong. Women kick ass. Like from a young age, I was indoctrinated into like anyone doubting womanhood or women as less than. They were a patriarch and I knew what patriarchy was, and I knew specifically what patriarchy looked like in Indian communities, which is often very unique because we have a simultaneous adoration of women, like my mom is the best person in the world. She cooks the best biryani in the world. And then privately they experience a lot of harassment and violence. Right? And so as a child, I loved my sister more than anyone else in the world. She was everything to me. And so I just naturally wanted to wear her clothes because I loved her and because I thought her clothes were just cuter. Floral prints, neon colors, like I was giving you very 80s children fashion, like I was just about vibrant color. I had these dolphin sandals with like knee high socks, like I was really into it. And my parents just let me wear whatever I wanted.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:15:39] Yeah.
ALOK [00:15:39] And I actually used to perform and I write about this in my book, “Beyond the Gender Binary”. I used to perform in kind of my mom’s Chutneys and SolBar to the latest Bollywood songs at all the Indian potluck dinner parties that we would host at our house. I would really say, OK, now everyone, shhh. And I’d play the song. And I just make this dramatic entrance and I’d just be dancing around doing my interpretive dancing. And everyone cheered for me because I was a kid and they thought it was cute and they thought that I just love my sister and it was not a problem. But then one of the incidences I write about my book, as well, is like in first grade at a talent show at my very conservative white Christian kind of community school, I performed an interpretive number to “I Love My India” and I’m dancing around the stage doing somersaults like just so free. And the entire auditorium, parents and children laugh at me. And I remember that being the first moment I experience shame in my life. Where the things that I thought were the most beautiful, were the most thrilling, were the most fun and expressive. I learned that those were wrong and not just that what I was doing was wrong, but that I as a person was wrong. And that’s what shame does, is it actually makes your behavior into your personhood. And so when I felt like I was wrong, I just, I lost all of my joy, my creative expression, my dynamism. And I tried as aggressively as possible to be unremarkable and to be un-visible. And that was the moment disassociation started in my life. So the first kind of half of my life, I was just not there. I gave everyone what they wanted to see, like an extremely smart, well learned, thoughtful, kind person. And inside I felt extreme turmoil every day, I felt so much pain and anguish because I could never be honest about what I actually felt. And I think I’m still recovering from that, because when you spend so many years and your formative years disappearing yourself, still to this day, when people talk about me growing up, it’s like they’re talking about a character in a novel or it’s like they’re talking about a stranger. I see photos of myself and they feel nostalgic, but I don’t look at that photo and I don’t see myself. So I just feel like I was torn apart.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:17:51] You checked out.
ALOK [00:17:52] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:17:53] Yeah. You totally checked out. I’m so sorry that that was your experience. And I think it’s so wonderful that at the young age of, what was it, 18? You decided, that’s it. I’m done. I’m coming out.
ALOK [00:18:06] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:18:06] And what was that, what was that turning point for you where you were sick of trying to conform? Where the pain of lying, not only to your, because it makes you feel so detached, lying about who it is that you are, because you’re not just lying to everyone else. You’re also being dishonest and un-integral to yourself.
ALOK [00:18:24] Right.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:18:24] And almost creates this like moat between you and yourself where you just feel so incredibly detached. I think that’s why the numbness of some depression comes from.
ALOK [00:18:34] Right.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:18:34] Is that you’re a liar.
ALOK [00:18:36] Right. Totally.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:18:37] And it feels bad.
ALOK [00:18:39] I think that even the other layer is that I was experience so much things, I was expressing so much bullying and harassment and I couldn’t speak about that too. So not only did I have to deal with my own internal shame.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:18:49] Why? Sorry. Why couldn’t you speak about your own bullying and harassment?
ALOK [00:18:52] Because I knew that if I spoke about what was happening to me, it would out me and that would create more violence. So what would happen at a high school like mine, we’re talking about like suburban conservative Texas, is you would hear about a suicide of a kid in school and you would know that it was because they’re being bullied for being gay or trans but no one would speak about it. No counselors would talk about it. There was no literature at all to even speak about it. And you just kind of went along with your day and you constantly thought, I’m going to be that kid. Either they’re going to kill me or I’m going to kill myself. And that’s what I genuinely believed for the majority of my life. And no one should have to grow up like that. A constant fear that people are just going to show up at your house, burn it down because you are a fagot. And that’s what I fundamentally believe, such that it wasn’t just about lying in terms of language. It was lying in terms of I would change the way that I walked and that I moved. I would deepen my voice, I would pretend to not like things. Like I remember when I was in fifth grade when I said that I like the band Coldplay. Someone said that makes you gay and gay people need to be exterminated on an island away from society. So they won’t infect people with AIDS. Like that’s literally. Like when I was 9, or 9th grade, I went to a camp where we were doing like a mock kind of government structure. And one of the policies that someone proposed was state execution of gay people, as if it was like Armageddon style in a gladiator ring, where you could all watch as you saw them be killed. Right? And so that’s why I get really irritated when people say, well, you know, trans people have male privilege because they grew up being socialized as male, being socialized as male for me was constant violence, harassment, threats to my safety was literally me never using the restroom, me fearing being around boys that every single moment of my life, me being shamed for every single part of it, even have, being friends with girls, was seen as being gay, which is so ridiculous. And so I think that I actually when I was 18, I was strategic because I hate how we call young LGBT kids “closeted”. I think a lot of us are strategic. We know that if we disclose who we are, we’ll experience more persecution because there’s no resources, because there’s no community centers, because there’s no housing if our parents kick us out, because there’s no employment opportunities. And so a lot of us are strategic and we wait.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:21:14] Trans people, they’re trying to currently, during a bloody pandemic, trying to take away their right to have healthcare.
