Isn’t She Lovely?

Photos By Andy Karol and Kiam Marcelo Junio

Simply put, the artist known as KOKUMO is one the most beautiful Trans women of color that you will ever meet.  The Chicago born and raised poet, singer, and activist founded KOKUMOMEDIA, Incorporated,  a multimedia production company that uses music, film, and philanthropy to illuminate the experiences of Trans and intersex people of color.  In July 2012, she organized Trans Gender Non-Conforming, Intersex Freedom (T.G.I.F), an annual gathering for TGI activists, artists, and allies. How much do I love her? I cannot begin to count the ways.

PRIDEINDEX: How are you? It is so great to talk you. I was supposed to get with you last year, but scheduling conflicts prevented it.

KOKUMO: It is great to talk to you.

PI: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became an activist.

KK: My name is KOKUMO, and I am a proud black woman from the Southside of Chicago.  I am a multimedia artist.  I am a survivor of sexual abuse and violence.  I never look at it like those things that have ruined my life. I choose to see them as things that I must see in a different light.  Being a survivor forces you to develop yourself…you can choose to go insane or channel all the rage that you built.  That’s why I have developed KOKUMO MEDIA, Inc., which is my multimedia production company that uses music film and philanthropy to illuminate the experiences of Trans and intersex people of color.  We have some great things going on like my EP, which was just released in February of this year.  My second album, I Will Not Be Denied will be out next year.  My play will be available later this year at KOKUMOMEDIA  I am also working on TGIF.

PI: I was very excited and proud that you produced TGIF, the first Trans Pride Event of its kind.

KK:  Well, let me just say that we are trying to get away from calling it a Trans pride Event.  It’s a rare event because it is a rally and a picnic and the first of its kind in Chicago, but it is not a Pride for the TGI community.  There are few other events that are just for the Trans community.  There is the Trans March in New York City, the Trans Pride in San Francisco, and a there’s also a Trans event in Flint, Michigan…TGIF is the first of its caliber.

PI: Tell us a little bit about your fundraising activities for this year’s TGIF.

KK: Me and the fabulous co-organizers of the TGIF are working to raise $10,000…KOKUMOMEDIA, Inc. is a start-up company, so there really aren’t any funds.  Last year, we had 350 people show up for that first event… We feel like this is a community event, and [the community] has pitched in [to help us raise money]. We’ve raised a cute amount of money.  On the 20th [of April], we had a computer launch party with internet access for people to donate some money.  We also have some cute little commercials made up for the TGIF, and we are going to just have some fun.

PI: Where will that fundraiser take place?

KK:  The fundraiser already took place at a private residence in the beautiful community of Edgewater.   There are other events coming up {where people can donate.}

PI:  What if I cannot make it to any of your events, can I send a donation to you online or though the mail or some other way?

KK:  If you are interested in making a donation, the best thing to do is to contact me via email, and I will give you more information. Our fiscal sponsor is Affinity Community Services.  They do such work nationally and locally.

PI: Let’s talk about the Trans 100 list and what took place. Will there be plan to have another event?

KK:  The Trans 100 is first of event of its kind where people of color and the Trans community’s agenda were prioritized.  I was so honored to be a part of it .it.  The Trans 100 is an annual event, so this is only the beginning. It was beautiful.

PI: Last year at the Esteem Awards, I was blown away by your performance.  I’ve heard through others that you are a good performer; I would love for you to come out and perform this year.

KK: Oh yes, most definitely!!

PI:   Where do you find the inspiration for the songs you cover in your music and what themes do you cover?

KK: Simply put, I knew that I wanted to be Whitney Houston. (pauses…then resumes) I struggled for a long time, and I am still struggling [with] how I can be Trans and how I can be a musician and be successful.  There came a point early on in my life when I had to ask myself the question, Am I just a boy?  I always felt like I was a girl…There came a point where I had to decide how I can do this [become Trans]. Then I saw people like Sylvester and Angelica Ross, Trans and black non-conforming black musicians, and I knew that it could be done and done well. And the way that it can be done is by being honest. That’s where I do my art from an honest place.  My art comes from a place of accepting my black Trans woman hood.  It comes from accepting the fact that I am a woman of size, accepting the fact that I am dark-skinned, and accepting the fact that I am a survivor of sexual abuse and domestic violence. It’s comes from accepting the fact that I’m accepting and creating art that’s [relevant] in [light] of those experiences.  That’s what my art is all about making space for the other.

PI:   Who are some of your mentors?

KK: I loved Lois Bates.  She was one of the first professional black Trans women that I met.  I would also say Mercedes Bonet.  They were first black Trans women that I met that actually had jobs. They were not on the Jerry Springer Show, but they were doing something to give back to the community.  As a musician once again, I would have to say Sylvester.  Sylvester had a similar story to mine being from the lower middle class, being a musician, and also survivor of sexual abuse.  I remember seeing a video of Sylvester on the Joan Rivers Show performing just before he died and that inspired me.  It is just seeing someone do what [they] want to do.

PI:  I have to ask about that cutie pie that performed with you last year’s Esteem Awards.  Was that your boyfriend?

KK: (Laughs) That was Jonathan. (Laughs)

PI:  I thought that he was your boyfriend because you really vibed during the performance.

KK:  You thought that was my boyfriend? (Laughs) I love it.  That was a fellow musician named Jonathan who performs with the Black Youth Project.  He’s is a genius, very innovative, and I was honored to perform with him.   Jonathan is a beautiful person.  (Laughs) Jonathan went to Southeast Asia a couple of weeks after we performed with me.

PI:  If that was not your boyfriend or “boy toy” or “friend-toy,” do you have a significant other that you would like to tell us about.

KK:  No, I do not have a boyfriend; I am so busy.  I have so many dreams and projects that I am working on right now.  I am working on a magazine and will be enrolling in an MBA program later this fall in addition to [releasing] an album.  I just do not have time to date.  And the crux of being a black Trans woman makes it hard to date because folks don’t really know how to love us.  There are plenty of people who know how to objectify us but they don’t really know who to love us.  Well, at least that has been what I have experienced.  I just find myself always working, but I know that I will him someday working in the music field.

PI:  If our readers would like for you to perform for them and wear the crowd out like you did for us last year and like you will do for this year at the Esteem Awards, what should they do?

KK:  They can go to my website KOKUMOMEDIA and check out my EP.  The can contact me via email.

PI: What are your plans for the future?

KK:  I have my multimedia company; I want it to become a viable entity.  I want it to make a lot of money.  I am working on a play along with the beautiful Iman Krutcher, the artistic director and co-founder of Earth Collective.   We’re working on play about a Trans woman and a queer woman who fall in love.  I am working on play with other black Trans woman.  It’s a beautiful life, and every day is not easy, but I am happy that I am doing it.  [I am also working on] RISE, a digital magazine dedicated to the black Trans community, Trans masculine, Trans feminine, and Trans queer. I am so happy to be working with Jeannine Watkins who is the editor and chief.  It will be available exclusively through in spring 2014.

To donate to 2013 TGIF Rally visit