August 26, 2022
Author and activist Travis Alabanza joins Jameela this week to discuss their jarring experience with the British press, their journey with gender and considering transitioning, the intersection of class and gender politics, the different ways respect can look, Travis’ advice for raising a child as they are, and more.
Check out Travis’s new book – None of the Above: Reflections of Life Beyond the Binary
You can find transcripts for this episode here: https://www.earwolf.com/show/i-weigh-with-jameela-jamil/
I Weigh has amazing merch – check it out at podswag.com
125 — Thriving in the Non-Binary with Travis Alabanza
Jameela [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil a podcast against shame. I hope you’re well. I’m actually alright and I’m very excited about today’s episode because I have one of my favorite humans, Travis Alabanza, on the pod, teaching me so much with the most beautiful tones and patience in their voice. I love Travis. I’ve learned so much from them since our first ever time meeting, in which I just walked away from this I think it was like a Zoom chat that we were doing a roundtable around transphobia in the United Kingdom. And I remember singling out Travis and just thinking, fucking hell I have to watch what this person’s going to do, because I think they’re going to be a really, really important voice for the next generation. And seeing the way that they’ve gone on to thrive since then has proven me completely right. I have learned a lot from Travis, not just around trans issues and things about transphobia, but also around the intersections of so many different issues and trans issues and a lot about being non-binary. In this episode, we both discussed the difficulty in being such a visible figure in the trans and non-binary community and dealing with the British press. We discuss Travis’s recent journey in deciding whether to transition or not and where that journey came from. We discuss that respect goes deeper than pronouns and what we should really be looking for and expecting from different communities. We discuss their wonderful mother, an exemplary mother, and what an accepting childhood looks like. The episode is so open, is so refreshing. It’s so hyper tolerant of other people’s points of view. Within reason, of course. But it shows you a way to engage in this incredibly troubling and tense discourse in which people’s human fucking rights are being debated. As if that is even debatable. But Travis affords us the language, the tone and the product of their years of hard work in order to help us communicate with others as to why these issues are so important and how, if we were to allow trans and gender fluid people to just be free, we could all be fucking free. So I hope you enjoyed this refreshing chat between two people who really love and respect each other. And I hope you follow Travis in everything they do. This is the excellent, excellent Travis Alabanza. Travis Alabanza. Welcome to I Weigh. How are you?
Travis [00:02:46] I’m so good. I’m excited to be on the podcast. I’m finally on a podcast that my boyfriend listens to all the time. So I’m winning. I’m winning points. I’m winning points.
Jameela [00:02:57] All right. We will not let your boyfriend down. How have you been, my darling?
Travis [00:03:02] I’m okay. I’m all right. I just got back from, like, a sweaty airport, so I’m giving that vibe. But I’ve been advised that it’s glowy, not sweaty. So that’s.
Jameela [00:03:11] No you look gorgeous. I mean, truly, truly gorgeous. So I would never have known that you were ever traveling.
Travis [00:03:19] How are you doing?
Jameela [00:03:20] I’m good. Have you been somewhere exciting?
Travis [00:03:22] I was in Amsterdam. Which is really nice. But I was only there for, like, 24 hours. So less cool to do the, like, normal Amsterdam activities. You know, I was very behaved and I was very well behaved in Amsterdam.
Jameela [00:03:37] I once went on like a small tour with Snoop Dogg when I was 24 and we ended up in Amsterdam on that tour.
Travis [00:03:46] Wati. You can’t just drop that.
Jameela [00:03:51] No I’m aware, I’m aware. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken about it publicly other than I was actually doing it, but I interviewed him once and I made him these clogs that had boobs on them. I like we’d carved out, this clogs that had boobs on them. I was on T4, which is like a comedy interview.
Travis [00:04:05] Right yeah yeah.
Jameela [00:04:06] Uh channel and I gave him them and I called them Snoop Clogs and he just loved these breasted clogs that I’d given him. And he was like, You’re funny. You’re coming on the tour to interview me in all these different.
Travis [00:04:18] Wait stop.
Jameela [00:04:19] Countries. Yeah, he didn’t try and bang me or anything like that, but I, it was, it was just completely pure. It was like a weird comedy thing. Oh my God sorry.
Travis [00:04:29] No I’m like. I feel like there’s going to be a pause where everyone now pauses the podcast and Googles like, T4. Jameela. Snoop clogs.
Jameela [00:04:36] Snoop Dogg, yeah. Now, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately because we’ve kind of known each other for a few years now online, more than in the human flesh, and we’ve done stuff together before and we’ve kind of built up this lovely digital friendship. But in that time, I have watched you from going from relatively unknown and and an activist that I love and who I learned so much from, but to becoming this big voice now in in multiple intersecting communities. And you have a book coming out really soon and you are a writer for all of the biggest publications in Europe. You’re becoming such a known international voice. Are you okay?
Travis [00:05:22] [Laughs] Yeah. I mean. The laugh kind of suggests no. I you know what? I actually am okay, because it feels like I feel like you it feels slower than it probably looks from the outside and it feels like I don’t know, I don’t pay attention as much to like other things. Maybe people may seem I do and I really like the stuff I do. So I think when you enjoy it, you just focus on the stuff you enjoy. And, you know, I. I did it all backwards in the sense that before I really had the talent thing happening, I had all the you know, I was trending worldwide in the press for horrible transphobic things when I was like 20 years old. So because it happened backwards I feel like.
Jameela [00:06:13] Transphobic things happening towards you.
Travis [00:06:15] Yes. Yeah. I was like.
Jameela [00:06:17] I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong end of the stick. And say you were a massive transphobe if this is their first time meeting you.
Travis [00:06:22] Yeah, it was completely backwards. I was a transphobe in 2017 and I’ve now came out as trans, which is tends to be the way. No.
Jameela [00:06:30] Exactly.
Travis [00:06:33] So I feel like any attention I get now for my art feels small in comparison to when I first received a lot of attention. So it feels easy compared to that. So I’m doing okay. I mean.
Jameela [00:06:45] Okay.
Travis [00:06:45] I’m in the middle of press, which I mean, I’m sure you know more than me. It’s like a weird sense of gratitude. I’m also tired and also sick of your own voice.