ALOK [00:21:21] Totally. And that’s why I don’t shame trans people for not being visible, because for me, it’s like, hey, actually, you do what you need to do to survive. And I don’t judge you. I don’t think that being visible is more authentic. And that’s why I think it’s very dangerous when we say so and so doesn’t look trans. What does that even mean? People are trans. And for some people, they may not have the money. They may not have the family support or the safety. I was able to come out when I was 18 because I knew that my family would support me and because I worked really hard in school so that I could leave to go away for university. And that was my plan. I studied so hard because I said, I am going to get out of here, and the minute I’m out of here, I’m gonna fight like hell to make sure that no one else had to go through what I went through. And so I like to say I didn’t just come out as gay. That was the only word I had at the time, I knew that there was something different around me in terms of my gender, but I didn’t even know what trans or nonbinary was. But I also committed to myself to I’m going to live a feminist life. And I would just tell everyone. People would be like, what do you want to do in college? I was like, I’m going to study feminism and I’m going to fight for women. And I just, like everywhere I went, was talking about sexism and patriarchy. And that’s why it’s so painful for me, Jameela, to see how the feminist movement, by and large, has not reciprocated that love and commitment to trans and gender nonconforming people, because me declaring my trans femininity came from my mom declaring her own autonomy as a woman. I saw my grandmother, a very traditional Hindu Indian woman, start to paint in her late 70s, when she had never painted before. And I would go up to her and ask, Grandma, why are you painting? Or Naani, why are you painting? And she would say to me, “This is all my repressed rage. My entire life, I could never say anything. I just was expected to be docile and cook and clean. My art is the only place I’ve ever had to express yourself. Never let any one not let you express yourself”. And those lessons, those intergenerational lessons of women emancipating themselves from gender norms taught me that I too could emancipate myself from gender norms and to see cis women feminists not understand how self-determination of gender is an extension of feminism is so painful to me.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:23:34] I agree. We’re going to talk about this in a second after this break, because there’s a lot to say. OK, so we’re back. I’m still recovering from all of the unbelievably traumatic things that you had said in front of you as a child about your own identity or people who had an identity that you had too, that you were covering up for safety, for literal survival. We just started touching on the way that the feminist movement has chosen to exclude trans and gender nonconforming people. This is something that I have become aware of more and more so as my feminism has become, I guess, more known or more globally circulated. I have become because I’m a very outspoken trans ally and ally for those who consider themselves or who are nonbinary and gender nonconforming. I’ve become like a lightning rod where feminists, rad feminists is what they call themselves often trans exclusionary rad feminists, radical feminists. So if you see the word on social media “terf”, that’s what it means. It’s a trans exclusionary radical feminists. They have started to turn on me and consistently harass me because they consider me a traitor to feminism for aligning myself with trans people and gender nonconforming people. And I, I cannot understand their problem. I genuinely I can’t even, I’m, I’m a practical and relatively bright person and it makes no sense to me because for starters, why would we ever deny ourselves more allies?
ALOK [00:25:23] Right.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:25:23] What part of us thinks that we’re winning this war? What part of us thinks that things are going great for us? Why would we ever shut the door on human beings who want to join us and fight for our rights, who’ve been fighting for our rights long before we were even able to? Some of the, at the forefront of so many big movements that have liberated women, have been trans women.
ALOK [00:25:43] Right. Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:25:44] And so it makes no sense to me, especially considering how much we know how oppressed we are. We know what it feels like to be consistently bullied, harassed and pushed into corners. Why would we ever take that and subject someone else to that? So I wonder if you can possibly shed some light on why I think, what are they called? Gender critical.
ALOK [00:26:02] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:26:02] And Terfs, what their problem is?
ALOK [00:26:05] Right. I want to say, I guess, to begin by saying it’s not even that trans women are allies. It’s that trans women are women.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:26:14] Yes.
ALOK [00:26:14] And so what happens is we would never call, say, a woman with a disability an ally to the women’s movement.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:26:20] Mmhmm.
ALOK [00:26:21] What happens is that we understand trans people as something separate than women. And let me give an example to illustrate that. So during Women’s History Month, I often speak about the need for trans inclusive feminism. And I have trans exclusionary feminists say stick to Pride. That’s your month.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:26:38] Yeah.
