Travis Alabanza: The non-binary artist battling transphobia with burgers

By Meka Beresford
Newsbeat reporter

  • Published
A Travis Alabanza press shot for BurgerzImage source, Elise Rose/Mobius Industries

Travis Alabanza was walking through central London one afternoon in 2016 when, out of nowhere, someone called them a "tranny" and threw a burger at them.

Travis is non-binary, which means they do not identify as either male or female and use the pronouns "them", "they" and "their". The attack is just one in a long list they have faced because of their gender identity.

Fast forward two years and Travis has created a sell-out show titled Burgerz about what happened.

"I needed to make something to bring this harassment to light - it shouldn't be normalised," Travis tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

Image source, Holly Revell

Burgerz puts a microscope on gender, and the transphobia that Travis and many other transgender people are experiencing.

A Stonewall report published this year found that a third of non-binary people have experienced a hate crime because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.

Travis's show dares to be risky by relying heavily on audience participation.

Each night Travis invites on stage from the crowd a white man who is cisgender - defined as someone who identifies as the gender they were born as.

Image source, Elise Rose/Mobius Industries

"It's a very risky show and also kind of wild. I don't have any white straight male friends and suddenly I'm on stage every night and having a relationship with these men that becomes really intimate actually."

It leads to difficult conversations which makes watching an emotional rollercoaster, and is completely reliant on the audience member's answers.

"So often feminist circles will use the white cis man as the emblem for all these things that are wrong, and I'm guilty of it too," Travis explains.

"But what you realise in having him on stage is that he is so much more complex. You realise, 'Oh he's hurting too. We're all hurting'."

Image source, Holly Revell

At 21 Travis became the youngest person to be awarded a residency at the Tate for 2017/18.

They gave a number of workshops to schoolchildren using performance, theatre and crafts to talk about gender and race.

Travis believes that young people are the key to transgender people becoming accepted in society.

"I know it's cliche, but young people do give me hope," Travis says. "There's a cultural shift of more young people understanding the complexities around gender."

Image source, Holly Revell

Travis wants the audience to leave with a better understanding of what it's like to live your life dealing with racism, transphobia and homophobia.

"The worst thing for me is that the audience leave and feel nothing," Travis explains. "Even if they hate the show I'm glad because that means they had a really strong reaction."

Travis was at the centre of a media storm at the end of 2017 after being asked to leave a Topshop dressing room. Travis complained, arguing that the store had a gender neutral policy - but was not allowed to re-enter the dressing room.

The incident sparked a huge debate, with some people saying Travis shouldn't have been in the changing room.

"I experience daily violence just from walking outside looking like this, but also having a somewhat public profile as a trans person people are constantly at you online picking you apart.

"With the visibility of us heightening, the danger is also increasing."

Image source, Elise Rose/Mobius Industries

The Stonewall LGBT in Britain report found that one in four non-binary people aren't open about their gender identity to anyone in their family.

Travis was supported by family and says their identity wasn't "stifled".

"I was really fortunate to be in a house that my mum knew I was a queen. I felt allowed to dress up and play with my gender and not a lot of people can do that in their house."

The performer grew up in a council estate in Bristol but didn't really become involved in art until they moved to London for university.

Long nights spent at cabaret clubs meeting like-minded people led to Travis dropping out of their philosophy course to pursue a dream of being a performer.

Image source, Holly Revell

"I just woke up one day and said 'I'm not going back, I'm going to try and be an artist'," they explained.

Despite pressure to get an academic degree, Travis has been making a living as an artist and performer for the last four-and-a-half years.

Burgerz has finished its run in London, but will be performed at Manchester Royal Exchange between 14 and 17 November.

It will also appear at the Homotopia festival in Liverpool.

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