Jameela [00:06:56] Yeah. You become sick of yourself and you become sick of talking about yourself. And then the weird thing is that when you see your friends, they all would presume, because you’ve got all this stuff going on that you want to talk about all of it with them, but really you just want to know what’s going on with your friends lives. You want to know how the bum bleaching is going. You want to know all the you want to know about all the nooks and crannies of their life. You don’t want to talk about yourself anymore. Here we are for the next hour you’re all mine, and I’m just going to grill you about yourself.
Travis [00:07:24] Well, you’re did the perfect segue, because now I’m going to grill you about Snoop Dogg.
Jameela [00:07:28] So tell me tell me about your journey with your mental health. Given that this is a mental health podcast, do you mind talking to me a little bit about that?
Travis [00:07:36] Of course. I think I haven’t really thought about it enough recently. I mean, I got a therapist like six years ago after I think I didn’t really think about my mental health or like even though I realized I was dealing with mental health issues. Now, in retrospect, I don’t think I had the ability to think about it until I was like, to be honest, that was a big moment when suddenly you wake up and all the papers are talking about you and you’re trending on Twitter for four days. And that’s those of you in in the press.
Jameela [00:08:11] Can you talk a bit about this because people won’t have been aware of this.
Travis [00:08:15] So in 2017, I was kicked out of a changing room in Topshop, which I always laugh. Now, Topshop doesn’t exist and I still do, so long. But I was kicked out of a women’s changing room in Topshop, and then the next day the papers lied and said that I was the reason why Topshop changed their policy to gender neutral changing rooms. But I that wasn’t the case. It had been gender neutral for nine months. I think I was quite a new policy that had already changed and it was happening at the same time as like transphobic press was starting to kick off in the UK. And so they really used that story as a way to kind of use me, I guess to say that trans people are dangerous. And it was kind of one of the first big articles in the Sunday Times um that then became the regular transphobic slot. So Janice Turner, who is quite a famous journalist writer her now pretty famous article called Children Sacrifice to Appease the Trans Lobby. And it was a big photo of my face on it. And I had just turned 20. So it was like and I was, you know, I was known in queer spaces. I was performing in theater shows, but I had nowhere, you know, I woke up to 40,000 more followers that day. And I was enjoying my life of just being a kind of queer actor and performer in the club scene. And suddenly I was kind of made into this mouthpiece for this issue that. I wasn’t really that invested in, you know, I was just trying to get I was actually invited to Topshop to get an outfit for my press out press show the next day. So I was kicked out of a changing room I was invited to. And um, it wasn’t really until then that I understood. I mean, I had a mental breakdown, you know, it was it was completely unmanageable. I didn’t have any friends that experience that I wasn’t friends with people in public eye or anything. I had no connections apart from I was friends with Monroe. And that was maybe three months after Monroe’s.
Jameela [00:10:14] Munroe Bergdorf.
Travis [00:10:15] Munroe Bergdorf. And that was three months after her L’Oreal incident. So she was the only person I knew who had been through something. And it completely shifts you and changes your whole idea of self and safety. And I’m really lucky that a friend told me straight away, you’ve got to go to therapy, even if you think you’re doing it all right. You’ve got to go to therapy straight away. And that’s kind of when I realized that that wasn’t the only moment I had to look back on, you know? And it’s when I started investing in my mental health because I felt like I had to, you know.
Jameela [00:10:50] 100%, especially given up every direction in which the United Kingdom’s gone. When it comes to trans issues, and as someone who is becoming more and more prominent as a figure who speaks with and I don’t mean for in a in a way, as if trans people or the trans community are a monolith. But I just mean that you are one of the more listened to and heard voices in the trans community. So I’m really, really glad that you’ve got someone to speak to. And while I imagine there was trauma around that incident, I also imagine that’s been quite and this isn’t like a trauma porn episode. I just want to talk about the great joys of living as you do, but. It must be so traumatic to exist in the United Kingdom over the last six years. I feel traumatized just watching everything from the other side of the world and as a cis person, just so disgusted, so mortified by how trans issues have become, I mean, globally, but it feels like almost especially in the United Kingdom, for some reason, a way to just such a a political weapon.
Travis [00:11:55] Yeah.
Jameela [00:11:56] And I. I just wonder what that feels like for you.
Travis [00:12:01] Yeah, I think I mean, first it’s like it’s changed a lot for me probably is because I’ve amassed more privilege. You know, so it’s not so different when I didn’t when this was all starting to happen, I didn’t have economic stability. Right. And so the press was going wild. And I was also trying to get jobs. And also I had no money. And that feels very different to now. When I have economic stability, you know, it’s a lot easier to kind of switch off, I think, from the media when you can switch off to a flat that you’re not worried about losing and to a job that you’re not worried about losing. And I think that even with that, it’s like. It’s so weird I was expanding this to my friend the other day, I said, It’s so scary doing press again and interacting with a harmful media brand and having to constantly battle to them to not use this headline or not use that because you feel like you’re both experiencing something on a personal level and on a systemic level. You’re like, Hold on a minute. This is personally [indistinct], but also wait I’m resembling what’s happening on a structural level with the press because they are just using you for political football. And we’ve seen that with the recent Tory leadership campaign where they just decided to all come out as anti-trans to get votes. And it’s so disorienting because, I mean, you and I know from being friends and in community with trans people that trans people really just want very basic things. So it’s so odd when you see yourself being used as this theoretical goal post because you’re like, I just want to go to the shops safely. I just want to get my health care. I just only got my housing. What is this? But I think England, it doesn’t surprise me because England is so committed to sticking to its ways in so many different ways when it comes to like diversity. So it doesn’t surprise me. It’s deeply and unchic, but that makes sense for such a deep and deeply unchic country. Do you know what I mean? When have we ever seen the average British person be chic? So it makes sense, you know.
Jameela [00:14:03] Oh, I left.
Travis [00:14:05] Yeah, exactly. You had the right idea.
Jameela [00:14:08] Oh, my goodness. That was such an unexpected, brilliant dose of shade. I think it’s really wonderful that you are here to be able to you’re finding it within yourself to be able to speak about this and reassure young people. And I would love to talk to you about your book, None of the Above, because I feel like this is a book almost for the 20 year old you or the 14 year old you. This is a book that is supposed to make other people feel seen and heard and to help them understand themselves, as you’ve probably struggled to do until maybe more recently. And you have the access of therapy, you have the privilege you are able to access, other people may be more lived in this experience than some kids in some suburb that is all white. And all cis. And so I think it’s really fucking brilliant and I’d love to ask you to tell us what the book is about.
