'Burgerz' at Edinburgh Fringe
There is an easy way out of trouble when you fit into a specific part of the LGBTQ+ acronym. A big old lesbian like myself for example, who is very white and very middle class can happily retreat into comfortable territory -"we gays can legally get married now, so that's all our problems sorted, yay- see ya!" I recognise this attitude in myself at times as well as in a lot of mainstream Queer performers and Youtubers who avoid confronting the glaring problems our community as a whole is facing. I am not dampening the struggles of homophobia we in the big 'L' experience, however I do believe the Trans and gender non-conforming community (and especially non-white people) need ALL of us Queers to listen and support them now more than ever. The phenomenal artist Travis Alabanza reminded me of this through their show 'Burgerz' at Traverse as part of Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
How can I describe the Fringe to someone who has never been? Imagine a stretched out month where art meets exhaustion and where performers meet other performers, to tell them which shows are good and which shows are shite. It's an ego pit as well as a hive of creativity, where you wait desperately for reviews but try to ignore them too. Lots of noise, lots of overpriced junk food and lots of love. Visiting the fringe each year has become a traditional part of my birthday celebration and 'Burgerz' really made my 26th year on this planet worth it.
The show hit me like a sledgehammer, or more aptly like a burger; the story follows Travis pulling apart an incident where they were hit with a burger in the middle of London by a stranger and called a 'faggot'. This violent act was witnessed by the general public (it could have easily been any of us) and no one intervened, no one said anything. Interestingly, this took place back in 2016 and although some naive folks like to believe transphobia isn't a thing, according to Police figures there has been an 81% increase in violence towards Transgender people in 2019. The brutal and devastating murders of black Trans women in America over the past year are examples I wish I didn't have to make. But this is the reality we need to wake up to.
Travis pulls no punches and their frustration at our societal indifference towards Transphobic violence becomes crystal clear through their interaction with audience member Fletch. Fletch is brought up to help cook a burger live on stage. As a person, Fletch is a Cis white bloke who seemed slightly introverted but after accepting a glass of Rioja, relaxed into it. Alongside chopping onions and mincing meat, Travis probes into Fletch's relationship with Gender identity. What was so beautiful about this moment, was watching Fletch coming to terms with something he had never really had to think about before. And his privilege radiated. His answers about what it meant to be a man weren't particularly articulate but truly honest and I could literally hear cogs whirring in his head as he tried to make sense of his own perception of manhood. It was not an interrogation from Travis, but a chance for all of us Cis folks in the audience to really think about where our notion of Gender began.
I for one, was taken back to being around 4 years old, running around the park in my dungarees and feeling so free I could fly. My dad always shunned traditional gender roles with me as a child and I honestly don't think I clocked I was a 'girl' until divisions in the playground at first school began. Since then, I have felt deep internalised shame about my connection to Masculine energy and often felt I don't fit into what it is to be a woman. I am in nomans land (no pun intended) and through 'Burgerz', I began to realise that Gender really does box me in and trample my variety as a human into something more palatable and grey. Just like it does to all of us to some degree.
I will never forget the image of Travis, speaking into a purple haze of light; a vulnerable diatribe of feelings and expressions of their oppression filling the stage so thick I could almost see fog in front of their face. I could hear people crying on either side of me. One person wanted to leave and I suddenly realised just how much people have been suffering at the hands of our silence. Because doing nothing is as violent as partaking. We bang on about solidarity and Pride but as soon as June is over, a lot of us go back to focusing on our selves and blindside those who are still in danger every single day. Everyday is a challenge for gender non-conforming and Trans people. Everyday is a fuck you to the norm and that bravery comes with consequences.
I will never forget that show. I will never forget the look on Fletch's face as he heard Travis' pain and didn't how to respond. Being empathetic is not enough to make lasting change.
In amongst the darkness, there is always light. I think of Galadriel handing Frodo over her light as a gentle reminder of his power and that he is not alone. We can hand light to our Trans and gender non-conforming family, by giving our time, our attention, our voice and our wallet to them. They need us to listen. We aren't experts, we are students and we can learn and grow alongside these wonderful friends, family members, students, chefs, firefighters, artists, gardeners, plumbers, bar people and carol singers (don't ask me where carol singers came from.)
GLAAD have written a brilliant article on being an ally for Transgender people and I've linked it below. If you can face your own ignorance, it is a brilliant first step in understanding and approaching Trans allyship. I've also put a link for Mika Johnson's Top Surgery fundraiser. Mika's show 'Pink Lemonade' was one of my favourite Queer performances at Edinburgh, alongside Lucy McCormik's 'Post Popular' and Hannah Maxwell's 'I AmDram'. There are amazing people out there shaping the world artistically and socially. And most of them are Queer. Who would have thought!
And Travis, from a Northern friend who you are yet to meet, thank you. You have irrevocably woken me and that audience up. If anyone was ever to throw a burger your way again, we in the audience would be there, I am sure of that now. I just hope more people around the world start waking up too.
'Remember being an ally is a sustained and persistent pattern of action; not an idle or stable noun.' GLAAD