Hello!!!! I had never read anything by today’s author before, but yesterday evening to enjoy the last strands of the sun I sat down on a bench, sparked a zoot and acquainted myself. This book did more to illuminate me than the sun did, and I closed the covers after finishing with what felt like afterglow swarming under my skin. I had tears in my eyes, and good ones. It is a playpoem from one of the UK’s most prominent emerging queer voices, championing a gender-non conformist identity politics in their work. They are a writer, performer and theatre maker and I for one am in love! Today we shall be honouring ‘Burgerz’ by none other than the fabulous Travis Alabanza!
‘Burgerz’ seeks to make sense of a transphobic attack (Alabanza details how they had a burger thrown at them on Waterloo Bridge, and to humanity’s shame not one person did anything to help in the aftermath) by interrogating the seemingly innocuous object that became such an insidious weapon: a typical burger, as the title may suggest lol. It isn’t a long play, but Alabanza has gloriously made each word count- as it is pretty much a one person show. There is a density of emotion throughout that really makes it hard to stop reading, and more importantly- empathizing. ‘Burgerz’ attempts to make plain the hidden hurt that has continued to resonate since the burger was thrown, how hate attacks are not a one-time, stop/finish event.
The emotions of shame and confusion that Alabanza felt (feels) cannot be contained, put in a box (‘Burgerz’ also uses boxes very interestingly in its staging): the burger is reclaimed and infused with new metaphorical meanings to articulate what it is to live as a gender non-conforming person. The hyper visibility in public making them prime targets for attack from bigoted scumbags, yet simultaneous invisibility when it comes to needing help. They address the social pressures that can make it so much harder to build up a self-concomitant identity when constantly lambasted with external opinions/orders on what does or does not go into a good burger.
The play is minimalist using only 2 other characters, a white cis-gendered (presumably straight) male and female, who act as witnesses to the monologue revelations. When Alabanza confronts these figures with the raw, and uncomfortable vulnerabilities of how they feel being placed at the bottom pile of society, it is defiantly and definitely NOT an SOS plea. It is a soulful demand for solidarity, a refusal to stand in front or behind each other when we could be standing next to each other. I walk past Waterloo Bridge every day to work, and I know it is a big bloody bridge. Many people would have seen, many people could have stopped.
If you are interested in learning more on the internal/ emotional aspects to living as a visibly queer, gender non-conforming person I would highly recommend this book. Equally, if you are wanting to learn how to be a better ally, and how to support marginalised people who the Powers-That-Be wants us to ignore, or worse to actively obstruct. If anything, ‘Burgerz’ has one simple message: do not stand by and let bad things happen. Do not be complacent, do not believe the problem has nothing to do with you, that you are above it all (news flash: nobody is above caring how other people are treated. Nobody is better than anybody else).
Keep an eye out for more work by Travis Alabanza- they have a lot to say about the wonders and woes of non-binary living, and the ways we can best uplift one another XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX
“What came first? The Burger or the Box for the Burger. Man or woman. Or the cages made for man and woman. The person free from man or woman. Or the person in charge of capturing the person free from man or woman. Gender or violence? That last one was the same thing. When I think about boxes I think about order, about containment and the need we have to tidy things. I think about how when things are tidy, it’s always those that are messy that are punished. Colouring outside the lines was never rewarded, only shunned…”