In Conversation with Travis Alabanza and Shon Faye


So, Shon Faye, Stonewall employee, has a new book out. One likely overly fair critical review of the book has already landed from The Times, but of course there are gushing reviews too, and a best books recommendation from queered-up Vogue. Boy have the Cult joined hands to endorse it.

Proper LOL for the Ash Sarkar quote

Shon is discussing his work with fellow trans luminary Travis Alabanza aka Havaburga (the non-binary who famously who once had a chicken burger glance off their shoulder on major London thoroughfare, they never got over the ketchup stain), and has included a quote from Travis at the start of the book.

As an aside, Travis has recently discussed that he wrote his play Overflow, reviewed by me here, because he was annoyed by seeing discussions about trans people and single sex spaces during the pandemic, when people were literally dying. What better panacea then, than to write a play just about that and stage it at the height of the pandemic? Genius!

Moderating the discussion was handmaiden extraordinaire Lola Olufemi, author of a liberal feminist book which argues for the destruction of capitalism. When I last came across her she unexplained the meaning of sex (an event Shon was also at).

My first objection to the blurb is the idea that Shon or Travis have any genuine concern about housing, either personally or generally. The second is ‘health care’, which in this context merely means allowing adults and children to gain free access to drugs and surgery, guaranteed to mess up their endocrine systems, which ultimately the NHS, and us as taxpayers, will be picking up the tab for.

These are now the human rights that the left leaning world is often most vocal about, most notably Biden on his first day in office sought to conflate gender identity with sex in the US Constitution. Right now Afghans flee their homeland, partly because the West allowed the return of the religious extremist islamic Taliban group, yet there is still no generally acceptable way of pointing a finger at Islam as a cause, because to do so is ‘Islamophobia’.

Which brings us back nicely to the topic of the discussion: Freedom Beyond Toxic Narratives (which really means anything critical is just plain nasty).

The discussion


From the moment Lola appeared on screen she was waffling.  I’m sure they hadn’t a clue what she asked them, but what choice did they have other than to waffle back?   She started by introducing them. 

Shon first became a solicitor and then worked for various charities, Amnesty International and Stonewall.  Recently he has produced a podcast ‘Call Me Mother’ and now a new book – The Transgender Issue.

Travis was introduced as a theatre artist and used to have a column in the Metro.  His play Burgers had sold out in many venues.  He has contributed to loads of anthologies.  

Capitalism, sex work and not being able to get a job

Lola’s first question was along the lines of how did capitalism affect their lives, wedging in the phrase ‘black and brown lives’.  

Shon responded that corporate messaging around trans lives wasn’t inclusive of people who were working class, black and brown or sex workers.  (Having been to a fair few corporate events, they are absolutely inclusive of ethnic diversity, presumably they don’t regard their employees earning shit loads of dosh as working class, nor need to worry that any might have a side line on Only Fans to supplement their income, so that would explain that).  

The other thing Shon wanted to make us aware of, is that being trans costs a lot of money.  This put trans people into proximity of violence because they have to sell sex.  Around the time of the GRA reform campaign, although charities talked a lot about the personal freedom self-ID would bring, Shon was noticing that people would share their Crowdfunder for treatment.  

Travis wanted to make the point that it was nigh impossible to get a job if you were gender non-conforming, office dress codes forbid it, and uniform policies were discriminatory.  Travis apparently has had a job in which a uniform was required and despite the fact he wore the female uniform, he was still told to tone it down.  Here’s something you’ve never heard before; the waiting list to be seen in the gender clinic is 4 years long.  

Travis argued that lack of access to normal work forced trans people into sex work.  (But ‘sex work is work’, so what’s the problem with that?)  The lack of access to normal work meant that Travis was forced onto the stage (and not into, say, bar work in a nightclub or long distance lorry driving). 

He sneered at the idea that trans people have to think about what their email signatures might look like – they don’t even have jobs!  And that’s when I noticed that Travis fingernails were alternating colours, black and white on each finger.  Very Taoist.  

Trans disruption

Lola said that Travis’ Burgers play made her think about what it means to be in public spaces and the anxiety around that.  What does disruption offer?

Travis said that being trans enriches your life.  For him it’s all about ‘My body is my own’ and that people have the power to change or remove parts of their bodies.  The easier it is for people to do this, the more gender freedom they will experience.  Trans people are just more honest about this and their discomfort with their gender, he reckons.  

