Pre-show interview questions by Shades of Noir:
Shades of Noir sat down with London based performance artist Travis Alabanza, ahead of their sell out – opening – of their new show BURGERZ.
SON: On the description of ‘BURGERZ’: ‘exploring the act of survival, the way a body can dodge objects and how a person is received and examined in the public sphere.’ Could you speak on the idea of agency over one’s body as a black transfemme;
TA: I think it’s really interesting that you picked up on agency, because I think that this it was this piece of theatre is screaming to obtain, and to get the tiniest piece of agency that I can have over my own body. I think as a black transfemme, gender nonconforming person, we don’t have any Agency. We lack consent and control over our bodies. I feel as though as soon as I step outside, I’m now public property.
I think the way that we are treated in media online lacks agency as well. Recently with folks like Chimamanda, Germaine Greer, and other high profile cis-feminists, there’s constantly this idea of cis people talking about whether or not we are enough. But to be completely honest, the narrative around trans ideas and identities to Non binary femmes is one that often takes away our agency too. We still have a trans politics that is incredibly binary, and often that removes agency from my own identification.
Which I think speaks on the lack of Agency that we have. I think what BURGERZ is trying to show is that it requires the two of us, it requires ‘me’ and the ‘audience’ and the people outside to help me obtain that Agency.
SoN: How much of a role does the audience at ‘BURGERZ’ play in this piece?
TA: Audience are crucial in this, I didn’t want to create a piece where people in the room could passively sit and watch and then leave and think thoughts about the piece afterwards, because I think that’s too much In common with how we view trans-feminine bodies on stage, we are always on stage looking fierce, looking fabulous, applauded and then left and I really wanted the audience to be an active part of the piece, because during my harassment and during my abuse in public, people have done nothing, so it is super super important for me that the audience actively choose to participate in this piece.
SON: ‘BURGERZ’ asks the question: ‘How does one become a protector, rather than bystander?’ What advice would you give to conscious bystander, (be them allies, supporters, etc.) that wants to be more active and become a protector?
TA: I guess in terms of public harassment, I speak of people not stepping in.When I think about the bystander I think about how if there are multiple people in the room then the first thing they should do is to physically get the person away from me. And to remind the person, the victim that they didn’t deserve that. I think it’s up to the bystander in a certain situation what that may look like, sometimes it just requires a look of acknowledgment but others it may require actually physical presence, actually stepping in the way of the attacker. I think about class in this, like how much better if all these rich white women were paying for trans-femme and people of colours taxi rides home, you know? What it looks like to use wealth to give you safety.
SoN: On the subject of ‘Survival’, what are your own current methods of survival? What does the word survival mean to you currently in these urgent times?
Considering: #blacktranslivesmatter #protecttranskids #sayhername?
TA: What I always say is ‘you gotta do what you gotta do to survive, In a world that is literally trying to kill us. Do what you gotta do.’ I’m bored of people judging other folks survival methods. If it is not harming others, then we really need to realise that survival is very much vital.
Sometimes survival means putting on my trousers and my jumper and walking through the world in that way and that doesn’t make me any less trans.
Survival for gender non conforming / trans femmes looks very different. “I can imagine there are lots and lots of possibilities that are cut short for gender nonconforming folk, because sometimes I feel an immense pressure to transition in certain (medicalised) ways in order to survive. I think about how I want to imagine worlds where my survival doesn’t have to equal a pressure to conform to a binary that is either a trans or cis binary.
I think that being around other people of colour in particular femmes and trans femmes of colour, is my mode of survival. But also survival is really complex, because a lot of survival techniques require money and wealth and if you’re struggling to make ends meet then maybe you don’t have time to put in your self-care and survival.
SoN: How much of a strain on mental health and well-being (particularly in QTIPOC communities) do you think these constant thoughts of survival create?
TA: I think it’s paramount and a crucial reason why there is a lot of mental health issues in the QTIPOC community. I think white supremacy is enough alone to drive anyone into poor mental health and when you add onto that disability and transness, or gender-based violence, you’re gonna have such a strain on your mental health. I think ‘BURGERZ’ looks specially at specific moments that if they happen repeatedly can ruin your mental health.
