How a ‘gender crisis’ inspired author Travis Alabanza: ‘I was questioning if I was even non-binary’
During lockdown, Travis Alabanza sat down to write a “non-binary tell-all explanation” – but two vital realisations prompted them to dramatically change course.
“One, I realised that was f**king boring – and wasn’t the kind of creativity I wanted to put out into the world, but two, I was having my own gender crisis, and I don’t think I’d had one of those for a very long time,” Travis tells PinkNews.
The end result is None of the Above: Reflections on Life Beyond the Binary. It’s an emotionally-honest book that sees Travis reflect on their own life, their journey with gender, and with the endless frustrations that come with living in a society that obsessively polices the way people live.
By the time Travis started writing their book, they had made a name for themselves as one of the most exciting theatre-makers of their generation. Their one-person show Burgerz had won critical acclaim. Travis was at the top of their game.
And then the pandemic hit, forcing them back indoors and away from the stage. They ended up moving out of London and back to their home city of Bristol, where they “reshifted [their] goals” and began writing.
Gradually, they realised the book was a vital opportunity to explore their own gender crisis.
“I was questioning if I was even non-binary, questioning if I was even trans, wondering what it all means. I was in the thick of some really big questions about my body and as much as I tried to avoid it – I was like – I think that has to be the lens in which to write the book,” Travis says.
“I need to use the starting point of these questions I’m having about my body to ask wider questions about why gender non-conforming people go through these questions and have these pressures put on them.”
How the gender binary harms us all
At the core of the book is the idea that the gender binary isn’t just bad for trans and non-binary people – it’s bad for everyone. If you ask most people, they would tell you there are no firm rules about how people can express themselves, but the reality is that gender is carefully policed in most contemporary societies.
And that includes the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’m not sure if every gay man going to the gym is going because he wants to, or rather going because it might leverage some form of desire,” Travis suggests.
“We may be a bit past that dialogue but we’ve known that there’s ‘no femmes, no fats, etc’ on all of our Grindr screens, and that’s another example of how gender expectations leverage our feeling of home within community and space.”
The gender binary oppresses everyone, Travis says – even cis men and women who are encouraged to slot into rigid gender roles in order to progress in their workplaces.
“The book is asking, how much time are we wasting with all these conversations? What more could we be if we didn’t spend so much time thinking about gender?”
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In their book, Travis details times they’ve been subjected to invasive questions, such as “how did you know?” They want cis people to take a good look at themselves before asking trans people to explain their gender.
A sense of ‘wonderment’
“I feel like the question is a way of reasserting power or control over a situation,” Travis says.
“Sometimes when people ask it I wonder: ‘Oh, are you asking this because you can spot some freedom in this?… I do spot sometimes a sense of wonderment of how trans people can possibly be so free in the face of so much adversity.”
“I think people ask us so many invasive questions because a lot of the time they genuinely believe we’re doing it for them or we’re doing it for attention, that being gender-nonconforming can’t be intentional.”
Now, Travis says they’ll only answer these questions if everyone else is quizzed as well.
“I’ll do it if they also want to ask cisgender people how they knew they were a man or a woman. If they want to also tell me that, then I’m also totally fine with answering mine as well.”
Travis says they want a world where “ultimately cis and trans won’t be a clear lines or boundaries” as things are right now.
That’s important to Travis because they feel they’ve had to spend most of their life trying to “prove” their gender to the world around them. Recently, they’ve had to sit down with doctors and be able to show concrete evidence of their transness just so they can access gender-affirming healthcare.
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“The state of the healthcare system for trans people in the UK is atrocious. Waiting times are going up and up, we’re finding that doctors aren’t fit for purpose, we’re finding that they’re not free from bias that we’re receiving from the media.
“Ultimately we have to ask the question about trust. When we go get our healthcare, is this a conversation about learning to trust how other people are feeling, or is it about jumping through hoops?”
‘Trans people know who they are’
Travis says it’s “dangerous” trans people have to jump through so many hoops to access gender affirming care because it “completely negates that trans people know who they are”.
“We should have autonomy and freedom to make choices about who we are and what we want from our bodies, whether or not the other person agrees with them or not.”
The media has a lot to answer for, Travis says. Newspapers have “whipped up a frenzy” about trans people, particularly trans kids, making it increasingly difficult for trans people to access gender-affirming care.
“My ask is, what society do we want? Do we want a society where loads of people are waiting around, or do we want a society where people are free?”
None of the Above: Reflections on Life Beyond the Binary is published by Canongate Books and is out now.
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