Last Thursday, April 4, PAC—in collaboration with CSA, GLOW, the Intersectionality House, and the SO/AN department—had the privilege of welcoming Alok Vaid-Menon to campus. Alok is a gender non-conforming performance artist, poet, storyteller, educator, and public speaker whose work has been featured on HBO, MTV, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New York Times, and The New Yorker and has presented at over 400 venues in more than 40 countries.
In their performance in the Pause, entitled Femme in Public, Alok mixed poetry, storytelling, and humor to urge the audience to confront the questions and realities that plague our community. What feminine parts of ourselves did we have to destroy in order to survive in this world? What parts of ourselves did we bury in order to be accepted? Why is vulnerability conflated with weakness? How is it that a community such as St. Olaf can welcome gender non-conforming people to our campus—but only through performance—not extending that same welcome to the students and people who live in our community?
Through their art, Alok pushed the St. Olaf community to participate in a communal weep—where we all join together and we cry—where we are open and vulnerable and loving—where we are connected in our feeling and honest in our pain and joy. Alok pushed us to be loving in our friendships, for when we leave this space we will remember the wonderful friends and relationships we made—not the mundanities. And Alok pushed us to confront the systems and institutions we abide by—challenging and changing the codes that strip people from themselves.
In a beautiful night of questioning, laughing, storytelling, and crying, Alok offered St. Olaf more wisdom than can be summarized—and a night that will remain in our memory for a long time to come.