SoN: On your selfies posts, you add: ‘so take selfies 2 heal’. Your Instagram account acts as an archive. You also speak about archiving through social media. Could you tell us more about selfies and one how you navigate online?
TA: The idea of archiving is very important to me; so sometimes when I’m feeling low and looking through my Instagram, reminding me of the looks I served or when I felt my gender or not dysphoric, it really helps me to remind myself that there was a time when I didn’t feel dysphoric.
I didn’t see anyone that looked like me growing up and if my Instagram and twitter is reaching younger trans-femme kids, particular trans femmes of colour that show a broad range of narratives behind transness I’m really happy that they can see myself fully and that they can be like, ok this person is doing things, this person is smiling and laughing, this person is with other friends that are also trans. It shows our existence.
SoN: Within the interview of HISKIND, you spoke about ‘communal activism’ rather than outward activism, your thoughts reminded me a lot of ‘pleasure activism’, could you expand on this as an act of resistance?
TA: I think obviously all forms of activism are valid. I am just really interested at this current time about inward activism too. I also think there is this lack of recognition for the people doing the less public facing activism, that’s kind of keeping us alive. I think of the activist Tobi Adebajo who runs a femmes of colour group and tirelessly she organizes healing days, she organises workshops, where we come and and do lots of things, like gather, braid hair, make spells, eat, chill… I feel these communal activism is what’s keeping us alive, it’s what’s keeping us and what’s reminding us that we have community, that we have family and that we can find a safe space.
SoN: What have you learnt from your experiences teaching young kids?
TA: I absolutely love youth work. Recently with my residency at the tate, means that I work with young kids from 6-16 every week, I’m learning so much about gender through working with young kids, I think I’m learning loads about when gender starts to affect us, how gendered kids worlds and minds are. I’ve also had loads of joyous moments with kids, when a kid came up to me three weeks ago I think and say: ‘sir, I mean miss, I mean’ and I looked them and I said ‘maybe just Travis? And they were like, ‘maybe just Travis’. And we had this really lovely moment where we both paused and smiled. I think kids have this amazing way sometimes of reminding me my gender encompasses more than my body, and is in my energy too.
SoN: In 2016 you have performed about 110 shows! You also have a residency at the TATE, touring, going to the States, debuting your new show and so much more. What/who keeps you going and gives you daily motivation?
TA: My mum. I always just say my Mum, straight up. I think about my Mum a lot when I’m working and when I’m doing things. My mum raised us like a single parent most of our lives. She raised two kids and she was alone in this country and she’s from the States, and she was just alone in this country, broke. And as a single mum and I think about her work ethic and I think about how her energy and really a lot of it is when I work hard, it’s because I want to make my mum proud.I think she is an incredible person, and a black woman and strong and the way her blackness is encompassed in her is really inspiring.
I’m so inspired by other QTIPOC around me too, I feel really really blessed that a lot of artists, curators, activists, workers, and other QTIPOCS are around me in my life, which means I’m constantly given examples of the best ways I can be and sometimes when I’m not inspired I can just go onto my timeline and see all of these incredible people who are in my life, doing amazing things such as: The Black House in Peckham, Screaming Toenail, Rebecka Ubuntu, Karnage, the list goes on…
SoN: We know you will be performing with Mykki Blanco, how are you feeling about that?
TA: (Laughs) Gaaaasssssed!!!
SON: What has recently brought you joy these past days?
TA: Thank you for ending on that! I went to watch ‘Get Out’, I watched it with a group of black people and that brought me some joy and on Saturday night I hang out with loads of QTIPOC and watched the webseries ‘Brown Girls’ and it was really fun, so… yeah that’s what’s brought me joy.
Travis Alabanza | BURGERZ at Hackney Showroom.
Follow Travis Alabanza on Social Media.
All Images taken by SoN’s photographer Jay Lee