‘this is for us baby, not for them’ – travis alabanza on their new book “none of the above”

the 14th of july is bastille day, international non binary day and, more importantly, my birthday. 

this year i decided to start my day by logging onto zoom and interviewing award winning theatre maker, arist and writer travis alabanza on their new book none of the above.

we spent our hour together laughing, getting angry, being silly, grieving, joking about getting cancelled, theorising, gossiping.

the feelings that emerged from our call remind me of the feelings that made me fall in love with them in 2017 when we invented t4t relationships.

now an ex and a claim to fame, travis still carries a colossal impact in my everyday life, and i’m confident their words will trigger a similar impact for anyone lucky enough to consume none of the above.

photo credit: faith aylward
creative direction: mia maxwell
makeup artist: tom easto

hey babe. let’s cut to the chase: what outfit are you most excited to wear on your book tour and what’s the inspiration behind your outfit choices?

well, i’m glad we’re kicking off with the important information. obviously, for me, it’s always going to be themed. so i’m working with the colour palette in the book cover: pink, green, black and white.

all four at once?

i’m going to try! but mainly pink and green. it’s not like i haven’t been wearing questionable outfits for a long time. she’s a hit and miss girl. in edinburgh, i’m going for a pink republican cosplay with a pink midi skirt, pink heels and a pink blazer with nothing underneath. and i’m gonna do my hair in a little conservative updo but then have a necklace that says “kill them all” in diamante.

i’m going quite slutty for a lot of them which i don’t normally do.

i’m excited because shon faye is closing the book tour in bristol, and we’re both bristolian. and she doesn’t know this yet but i want both of us to dress as a bristol historic icon. i want us to both come as drag kings as the man that built the clifton suspension bridge.. and she doesn’t know this. but shon, do you accept the challenge? 

wow, a live challenge between two trans legends on oestrogeneration, how exciting!

now that we got the essential bit out of the way. i was wondering if you could share a bit about how the book came to be and what was the process behind it?

let me be real and honest. i had not taken any work for the whole of 2020 because i was touring for the whole year. it was the first time i was able to be “wow, i don’t need to look for work, because i’m going to be touring burgerz internationally”. and then obviously 2020 shut everything down. i had no money and the only industry that wasn’t shut down in the arts was publishing. 

so i thought i was gonna write the easy sellable book which was kind of this packaged, bright coloured, learn how to love yourself kind of thing. i actually wrote a first draft of that book, and then just deleted it all. because i realised this isn’t what we need. it’s not what i need. this isn’t a legacy that i want to leave for my work. and so i started being inspired by all the conversations i was having with my trans friends in private. the pandemic brought a lot of trans people time with ourselves and to make choices with our bodies and a lot of my friends were making lots of different choices. and what i was obsessed with is how different their explanation for their choices was behind the scenes to what went out publicly. and i was thinking about how i wanted to publicly write some of the thoughts that i was having in private. because if we were having these thoughts privately , then maybe other people were thinking them too. i think the inspiration from this book was not to have something that cis people learnt from, but was instead to have something that archived how confusing it is to be trans. 

i feel like disagreement is important if we really want to be taken seriously in our literature as a canon. it felt like it was time for trans literature in mainstream publishing to have a book that doesn’t just say “five ways to love being non binary”.

i’ve been thinking about that a lot. how there’s so many books that have come out from trans authors recently that are really good and really informative but definitely seem to be for a cis audience and what stood out to me from your book is that it definitely felt like  you envisioned a trans or gender non conforming reader. 

the reason all these books from trans authors have to cater to cis people is that publishers will not give you the money if they think a cis person won’t read it. so, once i was able to get the book, i wasn’t really bothered if cis people would get it. but also after the whole 2020 black square moment i did see a real lack of faith [from publishers] that audience members could handle something more complex. it felt like we were drip feeding white people really basic analysis, but actually the books that did really well were the ones that were far more complex. and so i have been surprised after the books have gone out that cis people have got it. they’re getting something different. they’re being challenged. 

