ALOK is an internationally acclaimed author, public speaker, poet and stand-up comedian.
ALOK is in Australia as part of their comedy and poetry tour.
They spoke with the Rainbow Kinection team, Simone Springer, Marley Amphlett and Melissa Brandis at the Noongar Radio 100.9fm Studios.
Please note this interview discusses instances of transphobia.
If you need crisis care please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or QLife 1800 184 527.
This interview was originally aired on The Breakfast Program with Mark Patrick on 20.09.22 at 7:15am.
This will be your first time in Perth.
You’ve been to Australia before and had sadly an unfortunate experience.
What made you decide to come back?
I think so many reasons. First and foremost, I wanted this trip to be a form of love and support for trans and non binary communities here in Australia. It’s not enough to just say, Okay, I experienced this really horrific violence, knowing that there are other people here who have to endure that every single day.
And I wanted to tell these folks, your identities are valid, your experiences are valid, and you deserve to exist in a public space. But I think the other piece is I also wanted to send love to homophobic and transphobic people here in Australia.
Last night I just gave a speech here in Sydney called “A love letter to the man who bashed me.” And what I mean by that is that the tradition I come from is that we love the people who hate us more than they’re capable of hating us.
I understand that people who target LGBTQ people are not strong or powerful, they’re insecure, they’re hurting and they’re grieving. And they’re looking for a place to outsource their pain.
What I really want to make clear is that LGBTQ people are not a repository for your pain, what we need is a serious cultural reckoning that prioritises healing for all people.
Yeah, definitely! And how did growing up in a conservative place like Texas impact you as both a non binary person and a person of colour?
Yeah, I think it was really foundational to so much of my belief systems today. I had to grow up with people who were fundamentally different than me.
There were really no other people like me around. And I was made from a young age to feel like I was an embarrassment or I had to apologise for my existence.
But what I was able to do was to build connections with people who are tremendously different than me, find a common denominator and build community. And that still informs the work that I do today is I don’t need to agree with you. I don’t need to look like you to still love you. In fact, I even need to know you.
And I bring that kind of small town Texas Southern sense of community everywhere I go. I believe that we need each other and that what we have to do is challenge a political culture that keeps us separate and isolated.
So you are an author, poet, public speaker and stand up comedian. When writing or performing do you have the audience in mind?
So it depends on the art form. When you’re doing comedy, you kind of have to have the audience in mind because if no one understands your joke it’s awkward for all parties involved.
That is quite a vulnerable art form because you have to practice that. And so with the jokes that I have in this set, it’s like I’ve done these across the world so many times to see like, do other people think this is funny? Okay, I can go there.
But when it comes to poetry, it’s actually a very different sensibility when writing because it’s so much about emotional justice for what I felt, and it’s less about how other people can understand this.
It’s more about do I feel and do I connect with what I’m writing politically? So of course, I think audience matters when it comes to poetry, but it’s where I allow myself to really dialogue with myself to unearth what I feel about an experience whereas comedy feels like a different way and a different approach.
And so where does the motivation for comedy material come from? If poetry is kind of like your soul food, right?
So I would say poetry is how I take inventory, is my thing.
And comedy is how I justify being alive despite it.
What I mean by that is comedy is about the cultivation of joy amidst diffused despair.
I need to know that I can laugh, even when life is so painful and overwhelming. I need to bring laughter and joy to people who for so long have been marked as disposable or wrong.
Comedy is about including levity, luxury, and leisure and I think those things are really essential to live a good life.
What can Australian audiences expect from your show?
An emotional roller coaster.
It’s comedy and poetry so one minute you might be crying the next minute you might be laughing. The next you might be LOL- sobbing, which is a combination of both. Just get ready to feel, I think so often we’re so desensitised to every emotion and its culture and especially with our media cycle. And what I see my job as a performer to do is to remind people what it feels like to feel.
You have friends and fans all over the globe who support you. What would you say to a young ALOK?
What I would say is that you have to trust in the process and know it might not make sense to you right now. I know it might feel unfair. I know you might want to be able to live the best life that you can in this moment.
But I need you to understand the universe is championing for you. It’s just not on your timeline. And so have faith that you’re part of something greater than yourself, and that it’s going to work out eventually.
Develop patience like a family heirloom.
Your poetry itself is deeply political. Did that come naturally to you? Or was there ever a pressure to bring politics into your art?
You know, what’s interesting is that I feel like as a non-binary person of color, even when I just speak about the weather, or I talk about granite people are gonna call us political.Because the truth is they don’t believe that people like me deserve to speak. They only believe that people like me deserve to be spoken about.
And so I don’t have the luxury of not being political in my work because I am not supposed to exist and yet I do. So what I really want to include in the conversation is all art is political. Choosing to only create paintings about pastoral landscapes, without talking about the violent history of dispossession of Indigenous people is a political choice.
Choosing to not speak about what’s happening in the country right now is a political choice. There’s no art that exists outside of politics, and in fact, identity politics. When we look at creative fields and artistic industries in Australia and United States where I’m from, there’s still an over representation of white cisgender men, especially at the upper echelons of art circuitry.
