Name: Alok Vaid-Menon
Hometown: College Station, Texas
Now Lives: In a sunny, two-bedroom apartment with ample closet space in uptown Manhattan with a roommate.
Claim to Fame: Mx. Vaid-Menon is a gender nonconforming artist, writer and comedian who uses their work to redefine beauty standards, examine colonialism and explore fluid identity. “The word ‘artist’ is one of possibility, not constriction,” they said. “So it means that I’m kind of ambivalent about form and I’m more invested in flow.” Mx. Vaid-Menon explores ideas through poetry and nonfiction, but also through fashion, virtual book clubs and live performances.
Big Break: This summer, Mx. Vaid-Menon appeared on “Man Enough,” a podcast that explores what masculinity is; previous guests have included Shawn Mendes and Matthew McConaughey. In one memorable moment, Mx. Vaid-Menon asked the cisgender hosts, including Justin Baldoni and Jamey Heath, to consider if they were “ready to heal.” “That’s the thing that people are saying to me when they recognize me on the street now — ‘I loved your podcast interview,’” they said. “It’s just so surreal to me because it’s kind of the things I’ve been saying and doing for over a decade.”
Latest Project: Mx. Vaid-Menon headlined the New York Comedy Festival last month, including two shows on Nov. 13. “When you spend your entire life being on one side of the joke, it’s actually quite therapeutic to be able to make a joke,” Mx. Vaid-Menon said. “Some of my favorite comedians are Black, Indigenous, people of color and trans people because we know that humor is not about levity. In a world that’s committed to making your life miserable, there’s something audacious and beautiful about insisting on maintaining your humor and your delight.”
Next Thing: This month, Mx. Vaid-Menon is self-publishing a poetry book called “Your Wound/My Garden.” “At the beginning of my career I was really concerned with detailing the nature of the wound that I had in the world,” Mx. Vaid-Menon said. “I was paying so much attention to the ways in which I was discriminated against that I forgot to pay attention to the ways in which I was already free.
Eyes on the Prize: Fashion plays an important role in Mx. Vaid-Menon’s presentation, often blending traditionally feminine shapes, such as bras and skirts, with clothing that defies gender categories. The same applies to their hair style. “Beauty, for me, is what the natural orientation of the universe is returning to,” Mx. Vaid-Menon said.