Travis [00:15:14] Yeah, I’m so glad you mentioned the younger me because I moved back to my hometown, Bristol, which for people that are listening that are not in the UK and there’s more than one city we’re not just all from London.
Jameela [00:15:27] It’s very far from London.
Travis [00:15:28] And Bristol’s like kind of a farmer West Country hippie kind of town.
Jameela [00:15:33] It’s also, I think, the hottest accent in the world, like West Country. That’s it. My pants are falling off.
Travis [00:15:41] So I only have like a west country accent when I proper get into it, but like mad the times there but and I when I moved back, God, every time I’d go to the shop, I wouldn’t even look at the person I’m just like, I’m attracted to the voice and I’d look up and it’s like some 65 year old man, and I’m like, well, I guess I’m not agist any more. I want to suck him off.
Jameela [00:16:02] You moved home so your – why?
Travis [00:16:06] There was lots of reasons. One was I was bored of work being my whole life and I felt like in order to live a happy and healthy life, I had to descend to work. And it was hard to do that in London because as much as I loved all of my friends that I’ve made in London for up to nine years of working, they all kind of worked in the same industry as me. And as much as we hung out as friends, it was also like an event or this or that, and I just lost all interest in that. And my friends from Bristol, who I’ve known since I was like 13, I love them to bits and also not they don’t work in my industry and that means that we are friends because we’re friends and when we hang out they don’t want to hear about my job. They want to be at the pub making jokes and laughing and and that was about building balance. I also like kind of lost some of my house in the beginning of the pandemic. I couldn’t afford to live on my own in London in a place that would feel nice and obviously could afford to live in Bristol.
Jameela [00:17:14] And safe.
Travis [00:17:15] Yeah.
Travis [00:17:15] And safe and also being near my mum, my mum lives 10 minutes down the road from me in Bristol. Everyone lives 10 minutes down the road from me in Bristol and it’s just really nice for that. I also thought I was only going home for six months and I’d been there for like two and a half years now and I’m just never coming back to London to live. I mean, never say never, but I really, I mean, just loving being back. But the book the book was important because I grew up in Bristol and I started wearing dresses in Bristol, and I started being gender non-conforming in Bristol on a council estate, which for US listeners is like a housing project. I mean, that was the most fundamental shift for me as a person to decide to do that in the environment I was in.
Jameela [00:18:03] Yeah it was almost it was very rarely seen or done.
Travis [00:18:06] Yeah.
Jameela [00:18:07] Especially not a person of color.
Travis [00:18:09] Exactly. And like especially. I think to get out of it and be safe. Like it’s different now. I definitely think that you do see the girls on the estate more now and and we were always there, but it was just to do it safely is really, really hard. I mean, it wasn’t safe, period, you know, and to go back now as an adult, I walked through all of the old streets, the old neighborhoods, and to feel the shift of like shame not really existing was where I wanted to write the book from. You know, the book is kind of doing two things. It’s looking back at things that were said to me and using those things to analyze about gender and the gender binding. But I also came back to Bristol if. Okay. I’ll be honest to you. To think about medically transitioning. And the book is kind of asking, you know, I used to have a had a tattoo on me that kind of symbolizes the fact that I never wanted to fit in. I always wanted to look like gender non-conforming, to look like someone that was none of the above. And then the book kind of stops me in the doctor’s office deciding that maybe I don’t want to do that anymore. And the question I’m asking is, how do you reconcile with the past you that said, I am a bearded cross-dresser and proud. I grafiting seeing that on a gay club when I was 17. To now being an adult in a in a doctor’s office, trying to laser off the hair from your face and kind of reconciling with what happened in your life to to want to do that and what that means. And that’s, you know, what the book is trying to do. It’s it’s not trying to educate anyone, really. It’s trying to. I think the pandemic brought up a lot for my friends and it brought up a lot of stories of my friends behind the scenes talking about their transition. And I felt like one thing we’ve been rocked up as transpeople creatively because of this oppression that we’re facing in the UK is dangerous things, published. Things that we’re not sure about, things that we feel risky. And I just wanted to take the risk and write something that felt, I’m sure you know.
Jameela [00:20:19] And so this book was about your uncertainty as to what gender you wanted to physically embody?
Travis [00:20:29] Yes. yes.
Jameela [00:20:29] Or would you say non-binary? Were you talking about switching to a woman?
Travis [00:20:36] It’s basically saying that in asking the question, can you survive? Visibly gender non-conforming looking like, for lack of a better word, a man in a dress. I’m really fine with saying that because I’m like, Let’s name what people see. Can you survive as that? Or do you have to make changes to yourself physically in order to to experience safety?
Jameela [00:21:00] Right, right, right. I think it’s such an important conversation. Travis. Oh, my God. It’s such an important conversation. I feel like so many people are going through this right now where because everyone is a) kicking up a fuss about they them pronouns and also everyone needs a box and everyone makes you feel like at such a young age, you have to know exactly who you are. Or any age you have to know exactly who you are when we’re all so transiant. It’s really tricky, I think, for people to like. I wonder what was it that made you think you wanted to transition to being I take it was it was it to be seen as a woman? Would have been a woman with like she.
Travis [00:21:39] Who knows I mean. Yeah the book kind of I mean, I thought it was done. And then I realized that, like, my identity wouldn’t have shifted. I’m still Travis.
Jameela [00:21:47] So was it just. Well, that’s what I mean, is it.
Travis [00:21:50] It was to physically pass.
Jameela [00:21:51] Where did that come from was it just to be able to pass so that you wouldn’t be you wouldn’t be subjected to constant scrutiny and poking and prodding of what are you are you.
