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What about my body? Protection of trans bodies in performance art

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site.

In recent years it’s started to look like trans issues are gradually moving up the agenda. Increasingly many people, both within and outside of LGBT+ communities, see themselves as trans allies and take an interest in the existence of trans people. Whether it’s following Laverne Cox on Twitter, or even turning up to see a trans person of colour tell and perform their story, to cheer them on and show support and appreciation in person, we all couldn’t be happier to show the world that we recognize the humanity of trans people and their struggle.

None of this is even close to enough.

Trans performance artist Travis Alabanza addresses this issue in their show Stories of a Queer Brown Muddy Kid. Travis tells a story of what should have been a safe and easy commute to uni for an exam. They tell of being harassed by another passenger – having the legitimacy of their presence and existence challenged. A mother sneers that she “will have to spend all day trying to explain… this” to her child. In a crowded carriage full of people, nobody stood up for Travis. Leaving the train, someone tried to trip them up, which but for Travis’s quick reaction and luck could have left them in severe physical harm. And nobody did a single thing about it.

Sitting in the audience as they tell these stories, surrounded by shocked and sympathetic allies, one might feel as if contemporary society is a safe space for people like Travis. But Travis attacks this illusion. As soon as they leave the performance space, Travis’s life and dignity are put in danger. Travis speaks about being attacked on the way home from previous performances. They confront the audience with their anger, demanding an answer to an impossible question: what about my body? What about my protection? Travis first puts the audience on the spot as members of society culpable for not providing the protection they need to be safe in daily life. They then encourage the audience to mentally place themselves in the position of vulnerability by joining Travis’s mournful chant. What about my body? What about my protection?

Different audiences react differently, Travis tells us after their performance. We are told of how fully and emotionally black trans audiences engage with what is said. Others respond with hesitant discomfort. This illustrates the prevailing gap between the supportive ideas of allyship and the lack of its manifestation in the experiences of vulnerable trans people.

More must be done. Support for trans people has to be incessant and ubiquitous. We need queer safe spaces, but more than that we need the unavoidable spaces of everyday life to be safe.

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