Who is ALOK? Before you ask a teenager or Google them, let’s hear it right from the internationally renowned nonbinary writer/performance artist, fashionista, activist and social media influencer themself.
“There are so many words used to describe me, but the one I feel most at home in these days is a love poet,” said ALOK, who agreed to an interview via email in connection with the big event they’re headlining this weekend. “I’m a love poet trying to do my part in ending the international crisis of loneliness. I love trans and nonbinary people more than they could ever hate us. I love humanity in all of its contradictions. And most importantly—I love and need you (all of you).”
ALOK, 30, is a native of College Station, Texas, and as Addie Wagenknecht wrote in 2018: “Their work challenges the spectrum of gender, politics and fashion.” On Sunday, they’ll deliver a keynote address at the Creating Change Remixed virtual conference, something they told me was “incredibly personal and difficult to write.”
“Like so many of us, during quarantine I was forced to confront so much in my life,” they said. “I went deep into my healing and I wanted this talk to reflect that ongoing process I’m unfolding. It’s one thing to talk about vulnerability, and it’s another to engage in it. I tried to go there for this—to allow my broken heart to speak.”
Creating Change, the largest LGBTQ+ activist conference in the U.S., kicks off Saturday, March 19, with two days of learning sessions, talks, awards, and even a house ball—all online due to ongoing Covid-19 concerns. For 34 years, the National LGBTQ Task Force has hosted the annual event; It hasn’t been in-person since 2020.
Among the other speakers are actor Sandra Valls, Two-Spirit activist Beverly Little Thunder, as well as Kierra Johnson and Mayra Hidalgo Salazar, respectively, the executive director and deputy executive director of The Task Force.
Like all the major LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, The Task Force has been actively pushing back against a wave of anti-transgender policies and legislation that have equated gender-affirming care with child abuse and banned trans student-athletes in 11 states, with more bills in the works. ALOK called upon allies to join the LGBTQ+ community in combating these laws.
“This legislation is symptomatic of a culture of fear-mongering and disinformation, one in which cis people’s anxieties, projections, and misconceptions about trans and nonbinary people are taken more seriously than our lives,” they said. “It’s a continuation of a longstanding conservative strategy to scapegoat vulnerable minorities and use us as cheap shots for political and financial gain. History teaches us how dangerous this playbook is. We can’t allow any of this to be normalized. It’s all hands-on deck right for trans and nonbinary justice. We must all work together to challenge gender norms and create a world where people are safe to be.”
Even someone as world-famous as ALOK experiences moments when, as I wrote recently in The Daily Beast, the sheer amount of hate is exhausting.
“It’s exhausting to have to continually justify your existence, to witness your precious and complex life reduced to a talking point, a metaphor, a debate,” ALOK said. “It shouldn’t have to be every nonbinary person’s job to explain that we’ve always been here, to answer everyone’s invasive questions. It fills me with so much pain that so many people have to confront so much doubt, misrecognition, and outright hatred.”
ALOK wrote a book in 2020, Beyond the Gender Binary, that was hailed by nonbinary pop singer Sam Smith and actor Billy Porter. “Thank God we have ALOK,” said Porter of the book. “And I’m learning a thing or two myself.”
“I don’t think there’s one way to cope with this—I honor that each nonbinary person knows their own capacity and what’s best for them,” said ALOK. “For me: I decided to write my book Beyond the Gender Binary as an accessible primer, so that nonbinary people didn’t have to always do 101 themselves. When people ask me these kinds of things now I just direct them to that resource.”
And ALOK added another recommendation, along a more personal avenue to take, when it’s all just too much.
“Whenever the hate feels overwhelming and I’m full of hopelessness, I reach out to a friend. Friendship is my antidote to despair—a reminder that even alongside all the misery, there is such magnificence. We aren’t supposed to be here, and we are. And that’s a testament to the fact that miracles exist every day. I suppose I try to search for everyday miracles. Glimmers and glimpses of hope, triumph, and kindness wherever I can find them.”
Since their word on style is gospel for so many, I asked ALOK about theirs, and the song that’s in their head at that moment.
“Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real). What an icon,” they said. “It’s not just that they were ahead of their time, it’s that they lived without regard to it. Time, rules, expectation. Sylvester created a space for so many of us in popular culture and I feel gratitude every day for it.
As for fashion, ALOK again focuses on friendship and togetherness: “In my world, the default form is not the individual, it’s the dinner date. It’s me spending hours talking to a friend. My style—just like me—is in conversation with them. It’s the poetry of Ocean Vuong, the theater of Travis Alabanza, the theory of Eddie Ndopu, the aesthetics of Sasha Velour, the fashion of Harris Reed. And so many more.”