by Mia McKenzie
With the so-called controversy surrounding New York DJ Mr. Cee making news recently, the question of men being attracted to transwomen, and the conversations surrounding it, have been brought out into the mainstream media in a way we’ve maybe never seen before. Thanks to brilliant writer Janet Mock, who wrote this piece about the shaming of men who love transwomen, and actress Laverne Cox, who spoke eloquently and passionately alongside Mock on Huff Post Live in this must-see segment, a conversation that started out being yet another opportunity for people to stigmatize men who are attracted to transwomen, while ridiculing and dismissing transwomen themselves as “fake” women who are undeserving of men’s attention, has instead turned into a conversation about that shaming and how it impacts the lives of trans* women everywhere. Mock wrote in her piece:
The shame that society attaches to these men, specifically attacking their sexuality and shaming their attraction, directly affects trans women. It affects the way we look at ourselves. It amplifies our body-image issues, our self-esteem, our sense of possibility, of daring for greatness, of aiming for something or somewhere greater. If a young trans woman believes that the only way she can share intimate space with a man is through secret hookups, bootycalls or transaction, she will be led to engage in risky sexual behaviors that make her more vulnerable to criminalization, disease and violence; she will be led to coddle a man who takes out his frustrations about his sexuality on her with his fists; she will be led to question whether she’s worthy enough to protect herself with a condom when a man tells her he loves her; she will be led to believe that she is not worthy of being seen, that being seen heightens her risk of violence therefore she must hide who she is at all costs in order to survive.
The world can be a particularly dangerous place for transwomen and the shaming of men who love them only adds to that danger.
Enter singer KOKUMO and her new music video for her song, There Will Come a Day, which tells the story of a transwoman struggling with the fear of coming out to a man she is dating and the heartwrenching aftermath of her finally revealing all of who she is. It is a powerful video that speaks directly to what Mock, Cox, and so many other transwomen are saying.
More than anything, though, it is a testament to the amazing talent that is KOKUMO. Her voice, her presence, and her energy reaches out to us from the south side of Chicago and stops us in our tracks, wherever we are. The first time I listened to her EP, titled There Will Come A Day, I listened to it for hours on repeat. Now the release of her amazing, haunting video adds even more poignancy to the words she sings.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask KOKUMO some questions about her life and her work.
BGD: When did you first know you were a singer?
KOKUMO: I knew I was a singer when unrehearsed, I was able to harmonize with the jingle from a Lipton Iced Tea commercial in the the 90′s. I had this innate desire to sound flawless, project, have resonance, exercise control and display power. At first I wanted to sound just like the woman singing, but the more I saw it the more I pushed myself to sound better. I knew I was an artist when the rage of being a plus-size, dark-skinned, poor, and a black transwoman from the South Side of Chicago couldn’t be adequately expressed anyway other than through music.
BGD: When did you first know that you were trans?
KOKUMO: I didn’t know I was trans until I was 21. Meaning I knew I felt trans but I didn’t have access to the language to “describe” myself until I met privileged people who did. Insert jibe at the educational industrial complex here.
BGD: What was it like growing up on the south side of Chicago as a trans girl?
KOKUMO: Beautiful. Discouraging. Fun. Formative.
Everything I am is because of the South Side of Chicago. Growing up exposed first-hand to the results of capitalism taught me that ignorance isn’t something people choose but inherit. The people on the South Side of Chicago, just like the people in every other urban and rural lower-class community don’t give up on their dreams, they have them beaten out of them. You start off optimistic but first your father gets sent away, your brother gets killed, and your mother can’t console you because she’s got to feed you and your siblings. The scenarios go on longer than I can. In summation, growing up on the South Side of Chicago taught me what people in Phd. and Master’s programs pay to learn about sociology, physiology, economics, and philosophy. Making it out of the South of Chicago made me an expert in the human condition. And me triumphing over all of this while being trans is further proof of the power of black transwomen, because I’m only one out of millions.
