I sought my love out once again and they didn’t fail to deliver. In fact, I think this is the most Emperor’s New Clothes Travis has ever been. Top tip Travis (perchance you read this) please always drink too much wine when you’re being interviewed.
The blurby bit
Writer and performer Travis Alabanza discusses their new memoir, asking what it means to live outside the gender boundaries imposed on us by society.
‘When you are someone that falls outside of categories in so many ways,’ says Alabanza, ‘a lot of things are said to you. And I have had a lot of things said to me.’
In None of the Above, Travis Alabanza examines seven phrases people have directed at them about their gender identity.
These phrases have stayed with them over the years. Some are deceptively innocuous, some deliberately loaded or offensive, some celebratory.
These are sentences that have impacted them for better and for worse, sentences that speak to the broader issues raised by a world that insists that gender must be a binary.
Through these seven phrases, which include some of their most transformative experiences as a Black, mixed race, non-binary person, Travis Alabanza turns a mirror back on society, giving us reason to question the very framework in which we live and the ways we treat each other.From the Southbank’s website
Travis was interviewed by Emma Dabiri, author of What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition. I’ve come across her before when she was interviewed alongside Shon Faye, memorable only for speaking about the impact that Floyd George’s death had had on her. Tsk.
As for Travis’ book, well, I elected not to read it having been sent the first page by Travis himself as an enticer. Brendan O’Neill did that for me, and boy what a corker his review is (The Dangerous Narcissism of the Trans Lobby). Sarah Ditum did a review also, but to be honest it’s a bit of poundshop version in comparison.
If you don’t want to read the reviews, it is worth looking at the first page just to familiarise ourselves with the material that Travis is being fêted for at the London Literature Festival, funded (yet again) by Arts Council England.
Here are some selected observations from fellow tweeps on Travis’ prose:
Counted twenty-three ‘I’s, ‘me’s and ‘myself’s in less than 300 words. Now I need a 3-bag cup of tea!
– Val Dobson
Travis is trans and that’s just a scientific, immutable fact. But also Travis is only trans because of other people and wouldn’t be trans in any other era. But also if Travis was a tramp in New York in the 1920s Travis would be trans but would hide it. That’s all in one page.
If the locus of control were more externalized, it would be on a different planet. Essentially, this fragment boils down to “everything I think, feel, and pronounce about myself is someone else’s fault.”
– Milena Billek
This brief preview is all we need to know!
As per usual, the audience was mostly women, quite a number who had altered themselves chemically with hormones, and in same sex relationships. Saw quite a few faces I recognised from other events, including a woman who is running a non-binary higher education project. Not all the seats were filled, but for an event starting at 7.45pm on a Friday night, with tickets at £15 a pop, undoubtedly an impressive turnout.
Imagine the bravery involved in coming to the Southbank Centre when it is just a chicken burger’s throw from the chicken burger throwing incident which bought him fame and attention? It is also the place where he bravely did a run of his stunning cabaret piece Burgers in which the chicken burger violence was explored and reenacted.
So, when did you know?
That’s the book’s first chapter title and Dabiri’s opening question. On the one hand, said Travis, things were better now, because there was now such a thing as trans non-fiction as a genre but this came with limitations and expectations. (The genre has been ongoing since Jan Morris’ Conundrum, so almost twice as long as Travis has been breathing air, actually.)
Saying trans people were ‘born this way’ put all the onus on the trans person rather than ‘cisgender culture,’ whined Travis. Dabiri told him he had been robbed of the privilege of being unsure of about his identity and asked him to talk a bit more about that. Travis hadn’t planned to write a book about having a gender crisis, it had initially been planned to be a sort of guidebook to being non-binary, a how-to, but he suddenly realised that he didn’t actually know if he was really non-binary, he didn’t really know if he was trans. However, he’d already spent the advance money, so …
Everyone was questioning whether trans people were real, it was a lot to deal with. However, one gains so much from questioning oneself. So, although the book couldn’t offer advice on the best way to be an ally, Travis did think it offered ‘a rare analysis of doubt’. Oh, it’s rare alright.
Why did you slightly recoil when you said ally?
‘I’m a recovering ally,’ quipped Travis and explained that he felt the word had lost its meaning when corporations, like oil companies, professed their allyship and had become a bit jaded by it all. Dabiri, who of course has written a book directed at white people on allyship, told us that it was ‘reproducing the same dominator binary logic’ (I prefer ‘cynical sanctimony’ personally).
Travis had shedded a lot of the ways of thinking and felt that the book was an exploration of ‘right and wrong’. Dabiri thought the book a ‘deeply philosophical work, thinking about the nature of being and existing’. Travis mouthed ‘thank you’ and pulled a faux serious face. One of Dabiri’s issues with allyship was that the ally was ‘doing a favour’ to the minoritised person rather than thinking about coalition and asked Travis if he had intended the book to be ‘liberatory’ [sic].