ALOK [00:26:39] I was sitting there like, wait, are you presuming that all women are cis gender and heterosexual? Oh, wait. You are. And this is the problem with contemporary feminism. The experiences of white middle class cis gender straight women are taken as the default experience for all women all across the world. So the way that they define patriarchy and the way that they experienced violation from patriarchy is standardized as the only form of patriarchy. And that’s what cis and white privilege looks like, is being able to take your particular experiences and say that’s the only experience. But actually, there are many experiences of patriarchy and trans women and trans feminine people like me experience something called trans misogyny. And what trans misogyny looks like is the constant scrutiny of our bodies, as if there’s something fundamentally wrong with us and not that there’s something fundamentally wrong with a binary gender system. So what that looks like is in my career. Every interview I do, every room I’m in. People are literally just gawking at me. They can’t even listen to what I’m saying. There’s an obsession with my body. I see people looking at my genitalia, trying to figure out. I have people commenting lewdly about everything. Everywhere I go, I’m hyper sexualized or I’m hyper desexualized. I’m seen as an animal. And all of that is trans misogyny, where I’m not even able to speak in the room because people just want to put me as the evening entertainment. That’s what trans misogyny is. You imagine us as just on your, on your, on your drag shows. You don’t actually imagine us in your boardrooms. You don’t actually imagine us on your TV shows. You don’t imagine us on our subways. Trans misogyny is also about policing us so that you never see us. So what happens is so often people will say trans women and transgender people. This is a new critique. This is new. You’re just new. And it’s like actually we’ve been here since the very beginning. It’s just that you hid us. You kept us away and now we’re building our collective power and we’re challenging that erasure. And so what’s happening is that the entitlement of cis women is being challenged. And for me, trans exclusionary feminism is not just about people saying I hate transwoman or trans people. That, we would never say racism is just people who explicitly say “I am a racist”. Trans exclusionary feminism is also the way that feminism defines patriarchy. So mainstream feminism understands patriarchy as just men oppressing women. But actually trans inclusive feminism understands that patriarchy is the defining of the gender binary and the policing of everyone into gender norms. And so what that looks like is if you are a woman who’s seen as more muscular or has body hair, you’re seen as mannish. And if you’re a man who’s seen as frail or emotional, you’re seen as gay or sensitive. And every body is policed into these gender stereotypes and gender norms of what a man or what a woman is supposed to look like. And men and women are supposed to be distinctly opposites. Like, if you’re feminine, then there could be no ounce of masculinity in you. And if you’re masculine, even liking Coldplay is seen as you being feminine.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:02] Ugh, so ridiculous.
ALOK [00:30:03] So ridiculous. So what trans inclusive feminism says is we’re trying to challenge gender norms so that every person can self-determined their own gender. And I think a lot of feminists don’t understand that, that what gender self-determination looks like is that we’re trying to create a world where everyone can safely express who they are without fear of violence. And for me, in 2020, I can’t even go outside without fearing violence. So to hear these gender critical feminists say that we have all this magical power, I’m like, sweetie, give me that power, give me that power when people are throwing trash on me on the street. Give me that power with that, where my entire career I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to even be listened to because people just want to gawk at me. Give me that power. Whenever actually what, what’s happening in this country right now is that there are hundreds of pieces of anti trans li-, legislation trying to disappear trans people from existing in public spaces being used and justified in the name of feminism. Why isn’t mainstream feminism saying anti trans discrimination is profoundly anti feminist? Feminism actually supports trans people, but it’s only trans people who even know about these bills. It’s only trans people who know that six trans women were murdered in the past five weeks. It’s only trans people who know that in Idaho they passed two unconstitutional bills that are literally trying to define us out of existence. Why is it only us who knows? It’s because we’re seen as disposable. And what I’m trying to do with my work is actually challenge that and say trans women and trans feminine people don’t just belong in feminism. But feminism needs to listen to us as leaders. We’re not just trying to be ornamental. We’re trying to be instrumental.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:31:49] I agree. God, I want to clap. I might just do it, I might just clap.
ALOK [00:31:54] You got me on a soapbox that I’m like woo!
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:31:56] No, I think it’s great. And also, we just don’t think about how harmful the binaries are. We don’t think about, you know, we, we look at binary in such a kind of costume way of how people dress, or how they do their makeup or whatever, what their body type looks like. No one talks enough. And I try to talk about this all the time, in particular in sympathy to men of what patriarchy feels like and what binary has closed us off into, you know, something that has hurt me and so many of my, the people I love the most so much. Are these, these standards that we’re supposed to live up to emotionally. You know, I’m not supposed to express myself or else I’m aggressive and I’m hysterical and I’m bossy and I’m nasty and I’m rude and I’m difficult. And at the same time, my boyfriend releases beautiful love songs that are about his own feelings and his sensitivity, and he gets called “sad boy” music and mocked and ridiculed over that. And this is a whole genre, Frank Ocean’s in this genre, like all kinds of people. And most of my male friends have got severe mental illness now in no small part down to the fact that they have never been told that it is OK for them to express themselves in any way other than explicit violence. They’re not allowed to cry. They’re not allowed to say they feel sad or heartbroken or lonely or rejected. They just swallow it and it’s killing them. We have the highest numbers of male suicide of all time. Young, young male suicide. And it’s just, it’s these, these setups, the standards that are so modern in the history of time, which I’m going to get you to explain to us just how modern they are in a second. They have forced us to conform to something that may not naturally be who we are, emotionally, it’s so unfair to be forced into these categories and we have no idea who we really are. We can’t have the argument of nature and nurture when we have been conditioned from the second we’re given like a pink onesie to wear. From the minute we are born and everything, the first thing we see on television is princesses and a prince. And the prince comes to rescue the the weak and lonely and desperate princess. We are conditioned by our mothers, by our fathers, by everything we see out in the world, by our clothes, by art, by media. So how the fuck are any of us going to know who we actually are? How can we? When we’ve been like soaked in gender rules?
ALOK [00:34:27] I think it’s a constant process of self reflection, and unlearning.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:34:32] Yeah. And we bully so that we, in, in the hopes that we will not be bullied. I, I remember you once discussing the fact that there was one boy in particular who bullied you at school. And bullied you really badly throughout school and that recently you got a message from them on social media. Will you tell me about that message?