Why do we not understand that as a form of identity politics? Why is it only seen as identity when a person of color or queer person is in the room and not when it’s exclusively white men?
You speak so incredibly well.
I feel like even just your social platforms in general you put so much in there to educate people. Does it ever get tiring?
I am pursuing my life purpose on earth. I’m having a blast. I love educating people because educating was so central to my own healing. Listen, I grew up in the same world as all of our listeners. I grew up being taught to fear trans people. I grew up with internalised racist beauty standards.
I grew up thinking that I was fundamentally wrong. What changed me was actually having access both to people who loved me and to education and what I’m championing is we need more comprehensive education. In our schools, we need to be learning about LGBTQ history. We need to be learning about the history of Indigenous genocide and colonization. These are not political topics. These are factual topics.
We need to be learning about biodiversity about gender and sexual diversity within the animal and plant kingdom, so that people understand that being LGBTQ is natural, and it always has been. It’s been found across species and across the planet. Like, why did it take me becoming an adult to learn that?
I really want to normalise a culture of learning, where we recognize that we’re all students and the only pathward forward for us is humility, where we continually be enamoured with how wonderful the world is, meaning full of wonder, beyond our capacity to know it.
You educate people so beautifully. Do you have any advice for those who wish to be a better ally to the LGBTQIA plus community?
Sure, you’d have to go internal before you go external. I think where a lot of people mess up is that they think that the work is just about showing up visibly as an ally, but I want you to show up invisibly as an ally too.
Check your own thoughts and biases, and spaces like family dinner table conversations where there’s no camera and no one watching. Are you also challenging homophobia and transphobia there, think about how you can be an advocate in all spheres, not just the apparent ones.
You’re such a massive role model to so many people. But is there anyone that inspires you?
So many people but I want to take a chance to shout out James Baldwin, an amazing black gay writer, who I think laid the groundwork for so much of what I was doing. He wrote decades ago that he thought that people clung on to their hate so stubbornly because it prevented them from accessing their pain.
And when I read that the world made sense to me. I think his writing helps give me permission to do the kind of public love justice work that I’m doing. He recognized that actually people who are racist and people who are both homophobic were not just dehumanizing people of color and LGBTQ people. They were dehumanising themselves.
So, you identify as gender non-conforming, what does that mean and look like to you?Your Instagram is just beautiful.
Yeah, so what it means for me to be gender non conforming is that I don’t subscribe to society’s ideas or definitions about what it means to look like as a man or a woman, I’m just being myself.
Which means that the way that I get dressed is I wear what I want to wear. I don’t think-are these men’s clothes, women’s clothes or makeup just for them?
I just focus on beauty. And for me beauty is about looking like yourself, not looking like other people.
And can we just say that you look fabulous all of the time. I don’t know how it’s not exhausting for you.
I just want to say this entire Australian tour is sponsored by my concealer because I am so jet lagged.Shout out to all the amazing makeup brands I’m working with this week to make sure that it looks like I am well rested.
It is a brutal trip over from the States, that’s for sure. Now, you have such a powerful visible presence. Do you have something that motivates you in general in regards to the outfits that you chose?
What motivates me is love. And I know that might sound kind of corny but ultimately even though I do so many things, that always comes from love. I’m a love poet. And I love humanity so so much and I’m so proud of us, proud of the ways that we’re self sabotaging and ignorant and foolish in the ways in which we make good decisions and bad decisions.
And so when I’m getting dressed, it’s like I’m writing a love poem. I want to give permission to people to be able to look like what they want to look like. A lot of times people attribute what I’m doing as being self indulgent or selfish. And I actually think it’s about trying to create space for all people to be themselves.
Because what I find in my life is that other people can be my lighthouses, meaning they can show me that I was lost before I knew that I was lost, meaning that they can show me that it’s possible to be free. And I think that there’s nothing more loving than giving permission to other people to be free.
What you do for the world is amazing. And the fact that you continually educate-we can’t thank you enough.You honestly feel like a celebration personified.
Thank you. I just want the party not just to be a moment but an entire lifestyle.
Do you have any advice for a person preparing to come out?
Yeah, so much.
First, I just want to say that I’m proud of you and I trust your process. No one gets to tell you when or how,only you get to figure out what it safely means for you.
Second, I want to say I need you to understand other people’s negative reactions to you have nothing to do with you, and it’s everything to do with them. They are insecure and taking it out on you.
Remind yourself their projection is not my reality.
And then third, I want to say that you’re part of a long standing and sacred tradition of people who have experienced the same pain, the same invalidation and the same loneliness and fears as you which means that we get to be lonely together.
Go and find other people and make connections with them with your pain and your hurt. And then you will realise it hurts a little bit less.
So with your show, you still have to perform in Perth.
Where else are you going to be in Australia?
Yeah, I’ll be in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth,Melbourne and then I’ll be heading over to Auckland.
ALOK will be performing at the Astor Theatre on 21.09.22
Doors open 6:45pm.
Tickets available here:
For other Australian Tour Date information click here: