The per­former, poet, model, ac­tivist and writer pro­vides a glimpse into the many facets of their life.

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS: - Pho­tog­ra­phy Iolo Lewis Ed­wards Words Jack Pen­gelly

Now with an in­ter­na­tional ac­claim, we caught up with Travis to dis­cuss their new show Burg­erz, and why we need to bring a new level of ur­gency to the trans con­ver­sa­tion.

Travis Ala­banza is a pow­er­house of raw tal­ent and con­vic­tion. Over the past few years, they’ve quickly emerged as one of the most im­pres­sive queer voices not only here in the UK, but on an in­ter­na­tional scale. Their unique com­bi­na­tion of per­for­mance, fash­ion, poetry and crit­i­cal thought has brought aware­ness to the trans ex­pe­ri­ence in a new, ac­ces­si­ble way – all whilst main­tain­ing that the trans ex­pe­ri­ence is ab­so­lutely not up for de­bate, a dif­fi­cult feat in the world of pub­lic trans­pho­bia that they nav­i­gate each day.

Ahead of the pre­miere of their highly-an­tic­i­pated show Burg­erz, which opens for pre­views at Oval House on 18 Oc­to­ber, we caught up with Travis on their work, safe spa­ces, bring­ing a sense of ur­gency to the trans con­ver­sa­tion, reimag­in­ing Prides of the fu­ture and why trans is­sues af­fect us all.

Pride sea­son is com­ing to an end, but what does Pride mean to you?

I think it de­pends who I’m hear­ing the words come from. I think now it means that when I see it I kind of cringe be­cause it’s be­come some­thing so com­mer­cial and cap­i­talised – all these things that don’t of­ten re­flect me. But I think down at its core, to me Pride when it’s its most pow­er­ful just means you and your friends go­ing down the street just fuck­ing shit up and not car­ing.

So would you say that your per­cep­tion of Pride has changed over time?

Yeah I think so – once I be­came more aware of dif­fer­ent cities’ Prides and how Pride works it changed be­cause it be­came to me a lot more as­so­ci­ated to these main­stream cor­po­rate Prides that don’t al­ways fit for peo­ple like me. But then I think it’s im­por­tant to hold Pride close to me be­cause it’s about shift­ing what it means and creat­ing your own def­i­ni­tion.

Do you find it shock­ing that many peo­ple don’t re­alise how it started?

Yeah it’s so funny, and it’s so frus­trat­ing be­cause now I think peo­ple are start­ing to re­alise. but they’ll pay it as a lip ser­vice and say it in this one phrase as if that’s not to suˆest that we’re lit­er­ally here cel­e­brat­ing and start­ing things be­cause of [trans peo­ple of colour] and I think it demon­strates just how much trans peo­ple of colour do for the com­mu­nity all year round. When we think about nightlife, when we think about lan­guage, when we think about words that we use, meme cul­ture and all the things on the in­ter­net. Lots of quote-un­quote gay cul­ture is ac­tu­ally trans cul­ture, and lots of queer cul­ture is com­ing from trans fem­i­nine peo­ple of colour, gen­der non-con­form­ing black girls, and trans women of colour. So much of that comes from us so I think Pride is a good re­mem­brance of what we owe mem­bers of our com­mu­nity.

To­tally. A lot of peo­ple think of it as an ex­cuse to have a party, with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing all the work that is still to be done for other ar­eas of the com­mu­nity.

I think we all need to party, right? I feel like as op­pressed peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties we de­serve to have spa­ces of joy and we de­serve to have spa­ces to re­lax. I think it’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing be­cause at Pride, the peo­ple that find it hard­est to re­lax at other times of the year have a space where they can re­lax to the fullest. I ques­tion whether these cis gay white men that are like your ‘Clapham Ac­coun­tant Gays’ are re­ally find­ing it that hard to re­lax and as­sim­i­late into places the other days of the year. I would rather imag­ine a Pride where lots of trans, gen­der non con­form­ing peo­ple of colour could take to the streets and party safely – that’s the kind of party I’m in­ter­ested in. I think a lot of the time, peo­ple throw a lot of cri­tiques within the com­mu­nity to ac­tivists or quote-un­quote woke Twit­ter that they’re party poop­ers, but for me it’s about re­al­is­ing that par­ties can be po­lit­i­cal and they aren’t about eras­ing peo­ple’s his­tory.