Travis responded that being trans was a ‘thought experiment’ (transphobe!) and that he had had the privilege of putting that into words. ‘Transness’ had always been a verb (?to transness, I don’t think so, babes). As a fledging enby he’d never thought about being trans or even being gender non-conforming, he just noticed that he and his ‘young gal pals’ were the ones that men would shout at and who were hurt by the surprise of others when they said something intelligent. Just for the record, Travis did not in fact grow up in the 1950s.
This was when he realised that the way he presented had ramifications for his safety and the safety of his ‘gal pals’. In other words, Travis believes he could keep himself safe by not presenting as a clown. So, why not do that then? Why don’t we all just identify as non-clown? Anyway, for Travis the separation between women and ‘transness’ is an artificial one, only bought on by the recent terf-instigated discourse.
Not liking the term ‘mixed race’
Dabiri said she wrote her PhD on the term ‘mixed race’ but believes the term to be derogatory, if I understood correctly. Instead she prefers to identify as black Irish. She is the current holder of The Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Chair of Irish Studies, but she seems a strange choice, as someone who apparently believes that white people are automatically privileged and with her only contribution to the discussion of Irish history (that I can find in any case) her own personal experience of growing up black in Ireland. Seems a bit narrow to be endowed with an honorific.
Travis revealed that he had been asked by Virgin to be one of the faces for their new advert celebrating gender fluidity. Travis declined a lot of money because it wouldn’t have been morally right. However, he didn’t blame the people who did do the gig because trans people experienced the highest rate of unemployment.
Growing up black and queer
It took Dabiri about eight minutes to formulate the next question, which wasn’t even a question, she just asked him to talk about how he felt about ‘racialised people’. Travis said that in the past it had been difficult to name more than one black queer person and this had really affected him growing up. He said he grew up in a predominantly black neighbourhood but had sought the friendships of white middle class people instead, because he perceived his own community weren’t accepting of queer people. As we all know, the cornerstone of a working class community is the ‘corner shop and the chippy’ (only if you think Eastenders is real sweetie) and Travis’ local shopkeeper dissed him for wearing make-up, which made him feel ‘sad and scared’. In pursuit of healing, Travis visited ‘the archives’ and discovered that in ancient times gender non-conforming people were the deities. Hallelujah!
‘Whiteness is a virus’
This is where we are nowadays, when you can say ‘whiteness is a virus’ out loud in front of a crowd of almost exclusively white people at an event part funded by taxpayers money and no one has any issue with it. Oh well.
Travis went onto explain that whiteness decided what a man or woman should look like and that the bodies of female African slaves were othered and that male African slaves were castrated because white people were freaked out by their phalluses. I guess that means Travis agrees that castration is a cruel and extraordinary punishment.
Travis has apparently been going into secondary schools to talk about his book. During one of the Q&A sessions a pupil asked if he had had the same problem as they did; i.e. the pupil had come out as non-binary and then everyone else followed. Travis reflected it would have made things a lot easier for him. The teen was annoyed that they hadn’t been the only one, that it didn’t make them unique.
Dabiri asked what he thought this was about and how it related to ‘temporality’. Travis said that gender is becoming more policed in the last ten years and that the kids had picked up on all this negativity and had chosen to label themselves more rigidly. Travis felt that this was a side effect of a really strong anti-trans movement and that it was making the medical process impossible which was, in turn, putting pressure on children to be more sure and pursue transition earlier.
I think that if the NHS was more supportive of trans people, if we didn’t have to go through multiple hoops to get the support we needed, what we would actually find is the opposite of what terfs are scared of. They’re scared of kids making all these irreversible decisions, they’re saying we allow kids to be trans and then they’ll change and regret it.Travis on the ‘anti-trans’ movement and trans kids
Travis went onto to explain that young people were making decisions out of fear, that the campaign to stop child transition was in fact fuelling the same, i.e. kids wanted to get transition over with quickly because the conversation around it now was so ‘horrible’. ‘What a horrible way to think about your gender,’ opined the Burgered One.
So let’s recap that argument again. Because medical professionals, psychologists, safeguarding experts, parents, teachers, politicians, detransitioners, etc, including the independently researched CASS Review, have all rung the alarm bell about the dangers of giving young people powerful drugs which cause a profound inhibition of sex hormone production, this is actually what is fuelling children to transition, or as Travis put it, forcing the kids to ‘be absolutely sure’ about their gender.
The way trans kids are talking about themselves is nothing to do with the trans lobby and has everything to do with a co-ordinated far right.Travis finishes his deposition, acknowledging the trans lobby
Why do you think Britain particularly is so fucking transphobic?
Asked Dabiri. How professional. That’s right Britain is so transphobic because people like Travis get invited to the London Literature Festival, whilst Helen Joyce and Kathleen Stock, whose books topped the charts, are ignored. That’s a whole lot of transphobia right there.
