ALOK x LMU: A Recap of A Week-Long Virtual Webinar

Monday, April 27, 2020

ALOK x LMU: A Recap of A Week-Long Virtual Webinar
By Kellie Toyama

Every year, LMU’s graduating class in the Women’s and Gender Studies department plans an event for Women’s History Month in March. Despite the University’s transition to online classes, seniors Gina Galvin and Ken Cavanaugh partnered with ASLMU to bring queer communities together through a series of virtual workshops and webinars with Alok Vaid-Menon, acclaimed gender non-conforming writer and performance artist. 

“It’s been so hard to feel connected to a larger queer community recently, especially a queer community that embraces queer trans people of color,” said first-year student Raymond CangKimVo. “Being with Alok, hearing their thoughts, having the honor to know their experiences, sharing emotions, all that made me feel like I had that community again even through virtual limitations. I just wept with them.” 

There is no singular description of Alok’s mixed-media art portfolio that can fully encompass the depth of their talent. Their artistic focus is on themes of gender, race, trauma, and the human condition. Most of the workshops led to discussions of marginalized communities impacted by the global pandemic and ways in which we can cope with being quarantined during COVID-19. 

“We were overwhelmed with support and interest, and when it started coming to fruition I had tears in my eyes,” Galvin said. While planning the workshops, she and Cavanaugh asked Alok to create their “dream lecture,” letting the creative choose what they wanted to share with LMU students. 

“So often activists in spaces of “diversity and inclusion” get tokenized for their work, and we wanted to do something that also felt healthy and healing to Alok, and not too demanding [during the pandemic],” Galvin said, stressing how important it was that Alok didn’t feel tokenized or obligated to talk specifically about one part of their experience and existence. 

It was also important for Cavanaugh and Galvin to make the workshops accessible to non-student body members, considering the resources available at LMU. The event was funded by ASLMU. 

“Trying to get the LMU money out of LMU and into the community and activists and organizations that are doing the work is an opportunity all students should take,” Galvin said. Students registered online prior to Alok’s virtual visit, which consisted of three workshops and a lecture-performance held on Zoom.

Students offered commentary on their experiences attending the virtual webinars, detailed below.

“Beyond the Gender Binary” 
This false choice of boy or girl, man or woman, male or female is not naturalit is political. 

Alok spoke about how desirability justified through degrees of oppression affects one’s sense of value and critiqued the way we as a society “police bodies” rather than dismantling systems of power. There was a discussion on how the dichotomy of male and female is too restrictive to acknowledge differences in individuals and the idea that gender neutrality doesn’t “erase” gender, but creates more options beyond enforced gender binaries. 

“Experimental Classroom: What’s Next?”
How do we harness this moment to propel toward a more liberatory future? 

This conversation focused on cynicism as a coping mechanism that can be resisted through creative work. While we can reflect theoretically on how capitalism is unraveling as a result of this pandemic, we also need to materially address the ways Black and Brown communities are currently being disproportionately affected by this virus. 

Alok stressed that striving for genuine transformation on a personal and communal level is an important process. They explained that vulnerability and healing from trauma is part of that and that “the willingness to be wounded” is necessary for healthy expression. 

“As a poet myself, I was re-inspired to take my own work to the next level and to really build out for myself what “personal to the political” means for me,” said sophomore Jolie Brownell. “[Alok’s] poems were an invitation to be courageously vulnerable yet unapologetically authentic to yourself at the same time.”

Together we develop strategies for emotional justice.

The workshop addressed the silencing of oneself as self-censorship. Participants shared where they think trauma comes from, and where their personal pain comes from. Alok explained how healing comes from surrendering your fragility, and told the group to practice committing to and forgiving themselves.

“Being able to work through present trauma in these workshops, it felt like a vacuum away, in these little escapes from living passively,” Galvin said. “I got to exercise my brain and my heart and my soul and emotions, which is why it was all so touching.”

“Femme in Public” 
Who hurt the people who hurt you? 

“We don’t know how to process the dead because this country was founded on the mass extinction of people,” Alok said, as they shared poetry in a lecture-performance piece about the death that surrounds us right now. They expressed their belief that we need grief as an anti-violence mechanism. However, while large gatherings are not permitted, we cannot have funerals. 

“To be an artist is to be a funeral worker,” they said in closing.

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