Alok Vaid-Menon is a poet, writer and performance artist, who identifies as a non-binary transfeminine person and uses the pronouns “they/them.” Born and raised in Texas, Vaid-Menon rose to public prominence as part of Dark Matter, a duo ofnon-binary trans South Asian performance artists. Vaid-Menon is currently touring across India, conducting performances, talks and workshops that address social-justice issues.
On 25 January 2017, Skye Arundhati Thomas, a writer and critic, met Vaid-Menon before a performance at the Talera Institute of Fine and Applied Arts, in Pune. The two spoke about the legal recognition of the third gender in India, and the perils of seeing people within binaries, such as either cis or trans, or gay or straight. Vaid-Menon also spoke about opposing gender as a concept, as well as the value of kinship to those who don’t conform to a particular gender or sexuality.
Skye Arundhati Thomas: How has your trip through India been so far?
Alok Vaid-Menon: I started out in Thrissur [in Kerala], which is where my achamma lives, and this time I actually got permission to leave the house (laughs). We saw the [Kochi-Muziris] Biennale and I just had the most emotional and wonderful reaction. I saw such good art—good curation, good performance, good politics—art about sexuality and gender that was curated not just as part of a queer exhibition. My dream for queer and trans artists is that we can be curated as part of broader themes.
SAT: In 2014, following similar moves in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, the Supreme Court of India recognised transgender people in India as falling under a third gender. At the same time, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code continues to subsist. What do you make of this?