Travis said it was to do with colonialism and that Britain was scared of the breaking down of gender because it represented loss of control. Britain couldn’t divorce itself from what was supposedly British and this was inextricably linked to what we thought was a man or a woman too. (Arguments about Brexit /Remain divide clearly don’t figure.)
He’d travelled to Australia and Canada, where people didn’t particularly care about the Queen’s death, yet both countries had better ‘trans healthcare’ and hinted that this was not mere coincidence. He didn’t have any evidence to prove this theory (obviously, given that it was probably made up on the spot) it was just something he felt.
On Rishi Sunak
After complaining about ‘old boys’ running things, the conversation turned to Rishi Sunak being a ‘brown person’ and the tricks he must have pulled to get to the top. Well, to be fair, plotting against Liz Truss was probably one of them, so I can’t entirely disagree. Both sailed close to saying something openly racist about Sunak, but managed to pull back from it. Suella Braverman also got a barb. ‘Oil rigs of colour matter,’ jibed Travis and people laughed. Am I being dense? I don’t get it. Maybe I misheard.
Death threat at first book event
Travis’ first book event on the tour was supposed to be his super proud moment. It was held at the British Library and the event was protested with the terfs coming onto the stage and everything.
‘And what were they protesting against? You?’ asked Dabiri, totally miffed by this obviously brand new piece of information from her friend.
‘Um yeah, you know like, transness-, you know like, um, trans children,’ said Travis looking slightly remorseful and then to deflect made a joke about hating children. He droned on for several minutes about how smart he was because only he could turn round a weally weally howwible experience into a positive and that he could control ‘how smart’ he sounded talking about it.
Funny, I searched and searched and couldn’t find one single mention of disruption at the event. No phone footage or photos. It’s a complete mystery.
Question & Answer
There was no roving mike so it was down to Travis to interpret the question how he saw fit I guess.
The media’s focus is often on trans feminine people, rather than trans masculine. What are your thoughts on that?
Question asked by young woman who identified as trans masculine
Travis felt it was all misogyny, misogyny against trans feminine people that is. Vivek Shraya had written a book which had argued that womanhood was protected but manhood wasn’t. It was also about the tropes used throughout time about crossdressers. Section 28 was also recent history and the discourse around that had particularly targeted gay men. (Revealing comparison.)
However, trans masculine people were also victims too (surprise, surprise). Again it was the fault of the terfs (surprise, surprise). Travis’ partner is a trans man and terfs campaigning had made it difficult for her to get healthcare when she’d recently had a UTI infection. We needed more trans masculine and trans men in the media talking about their experiences to combat this narrative.
I haven’t a clue what was asked but Travis responded that he wanted to see the end of man and woman but it wasn’t on his agenda because he doesn’t have the time. We’d all be more free if we freed ourselves of manhood and womenhood. If the trans lobby were successful then surely there would be trans people in Parliament, running the media and see trans people being able to speak about themselves on TV.
Travis obviously hasn’t caught up with the news that Jamie Wallis is the very first ‘trans woman’ in the House of Commons, nor that Eddie Izzard looks set to become a Labour MP. As for trans people not being on TV, well, perhaps he doesn’t own one?
Structure of the book
As Travis was answering a question about how he put the book together, he revealed that a fellow ‘trans woman’ had shit posted about him on YouTube. Sadly I couldn’t find that video, but did find this one of him advertising Pantene. His mum is really sweet. Perhaps Travis was adopted?
After Travis finished giving his answer Dabiri burbled praised at him yet again: ‘Your work is so intellectual and so philosophical and so accessible’.
Isn’t there a contradiction in what you’re saying?
Asked by a woman, who I think was pointing out that by vilifying white people he was confirming the binary and also creating unnecessary hostility. Travis used wit and charm to deflect at first before settling on ‘violence shouldn’t rid me of my generosity’. His trauma is his own responsibility. Currently Travis is experiencing misgendering by someone at a food bank that he helps out at. Twelve months on the misgenderer is slowly learning the error of his ways and Travis is now prepared to be patient.
Thus did Travis avoid addressing the overt racism of his previous statement.
Travis finished the event by doing a reading from the last page of the book and announced that he wouldn’t be doing any signings of the book because he had to rush off for ‘another appointment’, but that all people would be missing would be him saying, ‘Thank you so much’. What a cheeky sod. Imagine if you had booked the ticket and held off buying the book until the event so that you could meet the Burgered One in person, only for him to fuck off the moment the talk ended. That’s not how you treat fans Travis.
The audience loved him so much they laughed at the contrivance and gave him a round of applause instead.
There’s no doubt that Travis is an important influencer and that people really do take what he says seriously, but it seems completely reckless to risk that reputation with a silly easily disprovable lie. Wouldn’t you be at least a bit cautious that someone in the room had been at that event or watched online? I suppose his assumption is that his fans are much thicker than he is, and he’s probably right.
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.