Travis [00:22:00] Yeah, it would be to be open to a new scrutiny that of womanhood, you know, women are scrutinized nonstop. But it was to be I think it was to be legible under a binary system. It was that I’m I was like, I think I’m tired of being illegible, even in the gender sense. Not that suddenly being a woman or read as a woman would not be an exhausting process. You know, misogyny, obviously, would still be that it was, but it was the first hurdle of even being recognized as a gender. And luckily, I feel like, you know, spoiler alert, the conclusion I reach is that. That’s not a life that I. That’s not a reason for me to make a change. And I needed to write the book to redefine the power and kind of looking like a freak and being proud of being a freak. But I felt like the narrative for younger LGBTQ people was okay. Once you get to this point, when you’re older, suddenly you’re always confident. You know, you had all these kind of confident, non-binary people saying, I’m me and I’m proud, and I was one of them. And I guess I just wanted to write a book that was like, No, girl, you’re never too old to have a gender crisis. And I wanted to write out the gender crisis, you know, and how you can talk about personal mental health to bring it back to mental health. You can talk about all the self caring practices in the world all the techniques you do all the therapy. But at the end of the day, if you’re living in a system that is constantly punishing you, it will catch up. And I think this was my catch up moment. You know, I was turning 27 and I was like, I have been living it out as gender nonconforming since I was 14 and.
Jameela [00:23:41] Was there even the language for that?
Travis [00:23:44] Oh, no, I was just. No, I was just calling myself to faggot. I was just. I was just a old school fagot. But, you know, I think. What was it I went to? Of course, this is so cringy. I hate the my nonbinary stories this. But I went to California when I was 17 and I and I met my first nonbinary person. And of course, California, it was Berkeley, California. They were a bit more ahead of the curve. And I remember someone introduced themselves with them/they pronouns and I was like, What the fuck? And I completely combated it. I remember I was so against it. I was like, That doesn’t make sense. What are you talking about? You opt out and the person was just smiling and looking at my outfit and me and was like, ok girl, whatever. And then two weeks later, I was like, Wait, so you just like decided to not to not fuck with gender. And they were like, Yeah. And I was like, okay, I’m in, I’m hooked. But I was already doing it before, you know, I was, I was messing. I remember cutting up my school uniform and, you know, making the trousers really tight and cropping the polo shirt and you know, because in UK schools obviously we’re in these uniforms and the comprehensive jumper I used to crop and you know flair out my trousers in the summer, loads of necklaces, eyeliner, I was doing it. I just, you know, to me it was just being gay. It didn’t feel right, someone calling me a man. But I had no work. I had no language for it, of course.
Jameela [00:25:08] Yeah, because it’s it’s that you don’t necessarily identify with any, any of the gender stereotypes or you identify with little parts of all of them.
Travis [00:25:19] Yeah or, well, you know, what’s real? Is that I don’t care. And I think that’s when I realized, like, I don’t really care, but everyone else does. And I think that was the big shift to me, is that I had such a positive experience in my family home, which I know I’m so lucky for.
Jameela [00:25:34] So beautiful.
Travis [00:25:35] In that my mom just didn’t even mention it. She was like, You look good. Do you want this? Do you want that? And it wasn’t until I got to secondary school or high school that everyone started caring and I was like, Oh, this is gender. And that’s why I think it’s like, so we had to place all that onus on our own personal discovery. I think gender is like a solo project and as if it’s not like a communal one, right? Me I genuinely think I only realized I was trans because of other people before that I was just a happy kid, you know? My mum was just giving me nail varnish, giving me heels, saying You’re just Travis and then you go to school and they’re like, What is this boy doing? Why is this boy doing this? This boy can’t do this. This boy won’t do this. And then the mental health starts to happen and then you start to have to struggle.
Jameela [00:26:23] And that’s with everything. By the way, we don’t we don’t know what race is when we’re babies. We don’t know about our bodies, like being wrong or right. We just think our body is our body. And we like touching and like chewing like every part of ourselves and like, we don’t we don’t judge each other on the way that we look. We don’t care about hair lines or hairstyles. We’re so great, so great when we’re babies. And then everything systemically feeds us of what you should and shouldn’t be. And all of that is, as I said, a billion times, I’m sure, on this podcast, all of that is based on systemic white colonizing patriarchy and. And capitalism, you know?
Travis [00:27:08] Right. And
Jameela [00:27:09] Having to buy more and more things that help you achieve these gender stereotypes. These esthetic stereotypes.
Travis [00:27:14] Yeah. And then I feel like adulthood is just like during the long process of claiming yourself back from all of that, saying, actually, like, I’m going to do the work to choose myself over and over again over these standards. I’m going to choose like my autonomy over these conditions. And that’s what it was growing up, you know, in a working class neighborhood. And being me, it was like, I’m going to make the choice every day that. Despite safety, despite, you know, all these things. I’m more important than all of those stuff. You know, authenticity will, like, get me through it. It did.
Jameela [00:27:50] How old were you when you sort of realized it doesn’t really suit me, you know, about the ways that you were being not raised by your family. But but because I mean, I feel like so many people I know feel this way where we just kind of go along with it because we can’t be bothered. Like, I personally don’t care what anyone thinks of me or of what they, how they assess my gender, etc., I, I’m not that personally interested, but I know that there’s so much about being a being a woman that I’ve never really identified with emotionally where I’ve just gone. These things don’t make sense to me because they’re so arbitrary. It’s such arbitrary nonsense of like girls do this, boys do that. And because I kind of exist very like and I think most I think most people in the world, if we really fundamentally got to who we are when we’re not being constantly targeted with ads and magazines, we’re probably a bit of both. We’re all a bit of both. But I, you know, I. I don’t know. Like I. I think it’s really important to be able to own that conversation and not have people be frustrated with you. Because people do get frustrated with you because they want you to. They treat you as though you’re inconveniencing them and that you have to pick a side because they don’t know what to do with you. But you’re not asking them to do anything with you, you’re just asking them to leave you alone.
Travis [00:29:05] Right. Right. And I feel like sometimes the frustration comes because I sometimes feel a sense of like, well, if you can do it, why can’t I just you know, it’s like this whole thing of famous right wing presenters that don’t need a name going. Well, if they identify as this, they can be a penguin. And, you know, people laugh at all of that. But I think underneath that is the frustration of like how like hold on if you get to have freedom. Why can’t I? And I think of all the sacrifices that they might have made to gender. I genuinely think there’s a man that used to come to all of my shows when I was touring more, and he used to just stand by the edge of the crowd. And I’m not to assume he’s straight, but I did look at his shoes and I gathered that he might be straight. And he used to just stand there and not bother saying anything until about seven shows in, he was there with who I later learned was his wife, and he showed me his nails and they were bright green. And his wife goes, You did this? I said, What do you mean? They were like, Oh, he’s been coming to your shows and now he feels he can paint his nails. And I felt really happy at first. It’s like, Oh, look at this. Like this is what gender non-conforming people can bring. And then she said, The saddest thing I think I’ve heard in so long, she goes, We’ve been married for six years and we’ve been discussing in bed for six years whether or not he’s allowed to paint his nails and then now we finally decided he’s allowed. I said what interesting language. We’ve decided we’ve been discussing it for six years. And I said, you know, that was in response to judge. And then I said, doesn’t that show what we’re losing to gender, the mourning that everyone is doing and that actually transpeople represent this freedom of choice? That, of course, then gets people uncomfortable because there they are in their lives making all these sacrifices.
