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never their own, always his

on my way home after a pride party i stopped to pick up some fruit for a midnight snack. i was wearing makeup + a dress, but that should be irrelevant to this story or any story about gender based violence. it’s not about what we wear, it’s about what they do. why is the focus always on our appearance, never their hands? i handed the shop keeper $1 for 4 bananas. he asked me if i had a penis. it was over 85 degrees outside but i froze. i am alone. it is dark. there are several blocks to my house. if i say something what if he attacks me? if i walk away what if he attacks me? if i don’t answer what if he attacks me? they keep calling me brave but i would rather be safe than that. so i smiled. this is what i do: i smile & keep quiet. i hope that this submission will allow me to leave. it is a sacred art form i learned from my mother who learned from hers who learned from hers. i learned early on how to charm to disarm. i carved this smile from stone. “do you have breasts?” it was past midnight. i had just come back from a pride celebration. at dinner i had talked about how rather than strategizing against public harassment, the lgbtq movement has conceded that we have to conform to gender binary to be safe. i talk about harassment & then i get harassed. visibility is traumatic. it is exhausting. it is the opposite of a party. no it is being at the party & watching people celebrate a victory you have never felt. it is being the only one who looks like you. not by circumstance, but by design. it is a Pride catalyzed by gender non-conforming trans femmes that continues to push us out. is this what it means to be out? not to be free, but to be made a freak? “are you a girl or a boy? i said “both.” then he reached to touch my chest. i ran out with the bananas. i only remembered to breathe when i got home. the bananas, they were stale. my mouth, it was dry. they stayed up all night sweating on a dance floor & i stayed up all night sweating on my bed. to each his own. never their own, always his. always his.

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listening to sadness

this past week i have been unyieldingly sad. the type of sadness that immobilizes: sore legs, sore heart, snoozed alarms, sleeping during the day, waking up in the night sad. sad like cancelled plans, or rather no plans, sad like not speaking much — instead sitting here still. still sad: like i can’t even get away from it, like it’s here to stay sad. .

& for the first time in a while i sat with my sadness & i listened & i learned that last week when i had to go to the emergency room to see my sick grandpa & there was another still moment before leaving the house — when i looked at the closet & had to choose between pants & skirt. pants = get there safely & swiftly to be there for him. skirt = maybe i won’t make it there. maybe i will: but in the bed beside him.
i am hurt most when the violence i experience spills onto the people who i love. i want to hide it from them. keep them safe even though i am not. sad because i want to be strong but i can’t. sad because this shouldn’t be about me, this should be about him. sad because i can’t mute it sad, sad that it won’t go away.

i thought about dying on the way to someone i love maybe dying & i thought about impossible choices, how sometimes i feel selfish for being myself when i think about the costs for other people, i thought about all of the people who don’t have to think about these things & that made me even more sad: when the emergency room becomes the emergency world where do we go? when we love people so much we would die for them what do we do?

sad because i wore pants. sad because it was easier. sad because i cried every time i looked at him there. sad because the nurses called me his grandson. sad because i was grieving us both. sad because we are both still alive & i am still. so. sad. 📸 @christianhutterphoto

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call me they

just a reminder that my pronouns are “they/them.” in a sentence that’s: “wow i like their boots!” or “they are on their way to the theater.” it’s hurtful when people come up to me & say they admire my work and then still refer to me as he/him “i was telling my friend is that him over there? and it is you.” like what??? it’s hurtful when i am invited for gigs & campaigns specifically for my visibility as a gender non-conforming person & am called he/him. it’s hurtful when i am literally being introduced to a full venue that i packed & am called he/him (lol what). these are the pitfalls of visibility: you want to look at us but you don’t want to regard our intelligence, difference, & personhood. hot take: if you actually believed us for who we say we are then remembering our pronouns once we tell them to you wouldn’t be this hard 👀 yes i know it’s difficult to shift habit & language but this is something TGNC people are doing as well! we were not magically bestowed with these knowledges & sensibilities, we are coming in to them through struggle, trying to excavate over time a more kind & gentle way to recognize & affirm ourselves & one another. heed our invitation to to this work & receive it as a blessing, not an inconvenience — one that allows you to journey beyond the tedium of the visual, the fatigue of the normative, and the brutality of the assumptive. we surpass all of this — we occupy more than physical space — we transcend convention & form — we birth language & ritual — we defy & in that refusal we create. let’s do better! love & need you. art by @cherry666soda