ALOK [00:34:53] Yeah, totally. I got a message from them saying, I’m really sorry that I tormented you in high school. The truth is, I’m actually bisexual. And I couldn’t name it at the time. And I saw you and I felt like if I bullied you, then people wouldn’t think that I was queer too, and that I could get away with just being perceived as straight. And it was a real, you know, moment for me, because that is exactly what my work is about, is about believing that oftentimes the reason people are harassing me is because they are scared or they’re lonely or they don’t have enough love or care. And so I responded and I said, thank you so much for letting me know that. I love you and I support you. And I’m so happy that you’re out and that you’re part of my community in this way.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:35:36] We see that so often, the amount of times that we see a legislator who is fiercely anti-gay rights, it turns out that they are gay and they’ve been caught with a young gay person in a sex act. It’s so, it’s, it’s such an age old story. It’s so easily identifiable, identifiable, you know, not in all cases, but with so many cases where, where someone bully someone because they see something of themselves in that other person and they’re afraid of it. And they think by beating you, they will beat it out of themselves. It’s an emotional statement for them and so pathetic.
ALOK [00:36:12] That’s what makes trans misogyny so lethal, is because men have beat out their own femininity in themselves so that when they see someone who looks like me, who they’re often reading as a feminine man, they see a possibility of what they could have been if they didn’t torment themselves. And so they externalize the violence that they’ve done to themselves onto me. And it took me a long time to realize that, because at first, when I first moved to New York City and I was wearing skirts and dresses everyday, that, that first few years was some of the most petrifying of my life. It was heartbreaking because as a young person, I dream that one day I would be able to, like, move to a city like New York and I’d be safe and included and accepted and I’d be able to wear what I wanted, and then there I was as an, as a young adult, not able to. And petrified and terrified. And I had to realize, oh, wait, this is gonna be the rest of my life. There’s never going to be a moment where I don’t feel persecuted, where my safety is being challenged because other people haven’t actually done their own healing work around gender so that I trigger in them their own repression. And it took a long time for me to realize that because at first I was just angry. I was so upset. I was like, this is unfair. I want to be able to, like, be free. Like, I want to be able to just-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:37:29] No, you’re not hurting anyone.
ALOK [00:37:32] You know? Hello. Like, I want to be able to just exist, like walk around in public, like go to the bodega, like I just want to be able to, and I also just se-, not selfishly, but I wanted to have a self. Because for so long of my life, I was living other people’s dreams. And for the first time I was like, this is me. And I was so excited to show the world this is me. Look at the hard work I’ve put into this. And to have that projected like whack-a-mole. They just literally tried to disappear me. At first I was so angry and I was so hurt. But then I took that rage and that anger and I brought it into my poetry and I started to write and write and write. And what I found is that anger became compassion and that grief became love. And I started to realize I love all of these men who harass me more than they loved themselves. And my love is so tremendous because it is a historical love of trans politics that we have been here at the margins of your society saying when you’re ready to love yourself, come to me. When you’re ready to stop policing your bodies to fit into these arbitrary stereotypes, come to me. And that is the legacy that I learned from elder transwoman in New York. Who taught me, hey Alok, actually, you’re beautiful in the parts of you that people’s shame you for. You’re beautiful for the very things that you grew up hating about yourself and that ability to take the shame, to take the grief, to take the pain, to take the anger and to turn it into beauty, fabulosity, energy, creativity. That for me is how I survived.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:39:03] It’s something that I wish we would have more of as well. And take cue from that within the fat community and within the disabled community who are also in different and more insidious, silent ways, ostracized from our mainstream culture and society and just open, it’s open season in particular on fat people.
ALOK [00:39:22] Absolutely.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:39:22] So I really, I really feel that. I think it’s an amazing philosophy that you’ve reached. Can you explain to me the history of why we detest hair on someone who isn’t deemed infinitely masculine?
ALOK [00:39:34] Totally. So we were talking earlier about how different rhetoric’s are used to just basically hide people’s sexism. And one of those rhetoric’s is hygiene. So a lot of times people will be like the reason we remove our body hair is because it’s more hygienic. And it’s like actually, babe, like having body hair allows my body to regulate sweat really well. It’s actually really great for me. Thank you.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:39:56] Also stop stuff from getting into our bits.
ALOK [00:39:58] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:39:58] That’s why I never understand why everyone’s waxing off everything around their bum holes and vaginas.
ALOK [00:40:02] I mean do what you need to do. You have your own body, self determination. But I think it’s important to understand where these ideas come from.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:40:10] Yeah.
ALOK [00:40:10] So actually, what happened in the United States was that body hair became racialized. So there was a fear of immigration in early 20th century from Eastern European people, from Jewish people, from Greek people. And a lot of white Anglo-Saxon people were like, we’re going to lose our dominance. We have to prove that we are the most beautiful, the most advanced, the most civilized people. And so the question of white women’s beauty became really important as part of proving the racial supremacy of the United States. And so what happened is body hair became likened to these immigrants. And it became racialized. And removing body hair became a way of being a good, beautiful white woman. And the narrative around beauty culture at the time was men are fighting war abroad. Women are fighting war at home by being beautiful. So the way that you help support a nation was by being beautiful and being beautiful was about buying razors and actually removing your body hair and so actually-
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:17] And people being furry also related to you were saying Darwinism.