Jameela [00:30:52] Men not being allowed to talk about their feelings and to exist within these kind of incredibly toxic stereotypes.
Travis [00:31:00] Right. This wife saying that your love is conditional on your appeasing to the binary. We’ve had to discuss, you know, your choice to paint your nails for six years. I said girl wait until he gets acrylics. You know, we’re not even started yet. And and then, you know, I thought this really shows that in trans people, it’s a hope, but it’s a hope that scares people. You know, and that’s why. You know, who knows? But that’s what I have to tell myself to make sense of, you know, all of the attention we get for just looking outside and.
Jameela [00:31:33] I saw even after the MeToo movement, right, there was this huge anti MeToo movement that came from older women. And it was really fascinating. A really strong one came out of France. We saw mostly, but everywhere this backlash. And it was really hard to unpack what would prompt women who lived in a time where there was even less language, even less open and even less protection than we have now. Fighting us telling the stories of the way in which we live. People saying it’s not rape, it’s just bad sex. And you’re talking about it too much. And we’re making people feel more traumatized than they should be. And if you don’t think about it as a trauma, then you won’t be traumatized. And for so many of us, it was not fair of any of us to categorize where any of their brains were at, but it just felt like a fuck have you. Are you just being confronted now with the fact that you’ve been assaulted maybe more than once, most likely, statistically, more than once? And you don’t want to think about that as assault. You don’t want to think about that as you’re a victim of something. So you’d rather just shut down everyone else who’s challenging the status quo because you never felt like you were allowed to. It reminds me so much of that, that it’s just so much fear. And what does being non-binary feel like to you? Talk to me about that. Does it feel like anything? Does it feel like everything? Does it just. You just feel free?
Travis [00:33:05] You know, I can’t know because I’ve always just been me. And I’m using non-binary as like, well, what? You know, I’m. I’m sometimes the worst trans person to do these talks because.
Jameela [00:33:16] I know, I know.
Travis [00:33:17] I used the word because I just am like, whatever. Like, I’m the bad trans that kind of doesn’t really believe in the words anyway, you know? And it’s just.
Jameela [00:33:24] Oh, I love that.
Travis [00:33:25] Yeah. I’m like, This is me in this century using this word because it’s the language. And forty years ago.
Jameela [00:33:31] You said due to the fail in language, that’s why you use these terms, these pronouns, etc.. But then other things that not necessarily dictate who you are then.
Travis [00:33:41] Yeah. Yeah. And I feel like for some people non-binary really empowers them and I love that. And for me it’s like shorthand. But what I guess it feels like to, you know, not be a man or woman is it feels like a choice to me. It feels like a conscious. You know, for some people it’s a innate thing. For me, it was like actually like this choice is going to bring me more joy. This choice to like push back against the assertion that I’m a man. It’s going to bring me joy and. I won’t lie like it sounds like cliche. It also feels really powerful. Like, I feel really like. It feels like we’re not allowed to say the word empowered anymore because it’s just used all the time. I do feel really empowered. Like I feel like an empowered person because all the odds, were that I wouldn’t be able to choose this and I wouldn’t be able to do this. Every day I walk out in fabulous dresses and makeup despite every attention I get, and it might just be for this one. The other day it was so fun. Me and my friends, we were actually in Greece. And what was it like? And I’m sure it has been on the podcast. We were in Greece and this kid just came up to us and they were so shy and they went, I just want to say, you both look amazing. And, you know, we got shouted at loads that day. Cabs wouldn’t pick us up. They would drive off. But that one comment from that one kid genuinely just made me be like, oh, of course, like, this is magic. And this kid is now thinking about it when they go home being like, Wow, I just believe two people that expectations and I think that’s magic, you know?
Jameela [00:35:18] I also think what’s extra magical about yourself and Alok as that you want and obviously, like anyone who exists within anything outside of what is the perfect but respectable binary, blah, blah, blah, blah, is the fact that you and Alok are nonwhite?
Travis [00:35:35] Yeah. Real real.
Jameela [00:35:37] And you don’t come from upper class backgrounds. And I think that’s something that I know you take to heart as the fact that it’s important for people to see someone from your background, your economic background, and the fact that I don’t know how you would describe that, if that’s more kind of working class because you grew up in.
Travis [00:35:51] It was.
Jameela [00:35:51] I hate all of the names that names for everything. But I was as well. And and also being someone who is of color, I don’t know your exact heritage.
Travis [00:36:05] My mom was African American and Filipina.
Jameela [00:36:08] Wow. wow. wow. Okay.
Travis [00:36:08] Yeah yeah yeah.
Jameela [00:36:09] And so that’s a stunning mix.
Travis [00:36:12] And I feel like.
Jameela [00:36:13] For fucks sake Travis.
Travis [00:36:14] I know and the food’s always so good, you know?
Jameela [00:36:20] Ahi shit. Jesus Christ. That’s ideal. Anyway, we we see a lot of these conversations and it’s changing now. But a lot of the early queer and trans and gender fluid conversations are all coming out of, like, very thin, very white.
Travis [00:36:35] Yeah.
Jameela [00:36:36] And, and, like, very well connected and well educated and this, that and the other. Not so you’re not well educated, you know what I mean? I’m just saying that now.
Travis [00:36:44] I’m not, I’m not babes.
Jameela [00:36:46] Nor am I babes. And so it’s so great to be able to see more people who represent more people.
Travis [00:36:56] This is it.
Jameela [00:36:57] Be able to be able to speak about this and still share that same liberty because there is a certain there’s a modicum more of safety when you exist in certain kind of levels of quote unquote high society that may be someone living or having to walk through a council estate in a dress doesn’t have because it’s a less protected. So there is something quite camp and much more kind of queer friendly around the like, which is so funny. Why it’s so funny to watch the Tories try and use trans people and queerness as that kind of as the as their gun because there’s so much more safety within these kind of upper class communities. And so it’s it’s amazing what you’re doing to be able to try to help through your own existence and your own kind of joyous rebellion, liberate the kids who don’t exist in those safe spaces to make those spaces more safe for them.
