March, 2017

Alok Vaid Menon // New York City

Alok Vaid Menon // New York City

Mukul Bhatia: With a North Indian mother, and a South Indian father, growing up in United States, how was it like and how did you become the individual that you are today? Alok Menon: I grew up in a small conservative town in Texas which simultaneously confirms and challenges every stereotype you might have about Texas. From a young age I navigated two disparate worlds: the tight-knit pan-Indian immigrant community and the white conservatives of my hometown. Because there were so few South Asians around I didn’t really understand the particularities of what it meant to be Malayalee and Punjabi – I just understood myself as “brown.” It was the kind of place that made you immediately aware of your difference, in all of its permutations. I experienced constant and routine racism, homophobia, transphobia, the works! Because I needed an outlet to process everything I was going through I started writing poetry. I didn’t call it poetry at the time, it was more about keeping a diary, but I began to understand the power of art to externalize trauma from your body and make it into something beautiful. So many of the coping strategies I picked up growing up in Texas are the skills that I still call upon today: how to work a room, how to perform like your life depends on it, how to argue for the legitimacy of your being. When did you discover about your sexuality? How did the world around you take it? I don’t know. I think we do this thing where we ask queer and trans people when they “first knew,” but we never ask that to heterosexual and cisgender people. This is because heterosexuality and cisness are normalized in society, whereas queerness and transness are seen as aberrations. The idea here is…