“Happiness epitomized is me dancing in the middle of the room; in the moment I forget my gender and only remember what it is to have a body and not what my body is.”
By Naomi Barling.
Kai-Isaiah Jamal is a spoken word poet, performer, and visibility activist who has used their journey to open an honest dialogue about life as a TPOC. Their work centers on exploring, understanding, and dismantling social norms and creating thought-provoking responses to issues their community face.
What advice do you wish you were given at the start of your transition?
It will never be a straight line, linear isn’t something that can coexist with an experience like this. Have fun with it, take time, sometimes your very breath is the revolution.
What has been the hardest lesson for you so far?
That some bodies and minds cannot always do what one’s heart sets out to, no matter how much you want it. Medically transitioning almost made me lose everything – myself included. Not because it’s bad or unsafe but because of pre-existing conditions I have. Making the leap from the identity I had molded for myself as a trans man to a gender non-conforming person wasn’t easy. Being a public figure means so much of yourself you are giving, justifying, explaining. It broke my heart and equally freed it at the same time. Like I said, it will never be linear.
Secondly, the world will try to erase you even while you exist. I’m learning to navigate that now. Some days it’s a lot!
What does happiness mean to you?
Euphoria. Being alive, breathing, and smiling. Finding love, realizing that was something I was allowed to have access to. Happiness epitomized is me dancing in the middle of the room; in the moment I forget my gender and only remember what it is to have a body and not what my body is.
Can you explain feeling unseen by society, and what can be done to dismantle the narratives we see in the media?
It feels like watching the world go by and being outside of it. Like being stuck in a void of nothingness. As a T boy there was a lot of invisibility, that kind of birthed my gender non-conformity and my necessity to be something and someone that was seen and seen how I wanted to be.
I want to see fat trans bodies, joyous gender non-conformity, differently abled non-binary people, not just trans models but trans parents and lovers and elders. I want to see Black gay trans men and Black trans women who push our ideas of womanhood. I want to see trans people on covers that don’t adhere to Western beauty standards, I want dark-skinned trans people in underwear, I want weird and kinky and not just those of us you want to fuck. I want trans CEOs and trans kids who already know who they are. I want the normalization of us in mainstream media, so we don’t have to cling onto the one or two visions we are given.
What advice can you give to TPOC who are at the start of their journey toward self-acceptance?
Your comfortability will ALWAYS come before their curiosity. “No” is the most powerful word in the world. If they silence you, we will be your voice. I promise we are trying to make the world different for you, none of you will be left or lost.
P.S. It will take time, I still haven’t got there either – don’t rush kid, the whole thing is a playground. Gender is one big playground. Find a way to have fun with it.
P.P.S. Look for trans joy. Don’t let your pain become your identity. It’s a superpower. What we are isn’t wrong, the world is.
What would you tell your younger self?
So much, I actually have an open letter to myself on the internet that is a big ol’ tear-jerker. But mainly this: right now you are flying back home on a plane with your fiancé to the stable home you never thought you’d have, and tomorrow you are shooting your second front cover this year. You didn’t have a mirror so you became one and I’m so proud of you, I am so proud of us. We survived kiddo. I’m sorry for any time I was unkind to you, to us. Please learn to trust, please forgive those who deserve it, please don’t shut yourself out forever. One day you’ll wake up and all of the pain will have been turned into poetry, and there will be room to breathe. Pay your taxes, accept love and never stop writing – it will change your life forever.
What lesson has 2020 taught you?
That one year can feel longer than all 24 put together. A new world is coming, and I hope when we look back, I’ll be part of the sector of society that birthed its brilliance. I really do hope that.