ALOK (they/them) is an internationally acclaimed author, poet, comedian, and public speaker. Currently touring the world with their Poetry + Comedy Tour – which has been lorded by critics as “provocative and powerful.” Ahead of their Auckland show on Friday 23 September, ALOK talks to express about surviving bullying, trans-acceptance and making meaningful connections.

What can we expect from your Poetry + Comedy show in Auckland?

I use comedy as a way to challenge transphobia and celebrate queer and trans life. There’s a lot of mediocre comedy out there that relies on the idea that there’s something intrinsically funny about being and looking trans and gender non-conforming. The truth is what’s funny is not what we look like, but rather how they act: the absurd lengths that heteronormative society goes through to make up and maintain gender norms. 


Typically comedy is used as a strategy to deflect from vulnerability. In this show, I try to use comedy as a method to dig deeper into vulnerability. I braid poetry with comedy to show how within all of us is the capacity for resplendent joy and all-encompassing sorrow (sometimes at the same time). 

Is there anything you are hoping to do while you are here in Aotearoa?

I toured Aotearoa back in 2016 and it’s one of my favourite places I’ve ever been in the world. I’m only around for a short time this time around, but I hope to make it to the beach – even for a bit!

You have spoken openly about being bullied at school for both your race and gender expression – can you tell us a bit about how you survived that experience and the impact it has had on you?

From a young age, I was made to feel like I couldn’t trust anyone and that the world would be better off without me. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone about what I was going through because I was worried that would make the bullying even worse. How’d I get through? I dissociated. I spent so many years dissociated: physically there, but not emotionally (or spiritually) present. That way all of the toxicity that was happening to me wasn’t happening to “me,” I was able to create some sense of distance. But the problem with dissociation is it doesn’t just prevent you from experiencing the hard parts, it also makes it difficult for you to feel the good parts. It took me years until I could re-acquaint myself with a genuine smile.

I no longer judge myself for who I had to be in order to get through it. I’m really proud of my younger queer, gender non-conforming self for doing what they had to do to get me here. I just wish that we didn’t have to go through so much torment growing up. And I’m trying to do my part to change society so the next generation doesn’t have to.

Your first book ‘Femme In Public’ was published in 2017 and from there, your career blew up, can you tell us a bit about what the journey to getting that first book published was like?

Femme in Public was instrumental in my healing process. I would write poems in the places where I was harassed on the street. I’d stop at bus stops, on park benches, street corners and write down what I wanted to say to the people who were harassing me. I expected that I’d have a lot of rage and bitterness, but instead I stumbled on so much love and mercy. The poems helped me clarify that people harass gender non-conforming people because they don’t feel secure in their own lives and identities. It isn’t about what we look like, it’s about what they feel like. And the poems helped me feel that realization in my body – giving me so much more confidence to claim public space. I’m so glad that it resonated with people all over the world. It was a reminder that there are other people struggling with the same things we are going through. That you don’t have to go through it alone.

A quote of yours that often resonates with me is when talking about how mainstream society views trans and non-binary identities, you said:
“We are reduced to the spectacle of our appearance.”
Why do you think trans-acceptance has been such a challenge/fascination for the mainstream and do you feel positive about how attitudes are progressing?

Sensationalizing trans people is how the powers that be get away with policing everyone into traditional binary gender norms. This is not just about us, it’s about everyone. The gender binary – the cultural decision to divide billions of complex souls into one of two opposing genders – only works by punishing (and attempting to disappear) anyone who ambitions beyond it. Because that makes everyone else comply. And if they don’t see us, then they don’t have to question why society does this: a political choice becomes naturalized as just “reality,” when it’s anything but.

Across the world, we’re seeing escalating discrimination against trans and gender non-conforming people (even within the LGBTQIA+ community). This is a backlash to the powerful strides that trans and gender non-conforming people have made in culture over the past few years. I think it’s getting better and I feel so galvanized by and proud, especially, of the powerful strides Gen Z is taking in expressing the fluidity of gender. More and more people are waking up to the importance of gender self-determination and how ludicrous gender norms are. It’s just going to be a rough ride as mainstream society catches up. 

Pre-Covid you wrote about challenging what you termed the “international crisis of loneliness”, highlighting the importance of face-to-face contact and community. While dating apps and social media have created connections in the LGBTQ+ community, it is also well documented the feelings of loneliness that apps and social media can create. How do you feel about the impact dating apps and social media have had on our communities and what is your advice to any of our readers who are feeling lonely?

We’re in this paradoxical situation where on the one hand we are more connected than ever, but on the other, we still feel so isolated from one another. Perhaps it’s because we have so many loose, superficial ties, but so few enduring and substantive ones. I’m a firm believer in vulnerability. We have to have the courage to express our fears, our pain, our contradiction, and our complexity — and that can serve as a portal to connect with other people who are invested in meaningful connection. Certainly, it’s going to repel the people who aren’t ready for that, but it’s going to magnetize those who are. 

Photo | Bronson Farr.

ALOK’s Poetry + Comedy Tour plays Auckland’s SkyCity Theatre at 7pm on Friday 23 September, tickets are available from Ticketek.