BGD: Why do you sing?
KOKUMO: I sung while being sexually abused. Art is both my escape and confrontation of society.
BGD: How did singing help you grow, change, accept and express yourself?
Singing gives me the opportunity to create accessible beauty. In a world and life of rejection and belittlement freedom and possibility exist within each melody. Via music I get to create the reality I don’t know but deserve.
BGD: What other singers inspired you, both as a young person and now?
KOKUMO: Sylvester, Sylvester, and Sylvester.
BGD: What is your favorite song to sing?
KOKUMO: There Will Come A Day, the lead single off of my debut EP by the same name. I find myself more often than not thinking that I’ll never be loved and grow old alone. Hence the reason I wrote There Will Come A Day. It gives me hope, even if it’s false, it’s hope. And false hope is better than no hope.
BGD: Your new video for There Will Come A Day tells the story of a trans* woman in love with a man whom she has not come out to as trans* and the anticipation of fear and violence that happens when she finally does. How do you think discussions around incidents like the Mr. Cee controversy contribute to trans* women being so vulnerable to this kind of violence?
KOKUMO: In the immortal words of Nikki Giovanni, “I see the world and everybody in it as a product of the black woman”. Unfortunately, most people don’t share that vision, adversely, they see black women as objects of sex, labor, and entertainment. Therefore, one should be able to logically deduce that if black ciswomanhood is misunderstood of course black transwomanhood will be. And moments like this make the salient point that doing “community building” and “activism” as a black transwoman revolutionary means nothing if it’s not in tangent with non-trans black women and people. Black trans people are invisible and oppressed within black communities, because black people are invisible and oppressed to the world. And oppression is how people demonstrate power in capitalistic and patriarchal societies. And people only feel behooved to demonstrate power when all of theirs has been taken from them. And black people’s power has been not only taken from them, but weaponized against them. Hence, a movement black cis people should consider more widely is the one when they stop demonstrating their power on black transpeople and start demonstrating it on non-black people, specifically white people. Therefore, I propose cis black people put down their bibles and pick up their trans children. That book can’t die of AIDS, assault, or loneliness. But we will. We have.
BGD: Do you see trans* woman visibility as a problem in queer communities? If so, where do you think it comes from?
KOKUMO: I actually think that due to grant purposes and media sensationalism trans women are very visible. But in lieu of what I just stated, that’s what problematic. We aren’t typically visible for the revolutionary work we fund ourselves and create, but we’re used as involuntary mascots. Or were only mentioned in queer circles and dominate society after we’ve been victimized. Beauty without power is exploitation. I’ve grown tired of being the face, 2014 KOKUMOMEDIA INC. becomes the force.
BGD: What’s next for KOKUMO?
KOKUMO: My second EP will be released concurrently with T.G.I.F. 2014: Unshackling My Body July 13, 2014 in Chicago. And T.G.I.F. 2014 is privileged to be hosted by Angelica Ross and have the iconoclastic Louis Mitchell among others delivering keynote addresses. Also, my feature film The Faggot Who Could Fly will be available for purchase and screening next year. And what I’m most excited about is the launch of my digital magazine, KOKUMO. KOKUMO magazine will focus on all things black, trans, and revolutionary. And so far we’re privileged to be working with everyone from Laverne Cox, Kylar Broadus, Monica Roberts, Louis Mitchell and just about any other black trans luminary you can fathom. KOKUMO magazine will be a seasonal digital publication available exclusively via KOKUMOMEDIA.COM. 2014 is year one of my five year plan. Black trans people have always been entrepreneurs, I believe now’s the time to advance that practice. I don’t just sell, I own.
Get KOKUMO’s EP, available free for download at KOKUMOMEDIA.COM
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Congratulations to BGD creator Mia McKenzie, whose novel, The Summer We Got Free, is the WINNER of the Lambda Literary Award! Get It Here