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on hope

hope is something i rarely allowed myself to feel. amidst the constant & relentless assault on the people i am & the people i love, the routine & systematic policing of gender non-conforming life, the callous drone of misattribution & misrecognition - hope felt unrealistic, misguided, maybe even painful. hope meant going outside & saying today is going to be the day i won’t be harassed (& then it happening. again. & again. the disappointment its own wound). hope meant today is going to be the day that people will defend me (& then meant being left behind empathy’s embrace). but, when i meet you — my audiences, my potential friends — when i meet the students resisting the gender binary, the lovers cultivating compassion for themselves & everyone, the organizers ensuring that everyone is safe, the bipoc trying to remember another way to live, the heartbroken ready & willing to cry in public with me. when i meet you the people concerned with my safety & vitality beyond the stage i experience a kind of internal blooming as in “look outside it is cold but when i speak, here is spring.” in here there is a garden growing in the depths i thought there was no potential for life. which goes to say i am learning that it is both possible to be honest about the reality of pain & injustice while also feeling the reality of something else. these states of being are not mutually exclusive. i am clenching my heart with one hand & reaching out for yours with the other. i am hurting (& i am ready to heal). i am hurting (& i am ready to heal). love & need you! x

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rooting for you

I just want to let you know that I am rooting for you. I want you to become your best self. I want to be your soccer mom cheering you on forever! I want a banner drop outside your window saying “THAT’S MY FRiEND!!!!” I am so committed to your healing! You mean so much to me! I am so grateful to have you here! You bring so much worth & dignity to my life simply for being! This world is so terrible and isolating and makes me so scared but I feel less alone knowing that you exist. Thank you for being honest, being present, being vulnerable, being messy. Thank you for needing & giving & needing & giving. I am constantly enriched by your presence, your artistry, your composite. I appreciate you so hard for trying and failing and trying again. Thank you for your paradoxes, your idiosyncrasies, your contradictions, your imperfection, your excess, your becoming. Thank you for your inconvenient & difficult parts, your stubborn parts, your celestial being! You give me hope & joy & tenderness and it means the world — no, it is the world. When you’re feeling like no one cares remember that you have a girlboy in your court who adores you & cares for you very much. Love & need you amsterdam, holland, world, universe.

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i am alive (it hurts)

originally published 2/21/19
a couple of weeks ago i shared a photo of me and talked about being called a tranny on the street in this outfit. after posting the photo, i received an onslaught of hateful comments calling me a monster, saying that i was disgusting, and that i deserved to die. this is just one of countless examples: when gender non-conforming people speak out against the violence we face, we expose ourselves to more harm. i wanted to use this as an opportunity to teach you all about the terror of transmisogyny, but i can’t. i’m too tired. & too scared. instead: here is my pain. it hurts so bad to go outside knowing that i will be harassed and no one will defend me. it hurts so bad that the only space i can be myself is the stage (read: entertaining you). it hurts so bad to be reduced to a joke, genitalia, a prop, a symbol, a nightmare. it hurts so bad to be discredited as an “attention seeker” as if we want to be tormented daily for existing. it hurts so bad to have my worth & safety linked to my physical appearance. it hurts so bad to know that if i modified my appearance to make people more comfortable i would experience less violence. it hurts so bad that i will continue to have to hurt for the rest of my life & still have people not get it: that this has always been about gender non-conformity. that the way we become beautiful, the way we become worthy, the way we become safe is by distancing ourselves from it.
my name is alok. i am alive (but it hurts). i am alive (but it hurts).

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valentines cry-in

originally published 2/16/19
On Valentines Day I hosted a cry-in where a bunch of strangers got together and talked about heartbreak, loneliness, fear, trauma, dysphoria, loss, and so much more. Yes we cried together, but we also giggled and sneezed and hugged. It was one of the most powerful nights of my life. Where do you go when your heart is broken? Where do you go when you need to scream or grieve or cry? There are so few spaces in the world where we can be honest about how terrifying living is. I wanted to create a space for this kind of honesty, where we could — for a moment — stop trying to be digestible & palatable, and instead be honest. What I have learned is that performance is one of the few spaces left in this society where we can be honest anymore. Why do we call people dramatic simply for expressing their feelings? The night was about dramatic intimacy: that something about performance, a microphone, a spot-light gives us permission to be more honest & bare witness to each others’ pain. I want to give everyone in the world a microphone or a spotlight & bear witness to their expression: the good, the bad, the everything. I think that’s what it takes to heal: to re-sensitize ourselves to our pain & the pain of others. Hosting this on valentines was even more important: on a day where love is concentrated & uplifted in one direction, we proliferated it. We found ways to love strangers as friends. Thank you to everyone who showed up. You changed my life. 📸@simoncourchel @theinvisibledog


