“Femme in Public”: gender, femme and art with Alok Vaid-Menon
By Brynn Svenningsen
CW: Discussion of childhood sexual abuse
“Art is where we go when language fails us and art is where we are able to make connections with one another in a world that is so determined to keep us separated,” gender non-binary poet and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon said. A performance duo Vaid-Menon was involved with, Dark Matter, stirred controversy over problematic statements made on the group’s social media regarding childhood sexual abuse, which many viewed as victim-blaming in nature. According to Vaid-Menon, the statements were made by the other member of the duo. The group is no longer active. Students with questions regarding the issue are encouraged to contact ASUPS president Amanda Diaz at firstname.lastname@example.org or ASUPS Cultural Consciousness Programmer Naomi Schroeter at email@example.com.
On Nov. 4 in Kilworth Chapel Vaid-Menon will hold a workshop and performance exploring gender through art called “Femme in Public,” the title of their new poetry book. As a gender non-binary individual who is femme, Vaid-Menon has a large interest in femininity and the power that femme holds.
“We’re often taught that femininity is something that’s weak or superficial, something that’s just there for the interest or desire of men. But what femme people are actually trying to do, they know that femininity is something that’s powerful; it’s something I chose for myself. For me, that’s a really important part of my politics and my art,” Vaid-Menon said.
For Vaid-Menon, femme is something that is extremely powerful and is much stronger than what cultural stereotypes might categorize it as. In “Femme in Public,” Vaid-Menon will pose a thought-provoking two-hour session of performance art, discussion, comedy and poetry. They hope to create an extremely personal environment in which both they and the audience will view their performance art and explore gender non-conformity and femininity.
Vaid-Menon believes that it’s extremely important for those who are gender-nonconforming to be seen dually. Vaid-Menon wants to challenge the mainstream transgender narrative, which views gender as a destination that lands as male or female. Instead, Vaid-Menon advocates strongly for the expression of gender as a process of self-discovery, rather than as a transition to a different one.
“So, the mainstream narrative today is just that we are supposed to feel that we are trapped in the wrong body and that we want to fix ourselves in order to become the opposite gender, and that the goal of being trans is just about transitioning into an opposite gender. And that narrative doesn’t really capture people like me, who are non-binary and are gender-nonconforming. For me, the way I understand gender is it’s never going to be a destination that I’m arriving to; it’s the continual journey of trying to find what is authentic for me,” Vaid-Menon said.
Through their work, they have recently created a line of gender-neutral clothing. Personal style has been an important part of their self-expression and the way they express their gender.
“Style is extremely important to me and that’s because I feel like I couldn’t control my gender, I couldn’t control the race that was given to me, but I could control my style and that’s where I could really engage with people’s stereotypes,” Vaid-Menon said.
Through their work, and in thought-provoking dynamic events such as “Femme in Public,” there is a chance to interact with ideas that can challenge stereotypes and traditions, and can allow an open expression of personal individuality. Vaid-Menon also believes strongly that the view that transgender and gender non-binary people are different needs to change as they express experiences that are similar to people of many different backgrounds.
“What I’m fighting for is for every person to be able to have freedom of expression and I think that will create a more beautiful, dynamic and intricate world,” Vaid-Menon said.
“When asked what they wanted people to take from their workshop they finished by stating a strong belief of theirs that rings true to them and to our campus.
“We [all] have in large far more in common than we have apart.”
The lecture will be held at two p.m. in Kilworth Chapel on Nov. 4. There is also a workshop being held with Vaid-Menon at 11 A.M. At time of publication, there were still about ten spots left for the workshop. Email Schroeter at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a spot.