How do you toe the line be­tween rais­ing aware­ness on the prob­lems that the trans

com­mu­nity face whilst also mak­ing it clear that the trans ex­pe­ri­ence isn’t up for de­bate?

I feel like ob­vi­ously we saw on [Chan­nel 4’s] Gen­derquake a prime ex­am­ple of when trans peo­ple are of­fered vis­i­bil­ity but not safety. They’re of­fered an op­por­tu­nity but not re­ally a valid op­por­tu­nity, rather one that’s just them be­ing thrown into a lion’s pit re­ally. And I think for me it’s about who’s lead­ing these con­ver­sa­tions – who are the peo­ple be­hind the scenes putting trans peo­ple in these sit­u­a­tions and what have the con­ver­sa­tions been like? Has the trans per­son’s au­ton­omy and choice been con­sid­ered through­out? I think we’re bal­anc­ing a re­ally, re­ally dan­ger­ous line at the mo­ment of hy­per­vis­i­bil­ity and ac­tual lib­er­a­tion and I think it will only come when we see these com­pa­nies, these places that are us­ing trans as a tip­ping word, to ac­tu­ally fol­low through. So I’m look­ing for­ward to Chan­nel 4 de­cid­ing to put out a pro­gram to hire new trans di­rec­tors, or look and see if they want to have trans peo­ple work­ing be­hind the scenes at their shows. I se­ri­ously doubt this will hap­pen but that’s the kind of work we need to see. We need to see peo­ple car­ing about trans econ­omy – trans un­em­ploy­ment rates are so high and we can’t just put them on mag­a­zines, we have to be think­ing about trans peo­ple as the most op­pressed in our so­ci­ety. Also, side­note: Gen­derquake was such a shit­show. I’m so glad I said no to that.

So they asked you to ap­pear on the show?

Yeah, we were go­ing back and forth for a few weeks, and they promised me all these things and some­thing in the back of my head was like ‘do you know what, this doesn’t seem right’. At this time they hadn’t said that any­one else was on and when I asked who else was go­ing to be on, they said ‘no don’t worry’, and then Ash who was on the show called me and said that they’d found out that Ger­maine Greer was go­ing to be on. So I called Chan­nel 4 like ‘what the fuck?’ There was just so much dis­hon­esty from the get go.

Many peo­ple in an ef­fort of be­ing in­clu­sive sim­ply

en­cour­age trans peo­ple to just ‘live their truth’ with­out be­ing aware of the very real dan­gers that trans peo­ple face. Your work can be quite con­fronting, are you do­ing this in­ten­tion­ally in or­der to raise aware­ness of this?

Con­fronting is a word that I get a lot and I think it’s be­cause of­ten when we see trans peo­ple in the pub­lic eye and in pub­lic im­age, be­cause of trans misog­yny and be­cause of trans­pho­bia, we ex­pect these peo­ple to be nice – like in or­der for trans peo­ple to get lib­er­a­tion they have to smile, nod and be po­lite. But the vi­o­lence that we’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing isn’t po­lite, the vi­o­lence is ur­gent and I want to push the con­ver­sa­tion fur­ther. I don’t think it’s enough to just say ‘trans women are women’ and ‘trans men are men’. We’re fight­ing to ex­ist and get­ting our pro­nouns right is still valid, but I’m push­ing more by say­ing: what does it ac­tu­ally mean to think of a world where we’re re­duc­ing the ways in which gen­der can in­flict upon us? What does it mean to ac­tu­ally love trans peo­ple? Ac­tu­ally de­sire us and ac­tu­ally care about us? That goes be­yond just say­ing that we ex­ist. I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant and I want to push the con­ver­sa­tion for­ward. I’m bored of peo­ple start­ing and stop­ping our con­ver­sa­tion on pro­nouns – there’s so much more to talk about in trans pol­i­tics and it kind of goes be­yond that for me. I say a lot in my work that what we’re not get­ting in the cur­rent trans con­ver­sa­tion is that trans pol­i­tics helps all of us. It is ac­tu­ally a fem­i­nist is­sue in the sense that it frees women and men from gen­der con­stric­tion. I think a lot of us ig­nore, with trans pol­i­tics es­pe­cially, that non-bi­nary pol­i­tics help cis­gen­der men and women free them­selves from gen­der con­forms too. So I think that’s where I’m try­ing to con­front peo­ple. I’m say­ing that this is your prob­lem as well as mine