Travis [00:37:49] You know, this is it because it’s like. The violence exists in spaces It’s just in different ways. And it’s like for me, one thing, I’m not working class anymore or I’m from I don’t know, all those words. But you know, I’m also.
Jameela [00:38:00] You don’t live in that, yeah.
Travis [00:38:02] Yeah. I was from a dirt poor background for a very long time in my life. And one thing I think I learned from being poor and no longer being poor is that when you’re poor. You don’t have you don’t have time. And you think that choice is reserved for those that are rich and that you have to kind of live a life that is dictated by others time, your job, your shifts, all of that. And I think that plays into nonbinary and this idea of non-binary in quite interesting way because I think people think it’s a luxury to not be male or female. It’s like well you have time to think about all of this, you have time to make these choices, you have time to go and read on gender. And in some ways that’s true. You know, it’s definitely more prevalent in university spaces when we look at history and we look at the kinds of words people are using in working class communities. At the time there was gender nonconforming people. We just had to look through a different lens. And even when we look at like street queens, like Marsha P. and Sylvia Rivera, who I know is now being brought up as this kind of huge emblem for the community, when you look at that history and the words they were using to describe themselves, they weren’t just calling themselves women. They were also calling themselves drag queens, gypsies, cross-dressers, street queens. All of this, their identities were much more complicated than maybe a 2020 lens has put on them. And so they were working class street goth. And that’s who I saw growing up in the council. I remember, there was a lady called Sapphire in Bristol and Sapphire was just Sapphire. No one called her a woman, a man, trans. She was sapphire, but she was an assignment male at birth, walking around in a dress around the estate. Now in a middle class space. I feel like the emphasis is always on the words and how you describe yourself, and that brings a validity. But for Sapphire, the validity was from existing and doing, and I think that’s why I’m so passionate about different class of voices and different race voices in the UK. Speaking about transness is we’re going to experience it different we’re going to have different priorities, we’re going to have different communication styles. Maybe I won’t judge my acceptance of my family based on if they get all the language right or my pronouns right. But I will judge it on if they include me in grace at the dinner table, or if they offer to still let me feed my plate to my grandmother for food. You know, the metrics of respect is different in different communities. And so when we’re basing all of our acceptance of white parameters, so I’m going on a rant. I feel like.
Jameela [00:40:37] No, please, this is great.
Travis [00:40:39] I feel like when we’re basing respect and acceptance and equality on white parameters, that doesn’t always fit with what other people.
Jameela [00:40:47] What do you define is the white parameters.
Travis [00:40:49] I feel like white acceptance in a like a liberal way for the LGBTQ community. Looks like, you know, we’ve got our pronouns in our email signatures. We’ve got a huge win everyone at the office is wearing little stickers that have our pronouns, we’ve got huge win our mum understands what the acronym stands for. And all of this is not to discredit that, but. When you are in a working class existence. I often think about what you have everything’s about efficiency and functionality because you’re trying to get work and then you’re trying to socialize. You’re not you don’t have time. So you’re looking for more substantial stuff in terms of, can I get to my job and work at my job and be respected there safely? Can I get on public transport okay. Can I get home to my family and still go to the family events and be looked after? If I’m started out on the street will other people on the street, respect me enough to stand up for me. Right. That was the one thing I lost when I started looking visibly queer in the estate. It’s all based off of family respect and stuff, and I had that before I start looking visibly queer. So if anyone would stop me, someone would protect me because I’m from this postcode or this area code. And when I started looking visibly gender non-conforming all the loyalties to the area code were gone because I was a fagot. And so I don’t really care now if the person is knowing my pronouns, I care if they’re going to protect me on the street. I just think the goals and bars are different because. I don’t know if an email pronouns and pronoun stickers are going to save us. But I do think trans people being able to get jobs will save us, trans people being able to get health care and housing, that’s going to be the thing. You know, and I think we have to maybe. Stop as a community focusing on nitpicking every single little thing that someone does and instead be like, What’s going to improve our quality of life as a community? Working class people know one thing, and that is we all have to live together in close proximity, whether you all are the same or not. And I think something gets lost in a middle class political ground where they go, you’re not thinking the exact same thing as me. You’re out, you’re out, you’re out. Working class people know how to organize across communal grounds. And that’s why I want to push for in a trans conversation. You know.
Jameela [00:43:12] I fucking love you so much. I honestly like whenever I hear you speak as some of the only times I ever feel sane because this is exactly how I feel. And I, I and with so many forms of, of activism, as soon as it gets kind of dragged into academia, so like feminist language, language, language around race, discourse, language around gender, all of these things, as soon as they start becoming the kind of cognitive cognitive dissonance and diasporas and all of these different words that I know for fact me growing up, I wouldn’t know what the fuck that was. I can barely grasp some of the academic language now. It’s so ostracizing that then it means that the vast majority of people, the ones who need it the most, feel completely left out and bamboozled by the language that impacts them more than anyone, because they’re living in places that aren’t economically served, that aren’t in the lens of, you know, if something happens to someone in London, people around the world are more likely to hear about it. If something happens in Bristol or Hull or anywhere like, you know, no one, no one cares. No one thinks about the people in the suburbs. And those are the kids who most need the guidance and they get completely shut out. And then the ease with which you get called an idiot or a bigot if you just don’t know the perfect language versus how you actually behave towards people, ends up shutting people out before they get a chance because they feel like you’ve taken away. I’m not. I’m probably gonna get dragged and this will be twisted out of context, but I feel like if we take away people’s humanity because of what they didn’t understand on an academic level, then they are less likely to reach out to try to understand your humanity. And I feel like what you do with your work is you are trying to call people in a see you as the whole human rather than the box to tick.
Travis [00:44:53] Yes, exactly. Exactly. And it’s like I love academia. I love reading that shit.
Jameela [00:44:59] Yeah so do I, I respect it. But like, come on, democratize that information.
