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It's really difficult for him to blend in, so he doesn't anymore.

Here's what it looks like when you truly embrace who you are.

It's really difficult for him to blend in, so he doesn't anymore.
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The Atlantic Philanthropies

Dipped in white paint, Umlilo is wearing a long, flowered skirt.

His hair is swept up by bandages covering his face, accented by blue and green makeup.


"How I dress and how I like to do my hair — a lot of things seem to not reflect exactly what everybody else expects."

The musician makes no apologies for his unconventional appearance in his music video "Magic Man."

He describes the song as "a personal story of me traveling through life and trying to figure out where I fit in. ... I'm constantly aware of being this young, queer, black South African." His lyrics dive deeper into his message:

“Live in a world where you're either man or woman,

black or white, Christian or heathen.

The roadway you're supposed to walk morally,

how bright with your beliefs intact.

Then comes the oppressor with his artifacts,

when someone who's never fitted in.

I always look beyond that road.

It ain't easy being him."

In a place where being openly gay and/or transgender is considered "un-African" and could possibly get you killed, despite protection from the South African constitution, Umlilo uses music as a personal tool for freedom. He enjoys playing with the strict perceptions people have around gender roles and bending them until they break.


So he doesn't.

Umlilo stands out and stands up for LGBTQQ rights through his music. Once people are drawn in by his striking appearance, he talks to them about what really matters.

"People's lives are at stake. I think we're finding ourselves in the same conundrum as we did with fighting for black pride. Now, it's who you love and your sexuality. ... If people make that connection, they can see the humanity in it."

Because of Umlilo's bold voice, some media outlets are already calling him a brand ambassador for South African LGBTQQ youth.

Vice's Noisey says:

Umlilo "is a shining queer voice from a continent often mired in homophobia. ... He's a singer whose art is activism, without getting in your face about it."

Africa is a Country adds:

"His presence is demonstrating that there can be space in urban South African youth culture for an open embrace of queer/trans aesthetics, despite the challenges that those communities face in daily life."

While these words are undoubtedly cool, Umlilo says that he's not necessarily the mouthpiece for all LGBTQQ youth of color. He's just sharing his story, hoping to incite change.

"I've been brave enough with this one to be able to write about me and turn the focus onto the personal rather than any kind of larger scale."

By sharing his perspective, he hopes to raise more awareness about the need for equal treatment for LGBTQQ people globally.

To hear more from Umlilo, check out this clip from "Magic Man."

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