So how do we as a so­ci­ety need to shift to view peo­ple be­yond the pro­noun, while also re­spect­ing the con­text that’s as­so­ci­ated with the la­bel?

I think it’s go­ing to have to start at a more ur­gent pace. It’s go­ing to have to start with us re­al­is­ing that we all have a stake in each other’s lives and that this isn’t just to do with trans rights. It’s about go­ing be­yond and learn­ing, lis­ten­ing, read­ing but also de­cid­ing that you don’t need to know a trans per­son to want them to be free. Like, I shouldn’t have to know you to want you to be free. Once we start there and imag­in­ing what free­dom can look like for trans peo­ple, I think we can shape things bet­ter.

What kind of re­ac­tions do you re­ceive from your run of the mill cis­gen­der white per­son?

Oh my God, it’s so var­ied. It’s dif­fer­ent. I did a US tour of five weeks across the States to like 22 dif­fer­ent shows and the ma­jor­ity of my au­di­ences were white cis­gen­der peo­ple. I did a gig in Mi­ami...

As in Florida?

I thought it was go­ing to be Florida too, but it turned out to be Mi­ami, Ohio! It was in the ab­so­lute mid­dle of nowhere – yeah it was kind of wild. Any­way, I was re­ally wor­ried. I was like, shit here we go here’s what I’m about to do. And what I was re­al­is­ing with this work is that you know some­times I’m met with anger, some­times I’m met with con­fu­sion, but that’s okay. I think art has a real power to build a real em­pa­thy be­tween us and to say: ‘Oh no I thought I had all these ideas from the me­dia and from the press about trans peo­ple, and here I am see­ing one just talk and bring their work to the stage’, and more and more I’m see­ing this joint em­pa­thy. What I’m see­ing at the mo­ment is that my work is start­ing at trans and then go­ing be­yond and say­ing that these are things we’re all ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. We all feel scared, we all feel lonely, we all feel sad and draw­ing on those hu­man things brings us to­gether. I hope that my work tries to create an ur­gency after they see the shows. But of course it varies, I’ve had peo­ple walk out but I think I wouldn’t be do­ing some­thing right if some­one didn’t walk out. A lot of your work cov­ers be­ing at the in­ter­sec­tion of both be­ing black and be­ing trans – how do you find that those two ex­pe­ri­ences com­pound upon you as you nav­i­gate the world?