belief beyond the word

in one telling of the story i could say that i am back “home” in New York. but to do so feels ludicrous. how we come to words for meaning only to recognize that they are often obstacles to meaning. like running into a wall over & over again. just because we can call it a wall doesn’t mean we stop hurting. these words they have egos and things to prove themselves, don’t they? we plant them & as they bloom we become intoxicated by their fragrance — so much so that reality shifts. in reality we created the word & yet it creates us. like we created the computers & they us. like we created the distance & it us. how silly it feels to say that i miss india & miss my achamma & miss the warmth...does a body miss the heart when it’s removed? it does not function. there are some forms of loss that carry no potential for nostalgia. they just itch. and haunt. forever. so no i am not functioning. i spend hours lying down looking outside windows in my apartment & windows on my screen furious that we haven’t found ways to apparate & eclipse time & space & all of the things that keep me from her and from you. the first thing she said when she saw me was that my hair made me look like a girl. and then she said. so what. it looked nice. “recognition” doesn’t cut it. i cut it. i left. i did not let her see me cry when i drove away. how to say: i was birthed again that afternoon? how to say it felt like home or rather made me believe in it. how to say that belief is something i am trying my best to hold on to. to give body to. to say there are these things that i may not have the words for but i still believe. or rather: i do not have the words for them & that’s why i believe.

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thank you, stranger

the other day this beautiful person i didn’t know called me sister & talked to me about the book i was reading. at first i recoiled & slightly panicked. most of the time people are so rude to me in public — when they do acknowledge me it’s to make fun of me, call me a freak, or make me into some spectacle. i have become conditioned into a constant state of fear — i know how to avert eyes, how to make myself as small as possible, how to squirm my way out of crowds & camera lenses. but i reminded myself that there is something else out there for me & for us so i looked up & i said hello. i was having a bad day of harassment & this person just talking to me about my book...and not like my appearance or my gender...felt so precious & unfamiliar & refreshing that when they left i just teared up. it’s these fleeting gestures that keep me afloat — the delicacy of people i do not know but still love. the poetry in motion: the art practice of intimacy. that refusal of hyper-individuation, that insistence on something else, that life force of friendship. it’s so easy for me to be fluent in the language of pain, but i am trying my best to hold the belonging amidst it — thank you for helping me just someone reading a book & not some spectacle. you mean the world to me & i am so blessed by your presence. thank you for your honesty, for your world making, for your daily practice of freedom. i am grateful to have encountered you & i am changed from it.

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Public Affirmation

I experience constant and unyielding street harassment. It pervades every realm of my life.

To cope I remind myself that people who harass haven’t received enough intimacy and affirmation in their lives — they have been misguided to believe that hurting other people helps them heal.

We are inundated with violence. Over saturated with critique. At every level we are encouraged to tear each other apart.

I’m trying to do something different with my life. 

Recently to challenge a culture of harassment I have been practicing public affirmation. I tell passengers next to me on the train that I am rooting for them and grateful they’re alive. I tell strangers walking next to me on the street that I am glad they are trying their best and to have a great day! I try to tell as many people as possible that they matter to me and that I need them and that I am so blessed to experience their presence. 

People are often shocked.

We are so much more familiar with critique than compassion, aren’t we?

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trans body hair

one of the most painful things is when binary trans people tell me that “i am not even trying” or “not trying hard enough” because i don’t remove my body hair. “if [he] doesn’t want to be read as a man [he] could at least shave.”

really? trying??

the assumption here is that i am “lazy” & don’t experience the “real” struggle of “real” trans people. but: not removing my body hair doesn’t protect me from violence, in fact it causes it. not removing my body hair isn’t a passive action, it’s an active decision that requires constant justification amidst total & complete denigration: almost every day i receive threats to my safety both online & offline because of my body hair. i am followed, spat on, insulted, laughed at, groped precisely. because of my hairy gender non-conformity. and still i go outside & go online: brown, gender non-conforming, and HAIRY!

i know my life would be easier if i shaved & complied with society’s gender norms, but i shouldn’t have to change myself to make other people more comfortable. i am trying every day to manifest my own truth in a world that punishes me for it. i am trying to survive constant harassment, sexual violence, and physical violence. i am trying to fight for the legitimacy of gender non-conformity in a trans movement & a feminist movement that still excludes people like me. i am trying to prioritize my self worth outside of society’s patriarchal standards of beauty & desirability.

so yes i am trying very, very hard. trying to get everyone to realize that body hair is not gendered! that people of all genders have the right to look like whatever they want without having their identity be up for debate.

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