Video

19-Year-Old South African Slam Poet Lee Mokobe Delivers A Powerful Poem On Being Trans

19-year-old South African slam poet Lee Mokobe delivers a powerful poem on being transgender at the TEDWomen 2015 conference.


Lee Mokobe speaking at TEDWomen2015. Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

Last month, South African slam poet and the youngest TED2015 Fellow Lee Mokobe was invited to give a talk as part of the TEDWomen conference in Monterey, California. During the event, the 19-year old poet and activist, whose work deals with social injustice and gender identity issues, delivered a stirring autobiographical poem in which he came out as transgender. "I was the mystery of an anatomy, a question asked but not answered, tightroping between awkward boy and apologetic girl, and when I turned 12, the boy phase wasn't deemed cute anymore," the Cape Town-born founder of South African youth poetry slam team Vocal Revolutionaries said.

Watch Lee Mokobe address the history of his gender expression, suicide rates among trans youth, and the recent media focus on Caitlyn Jenner in the video below. For more, revisit our interview with the rising poet. Mokobe is currently raising funds to attend his final Brave New Voices International Youth Slam Poetry Festival in Atlanta next month.

"The first time I uttered a prayer was in a glass-stained cathedral.

I was kneeling long after the congregation was on its feet,

dip both hands into holy water,

trace the trinity across my chest,

my tiny body drooping like a question mark

all over the wooden pew.

I asked Jesus to fix me,

and when he did not answer

I befriended silence in the hopes that my sin would burn

and salve my mouth would dissolve like sugar on tongue,

but shame lingered as an aftertaste.

And in an attempt to reintroduce me to sanctity,

my mother told me of the miracle I was,

said I could grow up to be anything I want.

I decided to be a boy.

It was cute.

I had snapback, toothless grin,

used skinned knees as street cred,

played hide and seek with what was left of my goal.

I was it.

The winner to a game the other kids couldn't play,

I was the mystery of an anatomy,

a question asked but not answered,

tightroping between awkward boy and apologetic girl,

and when I turned 12, the boy phase wasn't deemed cute anymore.

It was met with nostalgic aunts who missed seeing my knees in the shadow of skirts,

who reminded me that my kind of attitude would never bring a husband home,

that I exist for heterosexual marriage and child-bearing.

And I swallowed their insults along with their slurs.

Naturally, I did not come out of the closet.

The kids at my school opened it without my permission.

Called me by a name I did not recognize,

said "lesbian,"

but I was more boy than girl, more Ken than Barbie.

It had nothing to do with hating my body,

I just love it enough to let it go,

I treat it like a house,

and when your house is falling apart,

you do not evacuate,

you make it comfortable enough to house all your insides,

you make it pretty enough to invite guests over,

you make the floorboards strong enough to stand on.

My mother fears I have named myself after fading things.

As she counts the echoes left behind by Mya Hall, Leelah Alcorn, Blake Brockington.

She fears that I'll die without a whisper,

that I'll turn into "what a shame" conversations at the bus stop.

She claims I have turned myself into a mausoleum,

that I am a walking casket,

news headlines have turned my identity into a spectacle,

Bruce Jenner on everyone's lips while the brutality of living in this body

becomes an asterisk at the bottom of equality pages.

No one ever thinks of us as human

because we are more ghost than flesh,

because people fear that my gender expression is a trick,

that it exists to be perverse,

that it ensnares them without their consent,

that my body is a feast for their eyes and hands

and once they have fed off my queer,

they'll regurgitate all the parts they did not like.

They'll put me back into the closet, hang me with all the other skeletons.

I will be the best attraction.

Can you see how easy it is to talk people into coffins,

to misspell their names on gravestones.

And people still wonder why there are boys rotting,

they go away in high school hallways

they are afraid of becoming another hashtag in a second

afraid of classroom discussions becoming like judgment day

and now oncoming traffic is embracing more transgender children than parents.

I wonder how long it will be

before the trans suicide notes start to feel redundant,

before we realize that our bodies become lessons about sin

way before we learn how to love them.

Like God didn't save all this breath and mercy,

like my blood is not the wine that washed over Jesus' feet.

My prayers are now getting stuck in my throat.

Maybe I am finally fixed,

maybe I just don't care,

maybe God finally listened to my prayers."

Music
Photo by Timothy Norris/Getty Images

Wizkid, Tems, Black Coffee & More Nominated For 2022 Grammy Awards

See the full list of African artists honored during Tuesday's nomination ceremony.

Next year's Grammy nominations are in and Africa showed up and out!

The 64th annual Grammy music awards are on the horizon, and Tuesday's nomination ceremony covered a lot of ground within the music industry. Not surprisingly, Wizkid's Made In Lagos (Deluxe) received a nod for Best Global Music album, with the stellar and globally adorned track "Essence" featuring Nigeria's Tems being nominated for Best Global Music Performance. Nigerian favorites Femi and Made Kuti's joint project Legacy+ received a nomination under the Best Global Music Album category.

Other notable nods include; Beninese singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo's collaboration with Nigerian powerhouse Burna Boy, as well her performance with American cellist Yo-Yo Ma received under the Global Music Performance category. South Africa's Black Coffee's album Subconsciously made its mark within the Best Dance/Electronic Music Album category with his own nomination, and Ghanaian artist Rocky Dawuni under Best Global Music Album.

The music ceremony will be hosted in Los Angeles, US on January 31 2022 and we're excited to see who snags the highly coveted awards during next year's ceremony. In the meantime, let us know on Twitter who you're excited to see perform.

Keep scrolling to see the full list of African artists nominated for next year's Grammy award ceremony.

Check out the full list of nominees here.

Best Global Music Performance

"Mohabbat," Arooj Aftab

"Do Yourself," Angelique Kidjo and Burna Boy

"Pà Pá Pà," Femi Kuti

"Blewu," Yo-Yo Ma and Angelique Kidjo

"Essence," Wizkid featuring Tems

Best Global Music Album

"Voice Of Bunbon, Vol. 1," Rocky Dawuni

"East West Players Presents: Daniel Ho and Friends Live in Concert," Daniel Ho and Friends

"Mother Nature," Angelique Kidjo

"Legacy +," Femi Kuti and Made Kuti

"Made In Lagos: Deluxe Edition," Wizkid

Best Dance/Electronic Music Album

"Subconsciously," Black Coffee

"Fallen Embers," Illenium

"Music Is the Weapon (Reloaded)," Major Lazer

"Shockwave," Marshmello

"Free Love," Sylvan Esso

"Judgement," Ten City

get okayafrica in your inbox

popular.

Mini Cho and the Renaissance of African Surf Culture

Competitive surfing helped Mini Cho find his place in the world. Now he wants to bring other Mozambicans into the fold.