Trans activist Alok Vaid-Menon says, "We are just looked at, not listened to"







Alok Vaid-Menon
Alok Vaid-Menon


International trans writer and entertainer Alok Vaid-Menon’s solo performance, Watching You/Watching Me, doesn’t mince any words. It plans to ask a pertinent question without any hesitation: Do transgender people matter for more than just entertainment? In collaboration with Australian artiste ELSZ, Vaid-Menon will question the abusive relationship we have with the Internet, and just how much validation we get from how people “like” us. Excerpts from an interview:


How did you decide on the theme for the solo performance? Was it something you had been thinking of for a while or did an incident spark it?
It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Often when I walk outside, people take photos or videos of me with their phones. I always wonder where they are uploading those videos, what makes them feel like they have the right to treat transgender people like a spectacle, and what do they see when they see me. As someone who is stared at a lot, I think a lot about watching — and how often being stared at can feel like a form of physical violence.


“Do trans-people matter beyond our entertainment value” — With your insight, how would you answer this question?
No. I think non-trans-people still only like looking at us and not listening to us. I think we have a long way to go for trans rights in India and across the world until trans people can be respected and treated like human beings.


How do you use the digital space, and where do you see yourself in the scheme of things in the same space?
I think a lot about digital worlds. As an artist, I first started sharing my work on social media. Eventually my social media followers started translating into real people coming to my performances. This show exists at the place where the “Internet” and the “real world” meet. For me sometimes the digital world has felt more “real” than this one; and this one has felt more “virtual” than it! This show is about collapsing all of those walls and understanding how technology (and specifically the Internet) has warped our relationship with ourselves and with each other.


What is your opinion of trans rights in India, and how do you think anyone can make a difference?
While I have been pleased with recent awareness and legal recognition of trans people in India, I still feel we have a long way to go. It doesn’t matter what policies are changed if people’s attitudes haven’t. I still think in India people really look down on trans people and do not treat us with the dignity and respect that we deserve. I ask everyone at every level in their lives to try to interrupt and stop transphobia wherever they see it: this can be as simple as not asking if someone is having a boy or a girl if they are pregnant and as huge as intervening when you see a trans person being harassed on the street.


What would you want audiences to take away from this show?
As a performance artist, I think it compromises the work to have explicit takeaways that I want my audiences to have. It’s not that I want them to leave with particular ideas, it’s more that I want them to experience feelings: pain, hurt, loss, jealousy, desire, recognition. I like my performances where people can take off all of the masks they have to put on in society and experience one another honestly. I’ve done this new show in Delhi last month and people seemed to be really moved by it.





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