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Alok Vaid-Menon shares history of transgender community at virtual event

The Office of LGBTQ Services hosted a virtual meeting with speaker Alok Vaid-Menon, a gender non-conforming writer and storyteller on April 5.

As an artist, Vaid-Menon shared the histories of the transgender community and dispelled narratives that are often used to justify anti-trans discrimination.

“Non-binary people are not fighting for everyone to be non-binary," Vaid-Menon said. "It’s about fighting for gender self-determination. It's about observing that man and woman are two options of potentially infinite options.” 

Vaid-Menon started the meeting with a moment of silence, honoring members of the transgender community who have lost their lives to hate and bigotry.

According to data gathered by advocacy network Transgender Europe, at least 350 transgender and gender-diverse people were murdered between the beginning of October 2019 and the end of September 2020. Vaid-Menon made the point that this number is likely inaccurate because of how often trans and gender non-conforming people are misgendered in their deaths.

“In order to create the myth that there were only two genders, It was necessary to forcibly erase anyone who called that into question,” Vaid-Menon said. 

For decades, this erasure came in the form of cross-dressing laws. In 1845, The Masquerade Law made it illegal to wear clothing that correlates with the “opposite sex”. 

"Trans people would often be arrested upwards of 20 to 30 times because of these laws," Vaid-Menon said. "Oftentimes when we'd get put into prison, they would take photos of us and publish them in the newspaper alongside our names and addresses to make it impossible for us to get employment after the fact."

Vaid-Menon said this encouraged the public to report transgender people in their communities and furthermore led to the criminalization of the transgender community. 

“We often inherit this narrative that trans and non-binary people are new, when in fact we’ve been here for thousands of years,” Vaid-Menon said. “What is more interesting and more historically accurate is there have been aggressive attempts across time to disappear us as we live alongside you."

The Masquerade Law was recently repealed in the spring of 2020.

Vaid-Menon closed the meeting by sending a special note of love, affirmation and validation to transgender and gender non-conforming communities in Michigan.

"It feels like every decade we're still having to make the same argument, which is that trans and gender non-conforming people exist," Vaid-Menon said. "We must find ways of documenting our presence, legacy, history, tradition and artistry because it's not a question of if, it's a question of when we will be harassed and erased out of history."