About this event
LGBTQ+ Rights: Amelia Abraham, Travis Alabanza, Fox Fisher & Yasmin Benoit
Join us to celebrate the paperback publication of We Can Do Better Than This with editor Amelia Abraham and three of the contributors.
Join us for a very special evening to celebrate the paperback publication of We Can Do Better Than This with editor Amelia Abraham and 3 of the book’s fantastic contributors, Travis Alabanza, Fox Fisher, and Yasmin Benoit.
We Can Do Better Than This asks and explores answers to the very important question ‘How can we create a better world for LGBTQ+ people?’. We talk about achieving ‘LGBTQ+ equality’, but around the world, LGBTQ+ people are still suffering discrimination and extreme violence. How do we solve this urgent problem, allowing queer people everywhere the opportunity to thrive?
In We Can Do Better Than This, 35 voices explore this question. This commanding essay collection features deeply moving personal stories and provocative new arguments from a range of powerful voice including actors, activists and pop stars, all dedicated to questioning how we can make our world better, and why LGBTQ+ equality should matter to everyone.
We are thrilled to host such a wonderful panel of guests, all of which are doing great work in the field, contributing to making the word a better place for LGBTQ+ people and rights.
Do come ready with your burning questions! Don’t forget to include a copy of We Can Do Better Than This with your ticket, for a discounted rate. Books will also be available to purchase on the night.
Amelia Abraham is a journalist and author from London. She has worked as an editor at VICE, Refinery29 and Dazed, and writes for the Guardian, British Vogue and many other publications. Her first book, Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture, is a roving, first-person exploration of the mainstreaming of queer culture across the West.
Travis Alabanza is writer, theatre-maker and performer. Their recent play Burgerz toured internationally to critical acclaim, received the Total Theatre Award for an Emerging Artist and was voted one of the top shows of the year by Guardian readers. Their work has appeared and been referenced in numerous publications, such as Dazed , the Guardian , the Independent , Metro and Vogue.
Fox Fisher is an award-winning artist, filmmaker and author. Fox is co-director of the film company My Genderation along with their partner Owl. Together they co-created Trans Teen Survival Guide and Trans Survival Workbook.
Yasmin Benoit is a model, aromantic-asexuality activist, speaker and writer from Berkshire, England. In 2018, she started the hashtag #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike to improve asexual visibility.From the blurb
Imagine my excitement when I saw this oppression olympics event. You can’t?! Well let me tell you the £7 ticket was cheap at half-the-price for Travis alone, but to have three further gender-addled-gerbils thrown into the bargain was a bonanza. Travis was resplendent in a high-neck orange gingham mini-dress. Preferring to sit to the side he was soon asked to sit centre, which makes sense really, being the main man. Fox was almost unrecognisable, I couldn’t quite make it out at first, but finally settled on her eyes being noticeably smaller. Tiredness, perhaps.
Amelia Abraham was the chair of the panel and celebrating the paperback version of her anthology of trans activist essays that she had compiled. I had attended the online book launch last year, which I wrote about, an event so dire my recollection virtually wiped and which ended suddenly with no one wanting to ask any questions.
First Amelia did a quick pronoun check with the panel: Yasmin she/her, Travis she/they, and Fox he/they, though sadly we didn’t learn what Amelia’s were. How will we ever manage to talk about Amelia?
Then brief introductions – Fox was ‘the nicest person ever’. Travis is still touring with his play Burgers, which is pretty amazing really, four years on since its debut. He also has a book about being non-binary coming out soon. Yasmin is still shilling for asexuality in cheap stringy lingerie. Amelia is now living in Brussels.
Travis has a dream
Everyone is trans, so now what? is the title of his essay and one he did a long read from. It starts with him being called a faggot by a man who he is in a relationship with – which would make it an anti-gay sentiment, rather than a ‘transphobic’ one, surely? Another recurring theme of Travis’ life is being mocked on public transport – this time businessmen laughing hysterically at his high heels on the Tube – an anecdote that doesn’t ring true and a lot less funny than the flying chicken burger we know and love him for.
For Travis, the binary nature of ‘cisgender and transgender’ could be more simply put as ‘hiding and honest’. What if we all admitted we were just a tiny bit transgender and if trans people were the majority? Well, you would fucking hate it for a start Travis, losing your special status. Secondly it would become an utterly meaningless definition, even more than it is now, unless it divided into being trans, supertrans, superplustrans, etc.
