Travis Alabanza talks about seeing anti-trans advertisments on the daily commute, art that emerges from deep turmoil and new show, Burgerz.
I flick open the Metro and immediately put it down. I try to ignore what I see and get my head into rehearsal mode. Two weeks to go Travis, don’t let it phase you. “Get your head in the game”, the High School Musical song starts ringing in my head. We finish rehearsals. I’m tired. I get back onto the tube. There are four people reading the Metro next to me. I cannot ignore it. Not only is the double spread in a bright red font, but I can feel the eyes of one of the readers glance towards me. I wonder what they are thinking about me?
Last week, in case you didn’t hear, the Metro allowed anti-trans groups to pay £40,000 for a full page advertisement promoting transphobic and hate filled speech. The ad asks readers to “choose reality”, and asks if “someone with a penis can be considered a women”. It directly responds to the recent consultation for Gender Recognition Act (an act giving trans people more autonomy to self-determine who they are) with false information, lies and dangerous misinformation.
This feels exhausting, but it does not feel surprising. For the last 12 months the media has been continuously using trans people’s lives, humanity and sense of self as a point of, at best, ‘debate’ in the media, and, at worst, the subject of cruel dehumanisation. Trans Media Watch has noted that this feels like one of the most heightened examples of media targeting we have seen, with many activists noting the horrible similarities between this rise in attacks to that of the 80s response to gay men in relation to Section 28.
The four people continue to read the Metro. I feel their eyes wander over me.
I think about what facts and statistics did not make the Metro ad that day? Like the fact that hate crimes against trans people continue to rise: two in five trans people have been a victim of hate crime in the last year; one in eight trans people are a victim of violent assault at work.
All too often I go online and read of another friend being thrown out of a club, a changing room, a doctor’s room. It’s been just two weeks since the last murder of a black trans woman, and a week after I read of my friend being held up at knife point for wearing a dress.
Right now, it’s safe to say, it is unsafe to be trans.
Right now, it’s safe to say, that this can feel overwhelming.
I sit back on the tube, and I remember a line from the show from rehearsals earlier that day: “We are not new, we have survived this before, we can survive this again”.
All of this hurt, this pain, this tension, this rhetoric, is Burgerz. This is exactly why, nearly two years after writing the first draft of this play, the piece is still being formed, and feels even more important to be seen. I had written Burgerz after experiencing my own transphobic attack two years ago. Someone had thrown a burger at me in broad daylight, and as the burger hit, I watched a crowded busy bridge full of people: do nothing. Burgerz became a response to this moment, asking what it takes for someone to stand up and protect you? Why did so many people not do anything? I realised how few theatre shows there were talking and discussing trans issues, from a trans perspective, with us in control of our narrative – and I knew that I wanted to make a show to change that.
Two years after the initial pen to paper, with the show opening the same week as a large open consultation on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act, I realise that although this show is very much about my particular experience, it has grown into something that feels a lot larger than just my moment. In times of deep turmoil within communities, I am always interested in the art that emerges from this. Burgerz feels like an emergence through the turmoil I have both faced, but witnessed the wider community go through. It feels like a rallying cry amongst so many oppressive forces trying to silence us. It feels like a grabbing back of the microphone, to tell our own narrative.
I may not be able to advertise my thoughts in a newspaper for those four people on the tube to read, but I can make a theatre show that is screaming for us to wake up.
Burgerz is touring from 19 October – 18 November and will be at Hackney Showroom from 23 October until 3 November. For more information, please click here.