in 2013 my friend malcolm asked a room full of people what healing felt like and none of us could answer. malcolm said that so many of us are fluent in our hurt, but not our joy. how are we supposed to fight for something when we don’t even know what it feels like? malcolm is one of those friends whose questions linger like lint in your pockets: light, gentle, persistent. ***

recently i got the news that my childhood friend tyler passed away. tyler was everything i am not: white, conservative, straight, christian. in other words, “the man.” before both of us had the language to articulate difference we were best of buds on the same soccer team for years. eventually we grew apart which is a nice texan way of saying our friendship was not able to withstand the invisible hands that pushed us to different lunch tables, classes, lives.

i ended up back home a couple of months before tyler died. i was in town to perform for the first time and was overwhelmed. i don’t remember much about that night but what i do remember is tyler posting on the event: “everyone should come support alok because a lot of their poems are about this place!” what i do know is that i had never talked to tyler about my gender before. what i do remember is how he sat at the back and smiled throughout. what i do know is that every system in this country was set up to ensure that he did not come to my show. what i do know is that he did.

i was deeply affected by tyler’s passing. i hadn’t talked with him for almost a decade, but i was still overwhelmed with grief. then i remembered malcolm’s question and that silent room: what does joy feel like? and i was filled with an incredible lightness, a collapse of time, a profound sense of resolution. joy comes from that which made tyler show up that night – that completely illogical and inexplicable drive outside of language. thank you tyler for reminding me what i am fighting for: a belief in the infinite transformation of everyone and everything. i never got a chance to tell you but you mattered a great deal to me and that night in our home town you gave permission for some deep part of me be free. i hope you are now, too.