Mixed media artist gives keynote address at Gender and Sexuality Studies colloquium

By Sarah Siock

Acclaimed gender-nonconforming writer, performer and public speaker, ALOK touched on several topics that ranged from the misconceptions of gender studies to violence against transgender individuals as the keynote speaker at Rider’s 39th annual Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSS) colloquium on April 7.

Each year the colloquium takes place to highlight work students completed on issues related to gender and sexuality. Throughout the day there were several student presentations and a roundtable discussion. One of the largest events at the colloquium was ALOK’s keynote address with 70 Zoom participants.

“We bring in a keynote speaker every year, someone who focuses on gender or sexuality because we as a program believe the university needs to consistently incorporate these topics into our larger intellectual climate,” said Erica Ryan, director of the GSS program at Rider.

Ryan shared that as a mixed media artist, ALOK explores themes of trauma, belonging and the human condition. Additionally, ALOK is the author of the 2020 book “Beyond the Gender Binary.”

Throughout ALOK’s speech, they stressed the importance of gender studies degrees and the work done in this field.

ALOK said, “I think gender studies is actually necessary. It’s a constant debate of why do you have to have this thing? Time and time again, people always ask me why gender studies, but gender studies actually has been foundational to the entire way that I perceive the world.”

Gender studies minors who attended the keynote address said they appreciated the value ALOK placed on gender studies.

Junior psychology major Michala Glassman said, “I have never had anyone validate my GSS minor the way ALOK did. It was refreshing and reminded me of why this GSS department is so special and essential to my Rider experience. GSS folks can use their knowledge and lens of the world to add insight to very important situations going on.”

ALOK focused on the historical context of gender studies and tied current events to past LGBTQ movements. For instance, ALOK spoke about a recent bill that was passed in Arkansas that prohibits gender-confirming treatments or surgery for transgender youths. ALOK called the bill, “one of the most draconian anti-trans legislations ever passed in U.S. history.” They added that this bill and ones similar to it are interconnected to violence against transgender individuals.

“The narrative of linear progress says that in 2021, we’re experiencing liberty and freedom that we’ve never experienced before, and any historian will enter the chat and be like, ‘that’s not necessarily true.’ Actually, history is not a linear trajectory, it undulates. It responds to conditions that are happening in the world. There were actually times in history that were more liberated around gender and sexuality than what we have now,” said ALOK.

ALOK also took time to ask for a moment of silence to pay tribute to individuals who lost their lives to anti-transgender violence. ALOK cited that 2020 was the most deadly year on record for anti-transgender violence in the U.S.

“Often ideas that I speak about get dismissed as abstract. What gender studies teach us is, that there is no such thing as transgender issues. There are issues that non-trans people have with themselves that they’re taking out on trans people. We move the location away from empowering trans and gender diverse communities towards disempowering the gender binary,” said ALOK.

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