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Artist smeared by media after Topshop transphobia

Travis Alabanza spoke up when prevented from using the dressing room of their choice in a Manchester Topshop, but is now facing abuse

When it comes to reporting on marginalisation, sometimes it feels as though we're operating in a time loop where nothing ever improves. Even though this week saw trans politician Danica Roem unseat an anti-LGBT extremist in the US elections, Andrea Jenkins making history as the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office and fresh legislation supporting non-binary people planned in Scotland, we're still living in a country where two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident based on their gender identity in the last 12 months.

This year, artist Travis Alabanza (pronouns them/they) released their first “chapbook” – containing images, poetry, diary entries and essays – and won a leading role in the stage adaptation of Derek Jarman's anarchic punk film, Jubilee. They also became yet another black trans victim of a smear campaign led by intolerant keyboard warriors and the right-wing media.

The story goes like this: Travis, who identifies as transfeminine, went to a Topshop store in Manchester last Monday where they attempted to use the women's changing room to try on some dresses, and was denied entry. They then remembered that Topshop, much like other retailers such as Urban Outfitters, had changed to a gender-neutral changing room policy in recent months.

After reminding staff members of the policy, Travis was met with indifference from a store manager – who told them to go to the Topman changing room. Travis then left the shop and tweeted their concerns. A spokesperson for Topshop told BuzzFeed News that changing rooms at neither Topshop nor Topman should be specifically gendered. “Both the Topshop and Topman fitting rooms are available for all customers to use,” the spokesperson said.

It was only two months ago that black trans model Munroe Bergdorf was dragged by the Daily Mail and then fired by L'Oréal for speaking up about white supremacy, leading to countless death threats. Just last week Bergdorf was forced to remove herself from Facebook as she was still receiving dozens of cruel comments calling her every abhorrent, racist, sexist and transphobic name under the sun. These comments were intended to humiliate Munroe Bergdorf personally and professionally.

In a similar pattern, today columnist Janice Turner a published a disgusting article in The Times in which she cruelly misgendered Travis, inaccurately insinuated that the reason why Topshop changed their policy was because of their tweet, and went so far as to make connections between trans rights and child abuse (the headline ran: “Children sacrificed to appease trans lobby”).

Needless to say, at the moment the levels of transphobic abuse that Travis is facing online is appalling. Much like Munroe, they have even had death threats.

Travis, like many others, recognises that this report is fearmongering. It inaccurately positions trans women as being a major danger to cisgender (people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth) women, when in reality – and as proved by the #MeToo era – “cis” men are much more likely to be the culprits. Figures – especially relating to trans women of colour – rightly position them as victims, disproportionately affected by high rates of violence. 

We live in a society which is by and large totally intolerant towards people who gravitate from the white, cis, heteronomy. At this stage, Travis wants it to be recognised that the media continuously uses trans people on the margins – those who aren't passing, or who are black or brown – as scapegoats for their fear.

Heartbreakingly, Travis has spoken in the past to Dazed about how they used clothing to come to terms with their femme identity – also touching upon the fact that it can be very difficult for trans people to openly buy femme clothes, apart from online.

“In my teenage years, eBay was my best friend,” Travis told fellow trans artist and writer Shon Faye. “When I was 15, I began dressing in sheer and sequins a lot on nights out. I was obsessed with anything see-through – that was my way to access femininity in clothes I bought. I used to order things that were shipped from Hong Kong because the clothes were often shown on both male and female models which gave me better visual clues about dressing my own body.”

In the same article, Shon spoke about how when she was 19, “two staff members laughed at me as I held up blouses in a mirror. In my view this simply should be unacceptable – employers should realise transphobia in gendered retail departments will continue to lose them custom and this is something they must now reflect in staff training”. Despite policy changes, this type of training clearly still isn't happening.

To counter the ignorance and hatred levelled at Travis there is one thing we can do: support them by celebrating their work. Watch the trailer for Jubilee below and look out for their show when it comes to Lyric Hammersmith in the new year. The right-wing media will grind on transphobic-ally for as long as it gets them clicks and ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists’ continue to spend a lot of time online trying to disprove the ‘reality’ of trans people or prove they're a violent threat.

Meanwhile, trans people are outchea, doing amazingly.

Dazed consulted Travis for this article