but i mention in the beginning i dedicate the book to people that are confused in transition. transitioning is so hard. i’m finding it really hard. i’m finding the choices i’m wanting to make and going through the medical system extremely hard. and i guess i just wanted to write a book that archives that. and for other trans people that resonate with what i’m saying to have comfort. but what’s important to say is i know that this book won’t resonate with every trans person. and some trans people might disagree with some of it. and i also thought that that was important. i feel like disagreement is important if we really want to be taken seriously in our literature as a canon. it felt like it was time for trans literature in mainstream publishing to have a book that doesn’t just say “five ways to love being non binary”.

i think it’s so important to stop pretending to be monolithic in our opinions. 

i want a trans person to read this book and go “i really disagree with this. i need to write a response piece. i need to write another book that debunks this”. because then we’re building up a rigour in our community that we deserve. and again, it’s not focusing on cis people, because we’re saying, actually, this is between us and we are allowed to conversate and talk. and it makes sense that we’ve become rigid as a community. because we’re so heavily targeted. but i don’t think the way to solve that is to wait for us to stop being targeted. we have to live our lives as if we have some parameters where we’re not. 

i hope what it means is that people can start to realise that a binary in any sense doesn’t make sense. that there isn’t a binary of good or bad people. and if we continue to think about people in terms of good and bad or pure and impure, we’re gonna find the upcoming years of a tory government extremely hard.

you discuss in the book how we need to come across really certain in our transness to cis people. not only to doctors, but also to our friends, or any cis person we interact with and say “yes i’m trans, and i’ve always known it, and these are the steps i’m taking, etc”. and actually between ourselves, we can and should be more honest, and we can be a bit more like “i don’t know what i’m doing”. and i think that’s a really powerful tool on a wider political level. 

what i was really thinking about is that transness is a lens to see the rest of the world and how useful it is. it feels like we are never allowed to change our minds about anything at the moment. to say that we were wrong or say that “hey, this thing i said before i actually have changed and developed” and we are punished for it rather than celebrated for it. whereas actually, it’s such a gift to be able to recognise change, and to go back on yourself and to disagree with yourself and to be unsure. for me, the politics came before my gender. i said to myself “why am i so cool with people politically changing their mind and politically contradicting themselves, but here i am, with my own gender, wanting to be so absolute”. 

i hope what it means is that people can start to realise that a binary in any sense doesn’t make sense. that there isn’t a binary of good or bad people. and if we continue to think about people in terms of good and bad or pure and impure, we’re gonna find the upcoming years of a tory government even harder. maybe cause i’ve moved back to my hometown and i’m more involved in my geographical community, but i’m noticing so many young queers are trying to polarise, who, out of their physical neighbours, are good or bad people. whereas politically we need to get to a point where we see these people as physically our neighbours – and so we have a responsibility towards them. the book is helping me think about that. because it’s saying: i can change, i’m contradicting myself – this person next to me also holds those properties. 

transness has to be made. it’s pathologised that we’re born this way, born in the wrong body, etc. i had to get it out of the way that i don’t believe that.

i feel like the contradiction that comes with transness was a key theme in the book in general, and also in the chapters order. your first chapter is all about being questioned on when you knew you were trans, and it ends on a focus that ultimately transness is for us, not for them. what was the journey of planning your chapters?

once i planned my book and what i wanted to say, i knew i needed to end on a note of not cis-centred autonomy. an autonomy that’s based around us in relation to each other. so i thought what are the different points that can illuminate where looking at each other is better than looking at them? so i thought romance is a huge part of that. because if we just talk about violence from cis men, we miss all this possibility that is in t4t relationships. and then also history and race were other things that could be used to talk about how negative things are. but also could be used to say that when we reshift the lens away from cisness, which is also whiteness, we can get possibilities.

