By Travis Alabanza

07 August 2019 - 14:37

Travis Alabanza during BURGERZ performance
'I think they were scared, and didn’t know how to respond, because we often don't learn those skills. Even when I’ve seen attacks, I wonder if I’m meant to get involved.' Image ©

Lara Cappelli

Artist and performer Travis Alabanza wrote their play, BURGERZ, after they were targeted in a transphobic attack. They tell us why we should be responsible bystanders.

This article includes words that have been used to stigmatise trans people and gay men. 

Why was the transphobic attack against you so traumatic?

No one did anything. Hundreds of people saw someone throw a burger at me on a bridge in London and shout 'tranny', and apart from not intervening at the time, no one checked to see if I was okay after the attack.

It was a dehumanising experience, and intervention reminds a person that they are human.

Fear masks other emotions. Sometimes, when people attack trans and gender non-conforming people, they're also attacking desire, ambition or love. I believe that's why we see so many trans women attacked and killed by their partners. I think we attack people when we see the potential they have.

Why do you think bystanders did nothing when you were attacked?

I think they were scared, and didn’t know how to respond, because we often don't learn those skills. Even when I’ve seen attacks, I wonder if I’m meant to get involved.

There is the issue of danger, when the attacker is a large man. I think we also, often, see ourselves as separate from other people.

It takes effort to learn and think about other people. I hear people say that they don't have time to be an activist. In that case, being a responsible bystander is a great place to start. You can be an activist while going about your day.

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Are people aware of crimes against trans and gender non-conforming people? 

People are aware of hate crime, and we decide whether we have a responsibility to intervene.

In a scroll of my newsfeed, I can see at least one story of trans and gender no-conforming friends being harassed or attacked. A friend recently lost an eye in an attack, and another was followed home by a person shouting ‘faggot’.

A week ago, I went along to a meeting with an LGBT activist group in Scotland where I'm performing my show this month, and listened to people talking about a rise in hatred in the streets. 

What kind of conditions do we need in our society for bystanders to intervene?

I'd like to see more guiding information (posters, for example) in public areas or on public transport in our towns and cities, about how to intervene during or after an attack. 

If the city shows that they care, then citizens will too. The opposite is also true. Global issues, like the emergence of the far right, are changing the way people interact with each other. 

What kind of bystanders do you want people to be after BURGERZ? 

In my show, I invite a person from the audience onto the stage, and we make a burger together and talk about our experiences of life. There’s a scene where we’re cutting onions, for examples, and I ask about the last time they cried. 

During the show, men often say they painted their nails as children, but then stopped. A lot of men talk about how they used to be able to experiment with their identity, and then they got older and they were expected to be a certain type of person.

People laugh a lot, which I enjoy. The main thing that happens is that people leave feeling like they can do something, or should do something.

Toward the end of the show, the audience have to decide whether or not to let something happen. Hopefully, making that decision in a theatre will lead to a more conscious decision in real life. 

BURGERZ at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase 2019

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