Travis [00:45:02] Yes. It’s about both and, and it’s about like this can exist at the same time as this. But also it’s about, I think. I don’t know what’s going on as much in the States. I do obviously feel that I obviously am more clued into the UK and we’re clued in, we’re buckling up for some really harsh economic times that are not going to affect people like me and you first. They’re going to affect so many other people. And we’ve got to decide to leave.
Jameela [00:45:28] We’ve got old ladies taking the bus in England all day so that they don’t have to like use any of their appliances because they can’t afford electricity, heating of water or like heating their house, like people in their eighties spending all day going round around on busses because it’s warm so that they don’t have to pay any energy bills at home. That’s what’s happening in the United Kingdom for anyone else around the world.
Travis [00:45:48] Exactly. And we’ve not got a good opposition. You know, our politics are fucked and we’ve got to decide our priorities in terms of helping other people. And I think we have to leave some of our egos at the door and decide to focus on some action. And and that means that I’m going to be around people that might not know how to explain my gender. But I think that there are some actions that are more important to me. And it’s about and, you know, I moved back home and I moved back to my neighborhood and I have a neighbor for sure. When we first started hanging out, I’m absolutely positive did not like me and did not respect me and, you know, would get the cross out of their chest a necklace and show it to me every time I passed an address and I smiled and nodded and and then she got covid and I sent around some food I just said hey here’s some food on the doorstep. What’s what’s good, and you know, I’m not saying everyone needs to everyone that’s mean, but I think it’s about checking in with what’s really hurting you. I wasn’t in danger. I knew I wasn’t. I had a lock between my door and I sent around some food. She sent a thank you note. We’re not best of friends right now, but her electricty was down the other day. I helped her out. We’re talking we talked about the elections. We’re talking about this stuff. And if I stopped at the initial distrust of each other, we wouldn’t get there. But we live together. We’re in community together. And I just think that our politics are going to a place. So we have to decide to be invested in our local community. And that will mean being invested in people beyond just who we think are good and bad, you know?
Jameela [00:47:29] 100,000,000,000%. I wish it wouldn’t be an annoying sound for me to clap right now because I love what you’re saying. And it does require labor and it does require, you know, extra empathy on your part. And that is fucking annoying and it is upsetting for me to even hear about. But at the same time, as a fucking Pakistani queer kid who grew up in England in the nineties where Pakistani people were subjected to horrors, and that’s before 911, where after they became super unsafe to walk anywhere. It’s not at the same level that you have experienced in your life, but I definitely know the that we we’re forced to be able to, and it’s so frustrating, but make space for the fact that people are products of their environment, they are products of the fear that they have been indoctrinated with. They wouldn’t hate you if they knew you. And so. You’re going to have to give them that fucking chance to get to know you and find a way in. And it’s really unfair. But it is also do we have a do we have an alternative plan to that? Do we have a plan B? Because the other plan is working and we can see in our politics it’s sending people to the center or a center, sending people all the way to the other side. And that shouldn’t be how it is, but that is how it is, because we are tribal beings. And if you ostracize people from the tribe, another tribe will take them in. And I try and explain this all the time and I get told that on both sides in it I’m this that I’m not doing any of that. I’m purely saying as a pragmatic, practical approach to actual diversity, to actual inclusion, to human beings, understanding what’s similar between us rather than what our differences are, we are going to have to do that infuriating emotional labor, because these people are being like truly like soaked in fear around us because by a government that wants us to look at each other rather than at them.
Travis [00:49:25] Exactly that, exactly that.
Jameela [00:49:28] They are all trying to create diversion tactics and they are always using minorities and especially now trans people. I am the most suspicious the second I hear the trans conversation come up. I know immediately. Oh, my God, what are you hiding? And I know that everyone’s going to look transpeople look fucking fabulous. That’s very clever, like it’s why it’s been the ones that the shiniest, mos beautiful
Travis [00:49:54] Exactly.
Jameela [00:49:56] The chicest group.
Travis [00:49:57] Exactly.
Jameela [00:49:58] Of course everyone’s going to look. You know what I mean, I think it’s a really important position that a lot of people don’t have the bravery to speak about, because I imagine you sometimes get pushback from your own community for encouraging.
Travis [00:50:09] Of course. Of course. But, you know, I think.
Jameela [00:50:14] You’ve got do you get quite a lot of pushback? When you when you express because is is is your pragmatic approach deemed as kind of tolerance, too much tolerance?
Travis [00:50:24] You know, I don’t really I’ll be honest, and this is bad, but I don’t look so I don’t know. Unless someone tells me to my face or like tells me text me a friend I don’t really look. So I don’t really know. And, you know, I get some comments and stuff, but I think that. The Internet has shifted in the last few years where it’s passed the point of like a utility of having engaged in conversations. And so I’m more interested when someone sends me like an email or a long message, and then I’ll listen. And sometimes I’m wrong. A lot of the time I’m wrong. So, like, sometimes it’s worthwhile to listen. But I think I’ve had to block out a lot of the like. Knowing it’s some people and just be like, I actually can’t live a life where one people can’t change and two, I can’t be wrong and not be okay and three that I’m always in the position of either victim or perpetrator. I have to live a life where I can be both those things and also be wrong and right. And so I don’t trust anyone that doesn’t allow that. And so as I.
Jameela [00:51:28] Well, it’s incredibly true to a non-conforming person that you also don’t you don’t want to be caught in the cult of gender, and you also don’t want to be caught in the cult of, I don’t know, like political.
Travis [00:51:39] Purity.
Jameela [00:51:39] ideological expression and puritanical and radical sainthood and all these different things. It makes complete sense. And I also find it quite ridiculous that a community that is so hell bent on like announcing that they are allies for or that they are members of non-conforming when it comes to gender, feel the need that everyone has to have this terrifying level of conformity to every single.
Travis [00:52:04] Yeah and of course it’s like.
Jameela [00:52:05] Sticking point of our group.
Travis [00:52:07] And of course it’s always the loudest and there’s tons of people offline and I think more and more people are realizing that online was creating this really polarizing space. And I just only surround myself with people that could be both good and bad who know that about themselves. And so I don’t really listen to any that other shit, you know.
Jameela [00:52:26] That’s great. Can I ask a question about your mum? So were you mostly raised by your mum? .
Travis [00:52:30] Only, yeah. Only raised by my mum.
Jameela [00:52:31] Only raised by your mum. And so coming from two backgrounds, not just one that are not super historically tolerant of queer people and historically actually a lot of these cultures probably were. But, coming from a African American background and coming from, did you say Filipino.
