By Ariel Steinsaltz
A night of comedy, entertainment and activism emerged as soon as performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon took the stage. “Femme in Public,” which was hosted by PRISM on Friday, April 5 at 8:30 p.m. in Mayo Concert Hall, featured stand-up comedy and poetry that highlighted issues facing the transgender community, as well as white feminism and liberalism.
Vaid-Menon began the show with a moment of silence for all of the transgender people who have died in the past year. They then performed a poem using a sound mixing board that repeated the refrain, “Where do all the sad girls go?” This more serious performance was followed by a stand-up comedy routine.
“New Jersey could win a prize for being, like, the most homogenous place in the entire world,” they said as they joked that cisgendered, heterosexual white people were being erased and should be listed as an endangered species.
Vaid-Menon also recounted their experience at the Daddy National Convention and its “Pin the Blame on the Donkey,” a satirical game in which participants placed blame on different minority groups for the 2016 election. They poked fun at the Democratic Party’s attitude that they focused too much on winning over minorities when they should’ve been focusing on white men, who are actually the minority themselves. They also critiqued white feminism by saying it’s really “white women wanting the same power as white men to kill us.”
Vaid-Menon also clarified that if audience members thought the performance was poking fun at them, then they were probably right, saying, “Welcome to the drag show — prepare to get dragged.”
After this comedy bit, Vaid-Menon transitioned back to a more serious performance, equivocating gender bias to white supremacy and explaining why transgender people of color are the most likely to be killed. They criticised the media’s overrepresentation of fully transitioned white people, even though visibly gender nonconforming people and people of color experience the most violence.
Vaid-Menon then performed another piece with the sound board, repeating the refrain “Promise Me” and stressing that people should not have to fit into a certain category to feel like they matter. They also emphasized that people do not always have to be brave or confident to matter.
Vaid-Menon counteracted the popular belief that their advocacy is radical, clarifying that they just want to feel safe and the more radical notion is the need to stick to the gender binary.
They then criticized the College and other “rich white schools” for using queer and transgender people, as well as people of color, as “fodder for other people’s growth” and stressed the need for more resources for minorities.
“(PRISM) wanted someone who we feel is doing really important things in the LGBTQ+ community and who can take the narrative of LGBTQ+ people being for entertainment and turn it on its head,” said Aviva Ron, the president of PRISM and a junior women’s, gender and sexuality studies major. “I was hoping that people would get an experience that we don’t usually get. Especially going to a very white institution, a lot of people don’t often get an experience like this event.”
Patricia Nguyen, a sophomore biology major, said the event was “a totally breathtaking experience” that allowed her to learn more about social issues and view poetry in a new light.
“I always like speaking at colleges because I feel like there are a lot of trans and gender nonconforming students who are struggling and I want to show them that they’re valid and they should be celebrated,” Vaid-Menon said.
When asked what they wanted people to get out of their show, they said, “A sense of validation, education, healing and a good laugh.”