ALOK [00:41:21] That actually this connotation of people who are hairy being something bad has to do with this racist social Darwinism, which believes that black and brown people are closer to animals like apes and that white people are closer to humans. So if you have body hair, you’re somehow closer to animals and you’re less human. Even though it’s important to realize here there are plenty of white people with body hair and there’s plenty of brown people without body hair and the same way as which there are plenty of cis women with body hair and there’s plenty of cis men without body hair. But this is just an example of how these stereotypes don’t actually care about the reality of our bodies. They’re just literally made up to fit into a political agenda. The gender binary was made up in order to fit into a patriarchal agenda. It’s not natural. It’s a cultural, political and social construction.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:42:17] Fascinating. God, I’ve so much. We all have so much to look into about where all of our aesthetic decisions come from. Talk to me about the history of trans and gender nonconforming, because people feel like it’s quite modern. Some people some people feel like it happened sometime around the 80s, but this goes way back, right?
ALOK [00:42:43] We’ve been here for thousands of years. What is actually new is the Western gender binary. So it’s so ridiculous to me that people think that, like, wearing a skirt is feminine, because where I’m from in India, I grew up around the most masculine men ever wearing skirts all the time. We just didn’t call them skirts and it didn’t disqualify them. The sartorial cues that we have of what masculinity are, what femininity are our recent historical constructions that emerged in the West during the early 20th century and late 19th century. And-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:43:19] Billy Porter and I were talking about this in our episode, where we were like how dumb are trousers? Who would do that? Who would make them? Who would make it dick and like, who’d make a shaft and balls pick a side, like pick a side that they have to hang on for the rest of the day. What a crazy invention. Really only makes sense for women.
ALOK [00:43:36] And so the invention actually-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:43:38] Yeah, go on.
ALOK [00:43:39] Of those silhouettes emerged, there’s an amazing book called “Sex and Suits: The Evolution of Modern Dress” that traces the history of gendering fashion. And what Anne Hollander argues in this book is that actually prior to the 18th and 19th centuries, people of all genders would be wearing makeup, wigs, jewelry, kind of gowns or lace. And that actually-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:44:02] Fabulous.
ALOK [00:44:02] Yes. It was amazing. But actually, gender was not the criteria for clothing. It was religion, it was class, it was profession. But then what happened is that people began to believe in a gender binary that had never existed in their imagination before. And they were told to be a woman is to be the opposite of being a man. So fashion designers.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:44:22] But which people? Like which parts of the world started this bullshit?
ALOK [00:44:27] Europe. So European fashion designers started to basically design women’s clothes to make them look as different from men’s clothes as possible. So here’s when we began to see the emergence of the suit as the male garb. And the suit was supposed to pay homage to the nude male Grecian sculpture. So the suit was really supposed to make men look like they had a bigger torso and a leaner leg. And was supposed to emphasize that men were rational, whereas women were supposed to wear incredible corsets, big gowns to be completely impractical, to prove that women were somehow impractical and ridiculous. And then this justified the economic roles that men and women were siloed into.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:45:08] This is so true. Sorry, you’ve just reminded me. I’m, I’m watching “The Great” at the moment on, on Hulu. And she can’t get out of any of her clothes. She’s keeps having panic attacks and she can’t get out of any of her clothes on her own because there are so many ties and buttons and just millions of things all the way down the back. So you’re stuck in a conflicting, like in a constricting corset in which you cannot breathe and you pass out a lot of the time because if someone isn’t around to help you out of it, you are stuck. You imprisoned in your own gown. And all of the layers and petticoats which slow you down so you can’t run away. Let’s not even get into heels. How fucking crazy they are, even though I love them.
ALOK [00:45:47] Even though heels were first made for men who were riding horses and then became these objects.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:45:53] Wow.
ALOK [00:45:53] Right? But the reason that we have these kind of stereotypical gendered fashion was to support the roles that women and men were designated to in society. And I think this goes to your point that oftentimes when you speak about the binary, we’re just focused on people’s physical appearances. But it also has to do with our perceptions of competency. Women and the feminist movement have been challenging forever this sexist narrative that women can only be clerks or seamstresses or domestic workers. All these things are important and incredible careers, but a woman can be whatever she wants in the same ways in which a man does not have to be this like top dog business dad, like a man can also be a stay at home dad and that doesn’t emasculate him. But these kind of roles became situated as part of the kind of industrial, enlightened, new enlightenment society that we’re just focused off of having babies. And this is the point I really want people to understand. The reason that we have two genders is because dividing billions of people into one of two genders that just conveniently be fit into this model that can make babies is because society values us more by our reproductive abilities than by our actual interests, our actual dreams, our actual passions. Defining womanhood by your ability to reproduce is the most sexist thing in the world because women should be able to do whatever they want to do. Men should be able to, like being in a marriage and having children is not an achievement, a congratulations. It’s just something that you do, it’s not something that we should be ingrained into feeling as the only way that we’re successful.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:47:34] And also-.
ALOK [00:47:34] And especially-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:47:35] No, go on, sorry.
ALOK [00:47:35] Growing up in an Indian family, my sister always was told, your career doesn’t matter. What matters is your marriagability. And it doesn’t really matter that you’re getting an education right now because you’re not even going to be working because your man’s going to be making the money. And my sister and I have this in common where we say, hey, we’re protesting gender norms together because this same norm of woman that is policing you out, that is telling you that you’re too hairy or that you don’t have the right body is the same norm of womanhood that is policing me out. And we’re going to actually work together to develop ways of saying, hey, I’m me and I get to determine what I do with my life, where I work, what my interests are and what I wear. Your mythologies around gender are irrelevant. And that, once again, is the lesson to me of how we can all come together to say these gender binary norms are toxic and they’re not helping anyone.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:48:30] And also, it pains me whenever I see feminists or people who claim to be feminists saying that the reason that trans women or gender nonconforming people cannot join in with our movement is because they don’t menstruate or they cannot carry babies. There are so many cis women who, for whatever reason, don’t menstruate and who cannot have babies or maybe don’t have uteruses even from very young ages. This isn’t something that just happens in your 60s.
ALOK [00:48:59] And there’s so many men and nonbinary people who also menstruate, who are conveniently lost in that conversation.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:49:04] Exactly. But my point is, is that, that they are they are sitting there trying to protect this cis bubble, not realizing that they’re actually knocking cis members, technically cis people, out of their own circle based on something that can easily stop happening to any typical cis woman. It just, it doesn’t, it’s so insensitive and ignorant. I honestly, it blows my mind in this day and age when we have this much information and we know so much about oppression, we know so much about the emotional and societal impact of oppression and division, how we’re still so dedicated to being distracted by it. All of this benefits who? It benefits the patriarchy. I want to ask because, ok, I have two questions. One of them is because we hear so much about the downside and the painful side and the violent side of living in your truth as a gender nonconforming person or as a trans person. What are the glorious upsides?
ALOK [00:50:07] I’m so glad that you asked that question, because so often people only engage with trans people through cis people’s narrations of our lives.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:50:18] Mmhmm.
ALOK [00:50:18] I love being trans and I love being gender nonconforming. And I would never go any other way in my life because it has brought me so much joy, so much peace, so much presence. For the majority of my life, there was a schism between who I knew myself to be and what I could share with the world. And that haunted me and everything that I was doing and thinking. I was never able to be fully present. But now I’m fully present in my emotional, in my emotional self, in my spiritual self and my artistic self that I’m able to bring all with me to everything that I do, which makes me funnier, smarter, able to think on my feet a lot more. Makes me more-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:50:58] Much more present.
ALOK [00:50:58] Yeah. Present. Loving, compassionate, there. It’s the opposite of disassociation. And I don’t think we often have that language for what it looks like because we only have the vocabulary often to describe when things are painful and arduous. But what about when things are exhilarating and euphoric and dynamic? Like I have developed some of the closest romances of my life with my friends, other trans and nonbinary people who have given up everything, who have lost access to so much in this world. But we love each other so tenderly and so profoundly because we know what it’s like to be hunted and what it’s like to be hated. And when I say I use they/them, people say that’s a plural pronoun. And I say, yes, it is both singular and it is both plural. And that’s what I mean when I say I am gender nonconforming, I say me as Alok, I’m gender nonconforming. But I’m also part of this dynamic raggamuffin group of people who are so loving that I don’t even need to know anything about them. But when I started touring in my early 20s, I would just be crashing at other gender nonconforming people’s apartments across the world. And I felt safe with them. They would coordinate my safety to and from my venues. They would arrange my, like a lot of my early gigs, they would literally arrange clothing for me in my room that the community outsource together. So that when I came, I would have something to wear that I could feel proud of because a lot of issues facing the trans community, but one of them is baggage weight restrictions. Oh my God. 20 pounds. Like how? I can not even put one heel in that. And so my community would literally crowdsource their clothes to come up with outfits that I could wear at my gigs. And I literally have performed in places like Kampala, Uganda, where from the minute that I’m outside, I have transwoman making sure that I’m safe, telling me where to go, where not to go. I’ve never felt more safe in my life than around trans and gender nonconforming people. I don’t think a lot of people ever have people that they can be that vulnerable with.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:57] No.
ALOK [00:52:57] People that they can share the deepest traumas of their life with. And I have been loved and I want to give that love to the world because my gender is the product of all the care and the love that I’ve experienced in my life. It’s not just my heroism or my strength. A lot of people will be like, Alok, how do you wage the battle against the gender binary every day? I’m like, well, it’s hard. And then I have people to process it with and it makes it less hard. That things are less-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:53:23] It’s not just less hard, it’s beautiful. Like I, I’ve recently been shooting a show for HBOMAX called “Legendary” and it’s about the ballroom community, which has predominantly people of color who are queer or trans or gender nonconforming. And so I have to say, I have never in my life, ever, witnessed so much love and compassion and strength and ride-or-die between a community, even the ones who are rivaling against each other, even those who are battling to the emotional death for money, who will shade each other and say horrific shit to each other in front of other people. That will always end in tears. A hug and a kiss and so much love because they haven’t been able to rely on their own families they’ve been born into. So they’ve chosen their families. And those bonds are stronger than anything I could ever imagine having. Even with the people that I’ve grown up with, I-.
ALOK [00:54:24] And I think that’s why-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:54:25] I’m in so awe of it.
ALOK [00:54:27] That’s why they try to police us out, because we’re so powerful and we’re so magic that the way that we live could change the world. Imagine if people could be this vulnerable. Imagine if people could be this interdependent. Imagine if pe-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:54:40] There would be no war.
