Artist, writer and activist Travis Alabanza caught up with indy100 about performing gender, what it means to put on a costume and how trans people are received in public places, ahead of their show Burgerz.
Travis - who uses they/them pronouns - had the idea for the performance, which will be their mainstage solo debut, after they experienced transphobic harassment while walking down the street.
“[Burgerz] is following an incident that happened in 2016 where someone in broad daylight threw a chicken burger at me while calling me a transphobic slur. Since that moment two years ago I became obsessed with what it means to be outside as a trans person.”
The show will explore how our gender presentation affects how people perceive us.
“If we’re really looking at feminist politics, that is all about wearing what we want and our bodies not being treated badly because of what we’re wearing, it seems so ridiculous that trans people have been separated from that narrative, when for me, a trans politik is essential to the feminist movement too.”
It will also dissect ideas of gender and how we currently frame the conversation around gender based violence.
The conversation around harassment, especially in the #MeToo movement, has such a cisgender gaze to how harassment works, whereas I think to exist as a gender non conforming person particularly, but all trans people, is to face harassment from all sides – I’m shouted at by children, I’m gawked at by mothers, I’m followed home by men.”
What happens when you’re trans and harassed is that often no one outside is having your back. You’re kind of seen as deserving for the violence you experience because you’re gender non conforming. People go ‘look at that freak over there'.
Travis is also keen to discuss how we perform gender, both onstage and off.
I’ll go on stage and people will see these outfits and these costumes and these make-up looks and they’ll call that the performance. And often for me I’m wearing the things that I wish I could wear outside but I would be beaten for. For me and so many trans people, we’ll go on stage and we’re applauded for the very things that they’ll throw insults for on the streets.
I played a witch when I was 13 in the school play. Maybe change to. And everyone was really worried about me being in women’s clothing, and I remember feeling so at ease with this moment in gender. My gender isn’t a witch, but in that moment it felt closer than anyway they were perceiving me. The stage was a real access point.
Buegerz looks at how we all perform gender, not just people who are consciously playing with the gender binary.
“I was travelling at rush hour the other day and I saw these men in suits and no one tells them that they’re in costumes. And they’re pretending to be happy, pretending to go to work, pretending to be fulfilled, but they’re doing drag too… When I look at all these men in suits they’ll look across from me and say ‘look at that joke’, ‘look at that costume’, and I’ll turn around and say ‘I think you’re doing the same thing.’
I hate this idea that it’s just trans people who are performing gender. Actually trans people have the most integrity with their gender that I know, and actually there’s so many cisgender people that are constricted by it too.
If only we’d done our interview as a witch and a drag king.
Travis’ show Burgerz will be opening at Hackney Showroom on 23rd October, for three weeks, ahead of a week at the Royal Exchange in Manchester from 14-17 November. Tickets are on sale here for London, and here for Manchester.