i also wanted to do some theory that kind of set my version of transness and my definition of transness as not something innate. i knew i had to get that across, because i knew i was ending on a chapter of choice. i find the first chapter not the most exciting. i think we get to more exciting places. but i had to set the scene that transness is situational. transness isn’t this separate identity that is somehow being destined to me. transness has to be made. it’s pathologised that we’re born this way, born in the wrong body, etc. i had to get it out of the way that i don’t believe that. i had to get that out of the way so that when i’m talking about choice later on, we understand that that is a really pertinent word. i chose transness.

that’s beautiful – thank you.

i feel like, as someone who knows you, i can read so much rawness and uncomfortable honesty in the book but i actually think even the readers that don’t know you will see the same. how do you feel about exposing yourself in that way?

i’m terrified. but i wasn’t terrified when i was writing the book. i kinda forgot that this might be read by thousands of people. my art has always been at its best when i felt like i wasn’t pushing an audience, but pushing myself. ultimately, this book has really helped me decide what i’m doing with my body. so i’m grateful for that.

and i think it’ll help so many trans people with that. i know it definitely helped me. 

make sure to buy ‘none of the above’.


excerpt from none of the above

Ever since writing the word ‘sacrifice’ in the last chapter, it is all I can think about. It has made me want to rewrite this book and make that the starting point, yet reading it back, I realise that is what this book is: a record of sacrifice; an archive and memorial to what is lost in a world that cannot embrace gender non-conformity. 

I am tired. The kind of tired you wake up still feeling. It is a tired that sits in the background of my days, a melodic hum just reminding me that this dysphoria, this gender, this thing I need to sort out, will keep on eating me up if I do not make a move soon. I’m tired of not knowing how I feel in my body, tired of seeing debates around me, tired of not knowing if I am wasting my time trying to figure this out. It is all I can think about, to the point where I imagine others must be thinking about it too, even if we are in fact just talking about the weather. My mornings are becoming punctuated by moments of having to hold back tears. I am trying to be kind to myself, but it is hard when your own reflection in the mirror is the site of your pain. 

In tears, I call my friend. 

‘I am not sure what to do. I can’t tell my up from my down. I have hormones going to waste under my bed. I am losing my confidence by the day. I cannot tell who this is for—’ 

I go to carry on, but luckily this is the kind of friend who will not let a hole be dug in front of her. 

‘One, hormones are too precious to waste. So, if you ain’t gonna use them, you know my address.’ 

We both laugh. Hers from the belly and mine from the throat. 

‘And two, I don’t know if it’s all this time inside? Or all this time online? But this ain’t the bitch I know. What the fuck is going on?’ she asks, with more calmness in her voice than I can portray over a page. The swears and the question marks make it seem like this was said urgently, yet the conversation had the pace of two girls talking about lunch plans, as if we had been here before. 

‘I’m not sure. I know I don’t want to die unhappy with the way I feel, but I just wish I could stick this out. I am not a woman, but when I dream of looking like one, it’s just so the dream is easier to talk about.’ 

(I was this poetic over the phone: it’s a miracle I have any friends.) 

‘Girl, I’m a woman because it is easier to say and I haven’t got the time for anything else. Your mum is a woman because she was told she is one and it feels all right. Fuck, maybe she isn’t, have you asked her? I never heard you so hung up on what everyone else thinks of you. What do you want to do?’

‘I am not sure,’ I reply, annoyed at the fact writing this book has brought me face to face with unanswered questions. 

‘Well, that is what you gotta figure out. It ain’t about what they call you. They will still call you whatever they gonna call you, to your face, or behind your back. It’s about what you want to do.’ 

I go to interrupt her, but she beats me to it. 

‘This is for us, baby, not for them.’

I whisper back, ‘I am not sure I know how to do that any more.’ 

Our conversation continues for another three minutes, or maybe even seven, I’m not too sure, because after she says the last sentence, I decide that will be the last thing I hear in the phone call, completely enthralled by the phrase. 

As soon as the phone drops, I go to my window; I need to breathe. 

‘This is for us, baby, not for them.’