ALOK [00:54:41] Yes. If people didn’t rely on their families of origin to be their only families. But learn that your friends can truly be your family and your greatest love of your life. And imagine that. And that’s why I try to reframe it, to be like the reason, they say, there’s this ironic thing happening where they say you’re an insignificant minority and yet they find millions of dollars to disappear us. If we were so insignificant, why would they be working so hard to exterminate us? It’s because within our modes of living is a way out. Is a way out of everything that has led us to this crisis that we’re in right now. Is a way out that is loving and interdependent. I want to tell a story that illustrates this. Two weeks ago, my best friends who are all trans and on binary people of color assembled a Zoom meeting for me to consult me on my life. They literally were like, hey-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:55:35] Like an intervention?
ALOK [00:55:36] No. Just like just to check in, like and they knew that this would be the best thing in the world for me because talking about feelings is my favorite thing. And so we had a Zoom for two and a half hours where everyone shared how they knew me, what they loved about me, what they are, what they get frustrated with me about. And then we just processed my life collectively. And I was like, should I be doing this? Should I do this with my career? What should I do with my dating life? What should I do about this book? And then everyone just gave a really thoughtful feedback and was like, hey, let’s debrief this afterwards. What comes up for you?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:56:05] I’ve got that. I’ve got that on Twitter, all day, every day from complete strangers who I haven’t asked for that from, Who tell me their opinions on, on my life and what I should be doing. I prefer the sound of your one.
ALOK [00:56:15] I don’t want that from strangers. Yeah. I want it from people who-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:56:17] No, I get it all the time. Just unsolicited fucking life advice. I think that’s great that you have that from people that you love.
ALOK [00:56:24] I was telling my mom on the phone. I was like, Mom, you know, this just thing has happened. I’m feeling so happy. Like I just love my friends so much. I feel love and I know what it’s like to actually feel loved. And my mom was like, I’m so jealous. That would have saved me from so many bad decisions in my life if I could have counsel to actually be like, hey, everyone, I’m thinking about this. Is this what I need to be doing? And that for me is a testament to like, yes, there are difficult and horrific things about living a gender nonconforming life, but there are also incredible and beautiful things. And these things don’t even have to be in a binary. The joy about being nonbinary is I can hold simultaneity. It’s about both and. It’s about yes, I’m grieving, but I’m also loving. Yes, I think that you messed up, but I also forgive you. Yes. I think that you have room for growth and I need you to have boundaries for me for a while. But I also believe that in the future we might be able to be together. And I think that we live in an extremely dichotomous world right now where people are rehashing binaries all the time. The us and them or good and bad or radical or complicit. And I’m like, hey, everyone, these are not the lives that we actually live. The lives that we live are deeply contradictory lives. They’re lives that are deeply emotional, they’re lives that are deeply needy. Let’s be honest about our need and let’s stop pretending that we don’t need anyone else.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:57:43] That’s so true. It’s so beautiful and trying to imagine a world in which we were all allowed to communicate and tell each other how we really feel. Like an honest world, an honest world, and an emotionally stable world, which we would be if we had access to all those things. You know, there’s sometimes where I can’t quite understand why we underfund mental health around the world like it’s so severely underfunded. And there’s a part of me that thinks at this point we have enough information to know that it would benefit the GDP. It would benefit the economy. It would benefit our, all of our working structures and systems in society for all people to be happier and more mentally stable. But we don’t fund it. And then there’s the little tin hat conspiracy person in me that’s like, well, if everyone stays unhappy and unsure and unstable, then they are able to remain easily fear mongered. Then we can continue to like, push them like cattle into these different pins.
ALOK [00:58:45] I’m smiling so hard. I am snapping so hard.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:48] It, it helps the people at the very, very top with the darkest agendas so much.
ALOK [00:58:54] Yes.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:54] For us to maintain chaos and for us to eat each other, which you and I have been talking about with the whole rad fem vs. terf vs. gender nonconforming versus trans ally, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. We’re all just eating each other. We need to adopt this more loving and accepting way of life. It’s the whole point of this podcast. Okay, Alok. How do people because this is why you’ve written “Beyond the Gender Binary”. You’ve written this book as I guess it’s almost kind of a a manual of sorts to those who would like to join in with this fight and be allies. Can you give us some nuggets of gold advice for those of us who wish to be allies and better supporters of not just gender nonconforming people and trans people, but also of a better world?
ALOK [00:59:44] Absolutely. So I wrote “Beyond the Gender Binary” because so many people tell me that they genuinely support trans and gender nonconforming people, but they just don’t know what to do and what to say and that they’re having arguments with their families, where their family is just saying these horrific things that they don’t know how to have rebuttals. And so what I wanted this to be as kind of a handbook for people to go into hostile environments because there are so many and those also environments are not just in our legislature, but also in our homes. Right? And to actually argue with mom and dad and say, OK, when you say these are biological men, let me actually explain to you why that that’s messed up. And I explain in this book kind of bite sized ways to have these conversations that are infused by history, which I think is one of the biggest arguments for trans life, which is that all of these gender norms are recent and were created in the West. And if you actually care about, you know, the global majority of the world, you think that you should look outside of there, you know? Literally tangible things that you can do to respond. So the first thing I really want people to do is to have courageous conversations. When you are not speaking to transphobic people in your life. They’re speaking to us, whether it’s online, in person or through policy. And we need everyone to be having courageous conversations to actually educate people, because ignorance is an organizing strategy and ignorance has been recruiting and doing push-ups for hundreds of years. And now we need to exercise intelligence and to exercise intelligence means we don’t shame people. We cannot shame people for not knowing things. People do not know things because they’ve been organized into ignorance. So we need to actually have compassionate conversations where we say, I’m sorry that your education system didn’t teach you this, but here’s some things that are really important to me, and it’s important to frame it as important to you, because so often people have conversations like it’s important that we support “insert minority group”. Babe, it’s also about the kind of world you want to live in. There is no dignity in living in a world where black trans women are being murdered. There’s absolutely no dignity living in a world where trans and gender nonconforming genius is being police out of the entertainment industry. Imagine how much better Hollywood would be if there were actually more transgender and gender nonconforming people in it. It’s, it’s-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:02:05] They got no new stories, they keep doing remakes because there’s nothing more to say. They’ve exhausted the binary. They’ve exhausted the straight story.
