The Ordinary Non-Binary Life of Alok
Photos — Dylan Thomas
Pepsi or Coke?
Black or white?
When Do You Wake Up?
Okay here's the thing.
I wanna become that self-actualized girl who's like, “I wake up at 7 in the morning. It’s really important to wake up early. It promotes your mental health. I exercise and stretch. I have an amazing skincare routine." I preach all this stuff about self-care and the importance of loving yourself, but then I'm waking up 10 minutes before I have to be somewhere, rummaging through my room. It's a disaster zone. So I’ve started implementing small things every morning to become self-actualized:
1) I got a dry-erase board, where I list everything I need to remember before leaving the house. Is the iron unplugged? Did I turn off the AC? Did I pack my batteries? Did I take my vitamins?
2) I’ve been investing in learning about skincare. This has been very exciting for me. It’s been so wonderful and revitalizing.
3) I've been assembling my outfits at night; and it shows! For me, making an outfit is the most joyous moment of my day. “Whoo! I'm getting ready for war!” I ask myself, “How do I do justice to how I'm feeling in this moment?” It’s not just about putting on some pants or a shoe. It’s about creating a narrative. It’s an extension of my politics. So when I was just doing it in a rush, in the morning, I was creating, but it was subpar. Now, however, I'm looking back at my corpus of outfits over the past two months and I'm like, “Yes! I did that!”
I’m taking the time. I'm creating time and space for me and the things that give me joy. I got to a point in my life where I started to wonder, “why have I only understood the aim of what I'm doing to be the end of violence, and not the creation of joy?" It’s always been about defining myself only in relation to what is antagonizing me, and so I started to think, “what would it look like to cultivate a relationship with myself unmediated, uninformed, undeterred, unconcerned with that antagonism?"
When I say "self-actualizing" I’m being silly, but I’m also being real. When I meet people, I want to know: What is your becoming? What are you doing? How are you trying to femme-ifest? Manifest? We should all be able to say “this is how I am becoming. This is how I am moving towards something that I want to be.” But I think that sense of dreaming and imagining and ambition is stunted — we are disconnected from it because we're so traumatized by the now. Traumatized by walking down the street and being told, “This is who you are.” Traumatized by an app that asks, “what are the categories and labels in which to know you?” Traumatized by never having permission to create our own narrative. And so "self-actualizing" means a bigger thing of like “how do I become the person that I know I can be?” Thats’ what I do in the morning now.
Incredible. So, in conclusion... when do you wake up?
Basically it depends on whatever I’m doing that day.
Ketchup or Mustard?
Cat or Dog?
Catdog. Such an important trans moment.
How do you pick an outfit?
First thing I look at is weather. Because any fashionista knows your life is ruined if you go outside and its raining and your outfit is like, wrecked. Cold and rain are fundamentally patriarchal systems that try to disappear the femme girls from the streets. It’s a crisis out here! During Winter, people are like, "Where did they go?" I just become butch. I have a pocket of my wardrobe that I call “Hetero Her,” that I just retreat into during winter and rain. Hetero Her is really helpful when i’m navigating airports because the TSA.
Clothing for me contains so many memories and emotions. They remind me of different people and different places. Both good and bad. I remember one article of clothing — this man followed me home. This article of clothing was a really amazing day, I felt beautiful. So I — this will sound geeky, but — I speak with, I communicate with my wardrobe. “How are u feeling? What’s going on? What’s coming up?” And then different pieces stick out to me. While I don’t want to experience violence on the streets, I still want to consider it a compliment when people say, “What the fuck?” Because what they’re really saying is, “My entire world view is falling apart.” And that’s what I want fashion to do. It's a beautiful thing! I want to present images to the world that fundamentally unsettle people and make people say, “Huh, there’s another way.”
And then also, the final consideration is safety.
I think, “Am I gonna be able to walk home alone at night? Am I going to a place that I don’t know?" If I’m being harassed or chased in New York, I have places to go. I know how to navigate public transport. I know how to call a cab. But in new countries where I don’t speak the language, it’s vital for me to think of a safety plan with my fashion.
When I talk about fashion, I also talk about the reality of violence. I’m often the only person on the street who looks like me, and is perceived as a “man in a dress," so I have to prepare myself in the morning. Is my anxiety ready for today? Am I ready to be stared at and gawked at? Am I ready to take photos. Am I going to through Penn Station where there’s millions of people, where the potential for violence is increased? It’s really sad because I think about what I would be wearing if I didn’t have to negotiate with violence.
What would we look like, what would we desire, how would we be if violence was not in the framework?
McDonalds or Burger King?
Burger King has a veggie burger so BK.
Pen or Pencil?
Oh god this is so fucked up. My Apple pencil. that I use on my iPad. its SO NICE!
R U reading anything?
My favorite book that I've read recently is a book called Too Much and Not The Mood by Durga Chew-Bose. Durga is an Indian feminist short story writer, and after reading the book I found out that her mom is kinda best friends with my mom. It was really crazy.
I have a lot of diasphoric angst. I feel really conflicted about being in this country. And when I go back to India, I feel conflicted there. Where do I belong? So I love immigrant literature, and diasphoric literature.
R U watching anything?
Yes. I was one of those trans people who were like I'm not gonna watch RuPaul's Drag Race for a while. I was like “this is transphobic.” But no, there are openly trans people on the show who are drag queens and I was like “Okay!” And then I started watching and literally became obsessed. I honestly think drag queens are some of the most incredible artists of our times. And I think the way we undervalue and underestimate drag queens is rooted in the same politics that I'm critiquing: this idea that you have to be a cisgender woman to have access to that type of legitimacy, or else it's all performative. No! Drag artists can literally dance, sing, do make up, design costumes — everything! I watch, looking for inspiration, and I feel like I'm a better artist because of it. Oftentimes, when I'm on stage, I have to say “I'm not a drag queen, I'm trans, take me seriously, I don’t take this off, bla bla bla.” But then I'm like "Fuck it!" And I'm just having a great time and I'm making jokes and it's so much more relaxed. That show has really meant a lot to me.
Cake or Pie?
Apple pie. So good.
Basketball or Football?
What's your sign? Rising sign? Moon sign?
Im a Leo. Cancer moon, Leo rising. Which means I feel things so deeply and devastatingly. Every breakup is catastrophic. Every time somebody says a compliment to me on the street I'm like UGH! You’ve changed my life! I am just constantly feeling. I think the cultivation of feeling is important. I think we need to feel everything to its due course.
When do you go to bed?
Self-actualized me would say, "Every day I go to bed at 1AM. I’m so bad. My most creative hours are between 1 and 4 in the morning. There's something about the stillness of the night. Something about being exhausted that lets me tap into things. About not having distractions. Too often when I have an entire day of needing to do stuff, I'm not able to do it until the evening. When i started writing poetry I was 12 years old and I would write before going to sleep in the corner of my room, listening to emo music. Not much has changed.
I need there to be darkness. I need it to be dark outside. I need it to be quiet. There's something about “everyones sleeping but I'm awake.” As a metaphor, as a state of literal being.
Girl or Boy?