Shon says that most people don’t know the origin of trans healthcare.  Which is true of course, but many people in the GC movement do, and it isn’t a wholesome story.  Trans healthcare has been available on the NHS for decades – was the new information Shon thought he was bringing to the table.  It was also done in the hope that the men would pass.  Again, this is not new info.  Sorry.   

Shon told us that he is treated much better now that he conforms to femininity.  (I can imagine.  We live in a society which definitely approves of that.)


Lola waffled about violence being a social construct (obviously never been smacked in the face) and that people (meaning women really) get scared if they can’t read people (meaning men really).  But what could we learn from direct action groups like the Outside Project (a domestic violence project exclusively for the LGBTIQ+ community)? 

Shon said the current UK government was the most homophobic and transphobic there has ever been.  So nur. 

Travis was keen to blame Brexit as the starting point of transphobia and that housing and prison were immediate issues that had to be fought at the outset  Moreover Travis doesn’t want to be a ‘respectable’ activist.  He wants to be ‘monstrous and repulsive’ (can I suggest ‘faintly’ and ‘ridiculous’ instead?).  

Stopping himself from blurting out a slur word (I think he was thinking of ‘tranny’ if you want to get an idea of how edgy he was being). He described himself and friends as ‘Devil worshipping sex swappers’.  Mate you’re going to have to get yourself on a plane to the Bible Belt in America for that to work.  We don’t care.  

Shon then talked for a bit about ‘legibility’ and being non-binary.  The term non-binary is used by NGOs, governments, think-tanks, etc, but no one really no one knows what it means.  Shon told us people aren’t supposed to understand what it means.  Well Shon, I’m sorry, but we do understand what it means – bullshit.  

Shon’s hope for the future is that he doesn’t need to use the word ‘trans’ or ‘woman’ to describe himself (presumably some sort of internet-osmosis will be available by then).  He was also saddened that feminists had such anxiety about male violence and felt we have a preoccupation over what the term ‘woman’ meant.  

Shon’s new book

Lola said that lots of the people she knows think about gender like this.  What could be said about trans lives in public?   

Shon told us that his book was an attempt to explain these complex issues to us normies.  The arguments exist in ‘ephemeral spaces’.  Shon doesn’t want to be a mascot, nor to be perceived as the person who knows all the answers, nor to be considered The Voice.  

Travis generously informed him that his work was of such complexity and the immense multiplicity of voices meant that Shon’s own voice was just like a little light which helped them all thrive.  

I love you, Shon said.  

Pay me later, said Travis.  

Travis understands, of course, the anxiety which comes with having a big moment.  When Burgers was being shown at Edinburgh a theatre director told him that if only he had been a white cis man he would have been in talks to get his own TV show (conveniently forgetting Nish Kumar, Romesh Ranganathan, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Adil Ray have all had careers propped by the BBC for being mostly mediocre).  

Many of Travis’ shows have been protested, he says.  There have also been ‘transphobic stickers’ in bathrooms.  He prefers though when they do the protest inside the theatre, because then he knows everyone’s bought a ticket.  Like the child that he is, Havaburga has forgotten if this had happened, it would have been plastered all over social media from both sides with hashtags galore.


What does political solidarity look like, asked Lola. 

Shon sneered at the idea that allies could simply use hashtags and then bizarrely moved onto the thought that he could imagine what it might be like to a Muslim woman wearing a hijab in public.  He admitted the transgender-identified population was so small the alliance with LGB groups was essential.  

Travis was keen to let us know that he grew up poor and in poverty and incarceration loomed on the background of his childhood (at least he bothered to remember what was in the blurb I suppose).  ‘This country hates poor people’ said Travis, and that a 14 year old with three jobs ‘has no time to think about pronouns’.  Let’s just pause there.  A 14 year old with three jobs.  

Lola said that liberated futures have to include everyone and that the gender critical movement doesn’t care about poverty or people who are subordinated (yes no grass root movements to protect women in prisons on our side).  Then that was the end of the pre-recorded discussion.  

Live Q&A

Only Shon Faye remained for the live Q&A with Lola still doing her bumbling best to ask the questions.  No new ground was covered though and at least two of the six questions were directed at the already departed Travis, so I will spare you any further tedium.  

Thank you for reading! Sign up to my blog by going to the bottom of the page.

Please share on other forums if you liked it, as I only do Twitter.