Travis [00:52:50] Filipino, yeah.
Jameela [00:52:51] Yeah. How did your mum get so progressive that even back then she just knew to allow you to be you when. When she would have been pressured maybe by her extended family to force you into a binary.
Travis [00:53:06] I think the Alabanza’s have a long gay history. Not to no to out them but I mean, she’s also from San Francisco that probably helps.
Jameela [00:53:17] That’s nice. That’s fucking amazing. Like to hear any parent from that generation, but especially anyone who’s like from some ethnic minority. It’s incredible.
Travis [00:53:27] She’s nearly 70 and and I think. Do you know what it is? I think I’d have to speak to her about it, but the chance of having it is that she just wanted to be a mum so bad, and she didn’t always know that she could be a mum. And so when she got her two kids, she just really was like, this was never meant to happen. So I’m just going to love them. I really think that was her vibe. And who knows, I think also it helps that it was never really a surprise that I was going to be queer. And so she probably also had a lot of time before I realized to do the work or whatever.
Jameela [00:54:01] But it’s so lovely that her work was on herself rather than her work was on you.
Travis [00:54:07] Oh yeah. Oh my God. I also think that, you know, I think deep down, you know, I’m the youngest of two. She has an I’ve got an older brother who’s great, but like super, super straight and super, like, you know, I love him. I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this he’s very boring in the best way. Stable. And you she probably with like I mean damn thank God I’ve got someone throwing some fucking color in the mix. But also she, she camp my mum is very, very camp and she obviously like comes from San Francisco which is, you know, and so she was basically a fag hag in a time and now she’s like, Great, I’ve got this little one I can, you know, dress up. She’s a very fashionable woman and and she loves just sharing clothes with me now. So I think lose a son gain a daughter that kind of binary thinking probably crossed it, you know.
Jameela [00:54:55] What advice would you have to any parent who might be listening to this? Because I think looking at having kids the way that she did of I’m so lucky. Everyone’s lucky, everyone’s lucky. If you ever able to conceive and have that kind of be able to make a little person and then be lucky enough that person survives long enough that you can raise that little person. It is such a privilege and you should treat it as exactly the way that your mother did as like, I’m just going to embrace and love this baby no matter what because I’m so glad that they’re here. What advice do you have for parents listening to this? Maybe they’ve got a one year old they have no idea who they’re going to be.
Travis [00:55:32] I would say that I categorically don’t think I would have the life the work or the creativity that I have right now if I had to spend so much time unlearning all of my parents’ shame. I genuinely think that I had a head start in life. In so many ways you could look at my life and go This, this and this and this. I think I had such a head start in life because a parent loved me. And wouldn’t you want to give your kid that like shouldn’t be a head start with that head start so that they don’t have to spend ages working free stuff. I had so much confidence as a kid, you know, all the odds were saying I couldn’t be an I doing these things and I never knew any of those odds. because I just had a mum that really made me feel like I could do everything. And so I think that’s a no brainer is I mean, I don’t know if it’s an all parent, but it feels like a no brainer that you’d want your kid to have that belief in themselves. They’re going to be I always think I said this to my mum was like, I was always going to be stopped by multiple things in the world. But isn’t it great that for ages I just had a bliss of, like, not feeling like that was a thing, you know, not feeling like I was an object. And I also, you know, not that I think trans people need to exist to give something to someone else, but I do think having trans people in my life and our life is a blessing. And so to see your kid is the blessing that they’re going to teach you something. I know I’ve taught my mum stuff, you know, about gender, about things just from existing.
Jameela [00:57:02] Oh my God, so much of, especially specifically trans women, have taught me and and gender non-conforming people about my own right to liberty as to how I live. Has just been it’s been it’s changed everything the way I should feel about my body, the way I should feel about my fucking height, the way I feel about my broad shoulders or my attitude or the fact that I don’t want to be, little and quiet and I. I want to be authoritative. The most permission I have ever felt to be me has come from trans and gender non-conforming people.
Travis [00:57:38] Right. Right. And I feel like we don’t exist for that purpose, but it’s a side effect of our existence. And so parents should be like, Damn right, I’m going to be lucky. I say this. I don’t think I want kids, but who knows? I’m young. But I always say the biggest risk is I want a straight kid. That’s I need to start asking, Hey, any straight listeners, can you tell me how am I going to love my straight unconditionally? That’s the advice I need to tune in on. I would like to know how I can feel.
Jameela [00:58:04] Because the question is as preposterous. Isn’t it.
Travis [00:58:07] Exactly exactly.
Jameela [00:58:09] It shows exactly how preposterous the question of how will I love my child based on their identity, it works both ways. It’s fucking ridiculous either way. Oh, Travis, you’re so great. And I want everyone to go out and read None of the Above. And I want everyone to follow your work and go and see your art. So before you go, I would love to ask you, Travis Alabanza, what do you weigh?
Travis [00:58:30] I weigh my earned autonomy.
Jameela [00:58:35] Gorgeous. Well, I love you very much.
Travis [00:58:38] Thank you so much for this.
Jameela [00:58:38] I hope you come to America to visit me soon, or I’ll come to England to find you.
Travis [00:58:43] Yes. Yeah.
Jameela [00:58:43] And I’ll see you really soon.
Travis [00:58:44] Thank you.
Jameela [00:58:47] Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela Jamil, Erin Finnegan and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson. And the beautiful music you are hearing now is made by my boyfriend James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate review and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. We also have a bonus series exclusively on Stitcher Premium called Ask Jameela Anything. Check it out. You can get a free month of Stitcher premium by going Stitcher.com/premium and using the promo code I Weigh. Lastly over at I Weigh, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 18186605543 or email us what you weigh at IWeighpodcast@gmail.com. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our fabulous listeners.
Listener [00:59:39] I weigh the love of my two young nieces who admire me so much, without question. I weigh my relationship with my family. I weigh my journey into womanhood as a transgender woman. I weigh my close friends who are chosen family. I weigh my ability to create great art. And. I weigh my spirituality and the love of art.
September 21, 2023
Jameela is joined by campaigner and writer Gina Martin, and in this optimistic conversation about creating change for equal rights around the world, they discuss how anyone can show up and support activism (especially offline in real spaces) and what this activism work can look like.