Ultimately Travis wants us all to feel the discomfort of some level of ‘gender dysphoria’, which we all do anyway, whenever we feel we don’t fit in with our own ideals about one should act as a man or a woman. So, as you were Travis; it’s already been better said.
How Travis wrote the essay
During lockdown in thirty minute spurts. He didn’t want to write an essay about all the oppression that trans people face (although the long section he’d just read out, he had done just that) but rather the way in which ‘trans people gift to the world’ and the ways in which ‘people are richer because of us’.
Travis also felt that the current discussion separated the common causes of ‘cisgender women’ and ‘trans people’. The core elements of ‘transness’ were bodily autonomy and consent and he believes this is core to women’s rights too. Travis also wants a world where trans people had control over their own bodies. But what about women who don’t want to share their changing room with Travis and his size 10 non-binary bother boots, huh? Sadly Travis never moved any of his arguments off the starting line, just like always.
If everyone was trans, then everyone would have better fashion sense, said Travis, which found easy laughter with the mainly badly dressed enbies. I guess most were too young to know that this was a line gay men used to say back in the day, mostly ironically.
Travis was invited by Amelia to talk about his new book which was going to explore the meaning of being non-binary. This was also written in lockdown and Travis claimed he had wondered whether he was still going to be identifying as trans at the end of it. As if. During the writing of the book he had started and stopped oestrogen six times. What the fuck for, I have no idea, as surely sex hormones are antithetical to the essence of non-binariness?
The philosophical question he had mused over in the book was: Was it possible to remain gender non-conforming? And if we do change, are we changing for ourselves or for others? I have the answer to that question actually. No, I really do. Travis is totally gender conforming to his chosen gender of non-binary, i.e. clown make-up with clothes which don’t fit, boring personality.
Amelia wanted to know more about his writing process. Travis claims he only writes for himself, rather than writing with an audience in mind or for trans people in particular. I would find that more believable if it were credible that he could step off the narrative that he is currently treading at any time. Also, would it be likely that the publisher having specifically asked for a book about being non-binary, then be happy with one which said ‘it’s all made-up, I don’t believe in it anymore’? Erm, no.
Yasmin and her bloody boring asexuality
Yasmin told us that the dictionary definition of asexuality was wrong and that it really was a sexuality, albeit a boring made-up one. Amelia wanted to know, what were the main ways in which asexual people were oppressed. Yasmin drily told us people might think she’s not that fun, or she might be policed for being a bit you-know allo (i.e. engaging in sexual activity and therefore not asexual by any stretch of the imagination) which was also very unfair. Another big misconception was that low libido was anything to do hormone levels.
Amelia wanted to know did Yasmin experience something similar to biphobia – being told it was a phase? Yes, said Yasmin eagerly. People tell her that just because she feels like she doesn’t have any sexual attraction now, that might change in the future. The alternative of course would be to affirm Yasmin and say yes, you will never want or find anyone to love. Which would be cruel. (If it’s affirmation you want though Yasmin, hit me up anytime.)
Over 80 percent of asexual people were not comfortable coming out, which is a ridiculous claim, because if you aren’t doing anything with anyone, there is nothing to announce. It’s like announcing you’re single. No one is going to care. Somehow Yasmin has transformed this disinterest from others into a proper pathology.
I have to say Amelia didn’t sound at all convinced, even though she was asking only supportive questions. Later I wondered if that was because she had knowledge about Yasmin which was interfering as the words left her mouth? Hmm.
Yasmin wasn’t happy that most people had the impression that asexual people were ‘white comfortable kids’, which felt a bit unfair on the assembled white comfortable kids. The few who did laugh, a bit too raucously, clearly labouring under the misapprehension that they weren’t comfortable. Otherwise the observation tanked, not that dull-as-ditchwater noticed.
Yasmin claimed that one percent of the UK population was asexual. This would be extraordinary if true. Even the lesbian and gay population is only about 2.5 percent by current estimates. Again Amelia struggled to sound convinced.
Amelia’s last incisive question was: ‘Did I read on the internet that there is an asexual organisation?’ To which Yasmin answered yes, there was and she was on the board of directors. Yasmin also mentioned her ‘partnership’ with Stonewall. You’ve got to give it to Yasmin, she really is doing more than most to bring Stonewall down.
Fox Fisher and navigating trans healthcare
And so we turned lastly to Fox Fisher, who had recently been interviewed in the Gay Times, which is very fitting given she is in a long term heterosexual relationship. One of Amelia’s favourite quotes from her book had come from Fox’s essay on trans healthcare.