ALOK [01:02:14] It is so embarrassing to me.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:02:14] We don’t see any stories of people with disabilities or short people or fat people or people who are gender nonconforming. There are a million stories out there.
ALOK [01:02:23] It’s embarrassing to me that with all of the representation that white cis straight men have, they still don’t know how to date, they still don’t know how to dance. I’m like, you literally have a million movies. I’ve got zero. And I’m still figuring it out. And so with this book, it’s about having creative conversations. And then I think the second piece is about educating yourself on the status of trans rights where you are locally, because oftentimes a lot of people only focus on the country wide level. But a lot of these anti trans bills are happening at the local and state level. So it’s important to familiarize yourself with organizations that are working for trans rights in your local context and then reach out to those organizations and see what they could you support with. During the pandemic, a lot of trans young people right now are experiencing a lot of harassment and violence at home. So there’s been some amazing initiatives that have been created to support trans young people because it’s really important understand here and I want to, I really want this point to make it to people. When gay marriage got legalized in the United States, many cis gender and straight people thought that was the end of the LGBT rights movement. In fact, a lot of cis gay white men thought so too. But what happened is that that’s when they moved their focus and their ire to trans people in the United States. And they started to be hundreds of anti-trans legislation. But all the funding went away because donors were like, oh, we’re done. It’s over. Because cis gay men were like, oh, we’ve achieved equality. We don’t really care about these other people. And so what you have to happen was a movement that was being led by black and brown, low income, trans and gender nonconforming people who didn’t have access to the resources to actually resist any of these laws. And you have largely under-resourced movement. So for me, it’s not, it’s not just about showing up for trans people symbolically. It’s about thinking how do we also give resources to trans and gender nonconforming people? How do we give economic opportunities? Because so many of us have been kicked out of education institutions, have been kicked out of our career trajectories when we decided to declare our gender publicly, how do we actually think, OK, I’m now creating a new organization. I’m going to have an internship program specifically to build the leadership of trans people that is paid. There’s so many creative ways that we can help out trans and gender nonconforming people. And I think it’s really important now more than ever because this pandemic is going to worsen every inequality that there ever was. And trans and gender nonconforming people were already struggling that are now going to be struggling even more. I know so many trans artists that are my peers that are like, I can’t be an artist anymore. And that just breaks my heart because I’m like, like the most brilliant people in the world deserve platforms. But so often these people are ignored.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:05:08] Well, “Beyond the Gender Binary”, Alok’s book is available this week, and I suggest everyone goes out and buys it and parents. This is a good book for you to have just in case your child needs that information for themselves or for their friends. I think that this is information we all need because this is a bigger part of our society and then the media lets us know about and it’s time for us to stop gatekeeping. It’s so embarrassing. It’s so short sighted and it’s so lonely.
ALOK [01:05:38] And it’s so boring.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:05:38] It’s so lonely and boring. Alok, thank you for giving me so much of your time. Before you go, will you tell me, please, what do you weigh?
ALOK [01:05:48] I weigh my deep compassion for everyone and everything in the world. I weigh my belief in the transformation of myself and every sentient being. I weigh vulnerability which creates space for other people to feel. I weigh my art and my poems and my images and all of the beauty that I bring to the world. But most of all, I weigh all of the love and the care that I’ve been showered with my entire life.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:06:17] Yay! Thank you so much. I appreciate your candor and your passion and your eloquence and your dedication to do the work to educating the rest of us. Not everyone has the, has the energy left to do the labor. And, and I completely understand that. And thank you for being that person for us. Alok, I love you very much.
ALOK [01:06:38] Thanks for having me. Have a good day.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:06:41] Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. I just want to give an extra massive thank you to people who helped me make this, Sophia Jennings, my producer and researcher. Kimmie Lucas, my producer. Andrew Carson, my editor. James Blake, my boyfriend, who made the beautiful music for this show. And now I’d like to leave you by passing the mic to a member of our community, sharing their “I Weigh”.
I WEIGH COMMUNITY MEMBER [01:07:03] I weigh my strength, my progress. My past experiences and my identity as a queer disabled person and all of the opportunities for being creative has brought me.
February 3, 2023
Actress, LGBTQ+ advocate, and legend Laverne Cox joins Jameela this week to discuss her journey to who she is now, how spending time with trans women changed her mind on who she herself could be, the birth of #transisbeautiful, the problem with trans politics today, reaching across the aisle, the real problems facing Americans today, and more.