On a busy bridge in central London, with the UK Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye in full glory behind them – trans activist Travis Alabanza was the subject of a transphobic attack:
‘I was in a rush, and it was really busy, so I had my headphones in – trying to block out the world around me a bit. Then I felt something hit me.
‘I turned around and there was mayonnaise on my shoulder and on my dress. Across the road was a guy staring at me and shouting “faggot.”‘
Someone had thrown a burger at Alabanza on the packed bridge at lunchtime. The many passers-by who witnessed the attack did nothing.
‘I think these attacks come from a place of jealousy and even desire. So often these men shout faggot. When really, I wonder if they want to say “I’m confused and afraid you.”
Attacks on the street for trans people have ‘got worse’
The attack is, unfortunately, a frequent part of Alabanza’s life. Speaking to Gay Star News just after anti-trans protesters hijacked Pride in London 2018, they tell us:
‘The protest was an accurate resemblance of where we are at right now. Post this trans tipping point of visibility, has led to huge growth in some areas, but more violence for regular trans people on the streets.’
But the burger attack has become the inspiration for a series of artworks by Alabanza.
This week they launch tickets for their new theatre show ‘Burgerz’ at the Hackney Showroom, which they hope will reclaim the burger attack back into their own narrative.
However, before that, it inspired the monologue O/B/S/T/A/C/L/E which was recently published in Oberon’s Queer Monologues earlier in 2018.
In this monologue, recorded for Gay Star News at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, Travis returns to the spot of the attack before using lyrical poetry to recount the difficulties of everyday life – so many trans people face:
The Oberon Book of Queer Monologues
O/B/S/T/A/C/L/E is part of a new collection from Oberon.
The book ‘Queer Monologues’ is edited by Scottee, the comedian who is trying to redefine our approach to queer storytelling:
‘The collection is about finding ways of talking about our histories and our love lives. As well as the intersections of what it is to be queer and black, and fat, or a woman,’ they tell GSN.
However, O/B/S/T/A/C/L/E is originally from Before I Step Outside [You Love Me], Travis Alabanza’s debut chapbook – a collection of work.
It features a mixture of images, poetry, diary entries and essays relating to their experience as a trans person navigating public space, being outside, and on public transport.
The Oberon Book of Queer Monologues chronicles over one hundred years of queer and trans performance. It combines stage plays with spoken word and performance art. Moreover, the anthology aims to be an essential tool for artists seeking monologues as well as a guide to hidden queer theatre history.
Reclaiming the burger from the attack
Alabanza’s first full-length theatre show, like their monologue, is exploring the harassment of trans and gender non-conforming people.
Burgerz is a new theatre piece building on Alabanza’s burger attack but is hoping, in part to reclaim the act.
‘I’m not sure if an incident like this can be reclaimed, but that’s what I am trying to figure out. Being gender non conforming, you learn very quickly that often you have to fight and defend for yourself – because no one else will.
‘I think this is about taking things into my own hand. Taking the burger away from the bridge, onto …. my plate.
‘But this isn’t just about a personal reclamation, this is also about making the burger everyone else’s problem too. No one did anything. No one stopped to ask if I was ok. And I want to find out why.’
They hope the new show will bring attention to the daily violence that happens to them and other trans bodies.
It’s another show in Alabanza’s pathway to becoming one of the most prominent queer artists in the UK.
In 2016/17 they became the youngest artist in residence at the Tate Modern & Britain.
Combining their art with activism, They also ran this year’s Tate Summer School, using art and the gallery to talk about gender and was the host of 2018’s UK Black Pride.
BURGERZ is at Hackney Showroom from 23 October to 3 November. Written and performed by Travis Alabanza and directed by Sam Curtis Lindsay, get your tickets now.
More from Gay Star News: