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.

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."

More
True
The Atlantic Philanthropies
via bfmamatalk / facebook

Where did we go wrong as a society to make women feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public?

No one should feel they have the right to tell a woman when, where, and how she can breastfeed. The stigma should be placed on those who have the nerve to tell a woman feeding her child to "Cover up" or to ask "Where's your modesty?"

Breasts were made to feed babies. Yes, they also have a sexual function but anyone who has the maturity of a sixth grader knows the difference between a sexual act and feeding a child.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / JLo

The Me Too movement has shed light on just how many actresses have been placed in positions that make them feel uncomfortable. Abuse of power has been all too commonplace. Some actresses have been coerced into doing something that made them uncomfortable because they felt they couldn't say no to the director. And it's not always as flagrant as Louis C.K. masturbating in front of an up-and-coming comedian, or Harvey Weinstein forcing himself on actresses in hotel rooms.

But it's important to remember that you can always firmly put your foot down and say no. While speaking at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Actress Roundtable, Jennifer Lopez opened up about her experiences with a director who behaved inappropriately. Laura Dern, Awkwafina, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, and Renee Zellweger were also at the roundtable.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Life for a shelter dog, even if it's a comfortable shelter administered by the ASPCA with as many amenities as can be afforded, is still not the same as having the comfort and safety of a forever home. Professional violinist Martin Agee knows that and that's why he volunteers himself and his instrument to help.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

Believe
True
Macy's