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We can’t do this alone
Malik Nashad Sharpe, Danielle Braithwaite Shirley, Travis Alabanza and Ebun SodipoPhotography Ejatu Shaw, Make-up Umber Ghauri

We can’t do this alone: Travis Alabanza on black trans community

We can’t do this alone

In a photo essay for Dazed shot by Ejatu Shaw, Travis Alabanza and their housemates Danielle, Malik, and Ebun explore why collectivity is an act of black trans survival

At a time when trans rights are more under threat than ever, the spring 2019 issue of Dazed takes a stand for for the global creativity of the LGBTQIA+ communities and infinite forms of identity. This article is a digital companion to the issue. Pre-order the issue here, and see the whole Infinite Identities campaign here.

It’s been one of those days in London, where I have been out of the house since 7.30am, CityMapper-ed to somewhere in east, west, north and south London, and am only arriving home at 7.30pm. I left the house in a skirt, leg hair showing, make-up on my brown face – and, in an all-too-common experience, I’ve been shouted at, misgendered, stared at on the tube, and had to balance a racially tense moment in another meeting. By the time I get through the door in my house in the evening, I’m ready to collapse on the floor. I close the door, exhausted by the weight of armour it takes to go outside. As I collapse, I hear a unison yell of: “Hey bitch! We’re playing Smash Bros…”

I feel my body float into the living room, almost on auto-pilot, as if it knows how to direct me to safety. I’m greeted by Danielle, with switch controller in hand, Malik with arms outstretched, and Ebun reading something on the table. “How was your day?”

I pause. I know I could speak to them if I wanted to. “Let’s just play Smash.”

There’s a nod of acceptance. We play games for hours, laughing and joking, and I feel the weight of the outside world disappear. Living and sharing a community with three other black, gender-nonconforming and trans artists and friends means that we know the nod so well. We know how and when the world is too much; we know when a conversation or an embrace is needed, and when wine and a game is favoured. When you live in a body on multiple axes – a body that faces both anti-blackness and the weight of transmisogyny – finding space for comfort is often rare. It’s in the friendships I have with other black trans people, with DanielleMalik and Ebun, that I find home. The ability to not have to explain. The ability to speak with a nod.

While the recent increase in trans visibility in the media has brought such positives, I have been worried about both the increase in media scrutiny, and the ways in which capitalism has forced the idea of a “trans individual”, highlighting individual trans people’s successes, and holding us at separate poles away from each other. In the public eye, we are placed in competition with each other. In reality, blackness has never worked like that; blackness has always been in community. So much of the media surrounding us is showing us in isolation, in violence, or in individual successes – I wanted a chance to bring in the realities of us together, in community, in friendship, and in joy.

Opening the door to artists, thinkers, friends like Malik, Danielle and Ebun, I am reminded that I will never win alone, and most importantly, that I don’t want to. Alongside these photographs from our shoot inside Malik’s home, I interviewed each of my friends to see what they had to say about their art, their relationships, and the importance of community.

DANIELLE BRAITHWAITE SHIRLEY

How would you describe your practice?

Danielle Braithwaite Shirley: My work is about surviving as a black trans person, and what it means to work through those events. Every day seems like it could be our last, so my work is about dealing with how I see my body, and how others see my body, and how I want to take control of it.

How does living and being around us affect your life, survival, and art?

Danielle Braithwaite Shirley: It’s necessary. I don’t even want to say it’s good, it’s actually just necessary. There’s not a disconnect, we are seen in similar but different ways, but it’s so necessary to have someone around you that understands dysphoria, or harassment.

What is one thing you love about Malik, Ebun, and myself?

Danielle Braithwaite Shirley: I love that you’re so direct! They always tell you what they want and need, I love that Ebun is so graceful, and I love Malik’s style and their care in their style.

Who is the best at Super Smash Bros?

Danielle Braithwaite Shirley: It’s between me and Malik. Ebun is rubbish.

@ladydangfua

EBUN SODIPO

How would you describe your practice?

Ebun Sodipo: I’m interested in loss, despair, and history. As a marginalised person, I relate that to trauma, working with collage, film, and text. How do I properly represent this trauma without falling into traps?

How does living and being around us affect your life, survival, and art?

Ebun Sodipo: It’s beautiful to be affirmed, heard, and seen. It’s so beneficial for my practice and survival. For my politics to grow, change, and be shaped by our relationships is important. I don’t think outside of my parents, I’ve ever felt more cared for than I do with us four.

What is one thing you love about Danielle, Malik, and myself?

Ebun Sodipo: I love Danielle’s sharp tongue, she can render flesh from your bones with a couple of words, it’s chilling! I love how loud Travis is, they take up energy but in such a giving way. Even when they are down, they still give to people and spark things in people. I love Malik’s relaxing energy and relation to me, I feel I can just be, they always meet me where I am at. They’re emotionally intuitive.

Who is the best at Super Smash Bros?

Ebun Sodipo: Danielle. She is a gamer.

@epastry

MALIK NASHAD SHARPE

How would you describe your practice?

Malik Nashad Sharpe: I am a choreographer, and I work with dance and live art. I make work that tries to articulate possibility. Creating possibility as a way to humanise marginalised experiences and people. Making work that tries to rescue representation away from whiteness.

How does living and being around us affect your life, survival, and art?

Malik Nashad Sharpe: Being in a community with other black and trans people gives me reason to continue to make work, and I learn so much by being in proximity to the many complex experiences that we all face. It feeds me. It is more expansive.

What is one thing you love about Ebun, Danielle, and myself?

Malik Nashad Sharpe: I love that Ebun loves things that grow, I love Danielle’s directness and clarity and her whole vision. I love that Travis is a ride or die girl, you can see that in her writing.

Who is the best at Super Smash Bros?

Malik Nashad Sharpe: To be honest Danielle is the best, but I won with Lucina so...

@marikiscrycrycry