So many hopes, so many gatekeepers, when the person who ultimately knows what’s best for me is me.Amelia quoting Fox’s essay
Amelia was almost speechless after reading it out. ‘It’s so simple, isn’t it?’ ventured Fox, saving her. Fox was another one who wanted to have a stab at white androgynous ‘AFAB’ people. Talk about biting the hand which feeds.
Fox also offered an alternate version of the quote Amelia had read out. ‘Only you, know you.’ Jesus. Talking of which, Fox had recently been talking to a ‘fascinating non-binary priest’ who had said you can’t prove that being trans is a real thing, but you could have a knowing in yourself. Fox admitted for her it was an identity and it involved working out what fitted and what didn’t and that this was a ‘process of elimination’.
Interestingly Fox grew up in Saudi Arabia and remembered soldiers arriving to fight in the Gulf War (the first one in 1990, Fox is middle aged but doesn’t look it particularly). She told them that her nickname was Ralph. She doesn’t actually remember doing that, rather being told by a friend that she had. Nevertheless she feels it proves that she was non-binary all along and that ‘I’ve always been me’.
Nowadays she is ‘more me’ than she ever was, presumably alluding to the chemical and physical alterations she has made to herself, making it easier for her ‘to thrive’.
Being non-binary was not a ‘new fangled thing’, it had all been suppressed because of ‘colonialism’. I can see that living in Saudi Arabia, where men and women must travel on separate public buses and enter buildings through separate entrances – even homes are divided in male and female quarters (though it is unlikely Fox’s was) – that this might do something to you which was rather long lasting. Fox blamed Christianity and Western colonialism, rather than Islamic theocracy though. Poor confused Fox.
Fox lamented that it had been five years since her and Owl’s TV interview with Piers Morgan in which he identified as a black woman. Happily they have the clip uploaded to their YouTube channel which you can watch after an advertisement has played. Poor clever Fox.
Fox felt that when women voice concerns about safety on losing single sex spaces, this was a ‘dog whistle’ and turned to Travis, who has never identified as a woman, and noted that he had had an issue with TopShop* a few years ago. ‘I’m still here,’ quipped Travis, a reference to the fashion chainstore having gone bust last year.
*Actually Fox said TopMan at first, which is a bit of a Freudian slip, isn’t it?
Fox described the recent House of Commons debate on non-binary issues as ‘horrific’. Here is the Hansard record. Fox complained that it started with four white cis people talking rubbish, saying all the usual stuff, like ‘we’re paedophiles and weirdos that shouldn’t be working with children’. She also said that MPs had stated non-binary people didn’t know who they were and didn’t have the right to decide. Strange. You would think clips like this would go viral and that My Genderation would use their film editing skills and platform to share them. Poor sly Fox.
Other countries had allowed people to self-identify as non-binary and it hadn’t caused chaos, so seeing people debate Fox’s right to exist had been a very painful experience. However, knowing who you were and just being yourself was the best key to happiness. Non-binaries can’t become straight, said Fox, before correcting herself.
So much oppression
Amelia told us that the UK had fallen in the LGBT rankings in Europe, going from No. 10 to 14. This was to do with failing to ban ‘conversion therapy’, hate crime doubling over four years and no third gender marker on passports! Not to mention no movement on ‘intersex rights’. This was depressing.
Not only that Amelia had met a trans-identified male in Antwerp the other day, who had left the UK for good. That’s how bad it has gotten in the UK, that people have left for Antwerp. Horrific.
Fox agreed it was terrible and said that it was just a core bunch of people causing a lot of chaos. However, she was still hopeful that we could all ‘continue to be ourselves’. Also on the plus side there was Heartstopper, the new Netflix series about LGBTQ+ yoof.
Travis hates Heartstopper and I’m inclined to agree. From the trailer it strikes me as the typical romanticised gay relationship that women would hope that gay men have with each other. It also features a trans character played by a trans-identified male. It was written by Alice Oseman, a children’s author, who identifies as an ‘aromantic asexual‘ and has also written a book called Loveless, featuring an asexual character.
Question and Answer
50 years of Pride in Britain
Amelia wanted to know how the panel felt about Pride. Did the commodification sit okay with them? Or was it now time to re-embrace it after feeling jaded for so long?
Yasmin was brutally honest, she makes more money in the month of Pride than she will for the rest of the year from speaking gigs and sponsorship, therefore she embraces it. It was also the perfect vehicle to spread the message.
