Redefining Womanhood: A Sit Down With Zola Makeda
Updated: Aug 21, 2019
LGBTQ history is Black history, and intersectionality is really important. We recently sat down Zola, a Black trans woman, who is a physical manifestation of this sentiment.
It is a mild, calm spring day. At the top of the stairs stands a young, Black woman with her hands resting at her waist. Her hands fall and her black denim jacket shifts along with it. It is adorned with multiple patches that give it a vintage touch. She shares a friendly smile that beams from ear to ear, and walks down the concrete steps.
She formally introduces herself and invites us into her home.
The sun fills the living room with a warm aura, and offers an inviting energy to the space. This is only magnified by the home décor. The walls carry paintings and posters that highlight the quirkiness and love for nostalgia the owners possess. Everything feels familiar, even at first introduction.
A piano is found to the right of the door, and Zola walks over to it after welcoming us into her home. Atop the piano sit empty bottles of alcohol, a ceramic bear, a few plants and a cup holding incense. After making eye contact with the incense, she immediately burns it.
At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss the piano as a piece of furniture doubling as a table that fits the aesthetic of the room. However, after being prompted to play, Zola’s fingers effortlessly begin to gently glide over the keys as she starts to play a beautiful melody. Just as the music begins filling the room, her playing is cut short by a phone call.
As a leader in the Black and Brown Trans organization, Molasses, Zola is usually the first person of contact when things arise. She excuses herself from the piano to answer. She begins pacing around the room answering questions asked on the other side of the call. The sun’s rays are still hugging the room, and almost act as reminder that the plants are thirsty. Zola grabs a spray bottle and begins showering the plants as she continues the phone call. A few more moments pass by before she offers an apology.
“Sorry,” Zola says at the conclusion of the call. She explains how Molasses recently hosted an event and is ensuring that people get paid.
Zola looks over at the interview space curated while she was on the phone. She sits down and adjusts herself until she finds a position that is comfortable. She fingers through the front of her dreads, and splits the hair so her face is fully visible. She looks directly into the camera and offers that same friendly smile.
Formerly known as Najee, Zola is a Trans Black woman here in Chicago. The prgrssn family had the great privilege to interview her back in April to highlight the “Building Blocks of Fashion” event we hosted. However, our conversation with Zola was less about fashion, and more about how she unapologetically walks in her truth.
“I don’t care about making other people comfortable by way of compromising my own identity or my own experience or who I am as an individual because that should never be a question or a request that anyone makes of you. It is highly unacceptable.”
“You should not feel pressured to only exist within one realm of this and not explore all the beautiful other colorful interpretations of the gender spectrum in terms of masculine and feminine expression just because you’re a trans woman.”
Zola explains how gender is a spectrum, and she does not allow society to place her in a box that does not allow her to explore this as transwoman.
“There is no woman on the planet who doesn’t exist within multiple realms of masculine and feminine attributes throughout her entire life, and that is okay for you to do—and you should not feel pressured to only exist within one realm of this and not explore all the beautiful other colorful interpretations of the gender spectrum in terms of masculine and feminine expression just because you’re a trans woman.”
After spending the afternoon with her, we were moved by her story and the work she does with trans/queer community in Chicago. Zola is a leader in Molasses, which is an organization that seeks to create a space for both Black and Brown creatives in Chicago to express themselves.
We recognize there are not enough platforms such as Molasses and prgrssn wanted to support the work they do. Using some of the profit from our “Black Women Are The Future” collection, we were able to donate to Molasses for their Pride Month celebration this past June. This donation was a no-brainer as our collection focused on Gay Liberation activist, Marsha P. Johnson, who was a Black trans woman that helped lead the Stonewall Riots in 1969.
Check out the full interview below and share with loved ones you believe would enjoy.