I think for me it’s about say­ing that first we ex­isted. I think so much of the racialised trans ex­pe­ri­ence is like you didn’t know that you were real. At the mo­ment it’s dif­fer­ent, at the mo­ment there is a bit more vis­i­ble trans POC rep­re­sen­ta­tion. I mean, it’s still fail­ing in dif­fer­ent as­pects but when I started mak­ing work it was re­ally like, ‘damn where are the per­form­ers of colour out here?’ Like when I first came onto the cabaret scene be­fore all of these ini­tia­tives, there re­ally wasn’t a space speak­ing about these things and my work was about say­ing like: We ex­ist. For ex­am­ple, what you no­tice in the Gen­derquake de­bate – sorry to bring it back to that – is that the type of vi­o­lence that Mun­roe [Bergdorf] was re­ceiv­ing ver­sus what Cait­lyn Jen­ner was re­ceiv­ing was dif­fer­ent. The type of lan­guage and the type of aˆres­sion was dif­fer­ent and it’s all about black­ness. The way that we gen­der black peo­ple is dif­fer­ent, right? I talk about this in my shows a lot – it’s like black men be­ing hy­per sex­u­alised, black women be­ing hy­per sex­u­alised – we’re al­ready be­ing gen­dered in a spe­cific way, so when you see a trans per­son they’re al­ready see­ing my body in a dif­fer­ent way when I walk down the street. For me transness can’t be seper­ate from coloni­sa­tion. What I mean by that is that the ways in which I’m seen on the street. Black bod­ies are of­ten com­pared to an­i­mals and likened to non-hu­man things, whereas white­ness is al­ways seen as the op­po­site: it’s com­pletely hu­man, it’s in­no­cent. So although transness dis­rupts this, it goes even fur­ther when you’re both trans and black. The prox­im­ity to be­ing beat black is more. Our com­mu­nity has such a lack of re­sources – we are very re­source­ful – but we have a lack of re­sources given to us, and of­ten our race is mixed in with poverty and mixed in with transness and it cre­ates a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence.

How does it feel to be con­sid­ered a role model?

You know what it’s a re­ally in­ter­est­ing thing for me when I get mes­sages from peo­ple say­ing that my work has meant some­thing to them, but I like to think that I’m just say­ing some­thing and maybe it’s be­ing read by more peo­ple, or it’s a bit louder at the mo­ment. I think ‘role model’ scares me be­cause I’m messy, I’m im­per­fect and I’ve made mis­takes be­fore and I’ll make mis­takes again. But as some­one who’s speak­ing loudly in this mo­ment, yeah I think I see my­self as some­one who’s do­ing that but ob­vi­ously there’s loads of other peo­ple too. I see it as a mo­ment re­ally. I see my­self less as an in­di­vid­ual per­son and more as a part of a col­lec­tive mo­ment of trans peo­ple mak­ing in­cred­i­ble work and do­ing in­cred­i­ble things on the front lines. In the UK es­pe­cially, we’re see­ing a huge rise of these amaz­ing writ­ers and speak­ers. Ob­vi­ously Mun­roe be­ing com­pletely vis­i­ble on the fore­front, but also peo­ple like Kuchenga and Juno Roche and other as­pects of life like Juno Daw­son hav­ing an in­cred­i­ble sell­out novel. We’re see­ing lots of UK trans peo­ple take to the fore­front which is re­ally ex­cit­ing.

What can the gay com­mu­nity do to bet­ter serve the trans com­mu­nity?

Ob­vi­ously I grew up in the gay com­mu­nity – that’s where I found my transness. What I’d love to see more is cis gay peo­ple recog­nis­ing how much they got from us, how much we’re keep­ing their cul­ture alive. How there’s a lot of stuff that they’re cel­e­brat­ing that is in­debted to trans peo­ple. And to not just care about our abil­ity to death drop, but also care about our abil­ity to drop dead. And I mean by that not just care about us in our fierce­ness and our slay­ness and our abil­ity to fin­ger snap and bring the party, but also care about how we’re get­ting home from the party. I think that for me is the fo­cal point: to see us out­side of just be­ing fierce peo­ple and to see us also as just peo­ple.

We’ve been look­ing for­ward to Burg­erz for a while now, can you tell us a bit about it?

Burg­erz for me is my chance to make a theatre show, a full body of work, a state­ment that goes be­yond on­line, the en­ergy around me, the con­cep­tions peo­ple may have and into some­thing deeper. It’s my chance to speak, have the stage, take risks and go be­yond trans and into some­thing far more nu­anced. I am ready for this piece of work to have an au­di­ence see me as an artist, with craft and in­ten­tion, be­yond just my iden­ti­ties. It feels like a re­ally im­por­tant mo­ment for me.

Tick­ets for Burg­erz go on sale from Septem­ber 3.

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