Travis thought it important to have regional Prides, which tended to be more diverse than the bigger ones. He also claims he wants to build relationships within the community he lives, rather than along the lines of identity. This noble idea rather petered out in his next train of thought though: Did he want equality with cis people, or did he want to be free from them? Which lead onto the topic of leather daddies (and which lead me onto, when double checking the meaning of this BDSM slang word, to unfortunate photos of Ricky Martin dressed as a leather daddy). Travis very much wants leather daddies visibly present at Pride. Because Travis doesn’t want to be part of the respectable brigade. He wants to be able to say that he chose to be queer, that he chose to be on the outside. Fine.
Fox said there were over a dozen Trans Pride events all over the UK and that they had a more authentic and personal feel to them, managing to name-drop E.J. Scott who has apparently done the ‘hard work’ of collating this trite information.
Travis asks a question of Amelia
What surprised her in the essays she commissioned?
Travis’ essay really pushed her thinking on imaging a different type of future. She also liked the essay by Andrew Gurza, a disabled Canadian queer activist, who had written an essay about single disabled people having reduced benefits upon marriage (having a look at his blog, he also argues that disabled people should be taught how to have sex and that ‘wheelchairs belong in kink spaces‘). She liked his essay because it went into a lot of graphic detail about his sex life and poo. Ew. #NoThankYou
Another essay she thought very important was that written by Levi Hord, who she described as a gender theorist. Hord had written an essay called Pregnancy Beyond Gender, which used the conceit of science fiction to imagine a world where ‘pregnancy wasn’t so gendered’. Damn those bloody wombs!
A mad NHS worker speaks
A woman in the audience lamented the ignorance of her colleagues who didn’t understand the politics of gender theory. This mainly wasn’t malicious but ignorance. For example, one thought that being non-binary was someone who might have sex with people of more than one gender (which seems a fair assumption when someone claims not to recognise sexed bodies). How do we reach these backward adult people?
Fox commiserated with her. She didn’t know what the answer was, but hoped education, like reading Amelia’s book would help. Fox had recently bumped into someone who had been affected by the show My Transsexual Summer (MTS), which Fox had appeared in. This man had watched MTS when he was 15 and spent the last ten years thinking back on it, until finally coming out a year ago. This proved that the key was really education, Fox said.
How to be a successful asexual activist, an asexual wanted to know
‘Harassment,’ said Yasmin. Though really she should have advised dressing up in G-strings helps. She told the girl she should schmooze the likes of Vogue and Cosmo. Hopes dashed, the girl then asked how she could be a successful behind the scenes faceless activist instead and Yasmin told her she could help run anonymous Instagram accounts and produce memes.
Why did Amelia choose the topic of sport for her own essay
Amelia had wanted an essay on sports so decided to write it herself. She felt there was a disconnect between how people live their lives and how sport was currently organised. There were now so many non-binary people and yet they were forced to enter into a ‘gendered’ category. There was no real proof that men who have taken oestrogen have an advantage over females and Amelia felt we should reconstruct sporting events along different lines. At the time she wrote the essay she hadn’t known that ‘anti-trans sports bills’ would be bought against ‘trans women and trans girls’ across the US. Amelia added it was ‘stupid’ to have gender categories for Olympic events like ‘skateboarding and fencing‘ (both of which are intensely physical activities, the latter a contact sport).
And that was the end of the event. I believe there was still another fifteen minutes to go on the time, but I think Amelia wasn’t keen on continuing with audience questions. No one objected. I sometimes think that this is nearly all over, but when forty plus people turn up on a Thursday night for a paid event, you know it’s not. Particularly revealing was the aspiring asexual activist. Perhaps she believed it was a career pathway and was approaching it in the same way that people might have once thought about a career in unionism.
More concerning though were the blatant lies that Fox spouted about the Parliamentary debate. The debate was held as a result of e-petition 580220 Make non-binary a legally recognised gender identity in the UK having received over 100,000 signatories, a project Fox appears to have been involved with over a number of years.
I searched the Hansard record for all the phrases she mentioned and also searched for adjacent phrases (e.g. ‘child abuser’ rather than paedophile, ‘strange’ rather than weirdo, etc) and found no matches. Given her commitment to having this discussed in Parliament over a number of years, it would be strange if she really hadn’t sat down and watched the debate in full – certainly she said she did. How many of those in the meeting will now go off and bring this tiny piece of disinformation up in a future conversation? I bet none will be checking the Hansard record, or watching the video of the debate which exists. And why should they, when the nicely spoken woman seems entirely reliable and has calmly and repeatedly stated how well she knows herself. This is how their activism works.
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