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Akeelah Blue

Source: Screenshots / Ernest Owens

Call her by her name: Akeelah.  

The Selma, Alabama, native has fought all her life for those around her to identify her as female. Now, Akeelah Blu, 31, says she’s “living her wildest dreams” as the star of the Emmy-Award nominated docuseries “We’re Here.” 

“Someone from the show found me on the dating app Grindr and the rest was history,” Blue says of when she was first discovered by HBO in spring of 2020. “Then the pandemic didn’t go away as soon as we thought and we had to wait until this May before cameras rolled.”

 

On the show, now in its second season, Akeelah navigates life as a Black transgender woman in a still segregated and ultra-conservative part of the country. In the fourth episode, drag queen powerhouse Bob the Queen mentors Akeelah as she prepares for her first major live performance in drag before members of her community. But first, she must tackle the tough conversations with family, friends, and others around properly identifying her as the “proud Black dark-skin transgender woman” that she is. Some of  the hurdles she faced was getting those who’ve known her through her youth-empowerment work to stop using her deadname (the name given to transgender people at birth that no longer represents how they identify).  

“Selma is home, but it’s not safe for women like me,” Akeelah says about her upbringing. “I’ve had gay brothers killed when those on the DL were afraid of being outed. I’ve had guns pulled out on me before with men who thought others would see us. Doing this show has made me stronger because I was able to get out of the ashes of victimhood and show my strength.” 

During the episode, viewers also see another side of Akeelah — one that involves her romantic relationship with her then-boyfriend-now-fiancé who she first met during the pandemic. The two were both sex workers who aquired clients on Grindr, but has since left the occupation altogether when they “realized our love for each other got real.” 

“I’m madly in love with a strong Black man who is my gladiator,” Akeelah says with joy. “He protects me and cares for me unconditionally. Women like me are often told we have to look elsewhere for this kind of love, but I found him where I was at in my truth. It was important to me that the show showed us together.” 

But the journey to “truth and realness” hasn’t been easy. Since quitting sex work, Akeelah says that finding consistent work has been hard. As a subject of an episode, she wasn’t compensated by HBO, and the discrimination her fiancé has faced by others for being public with her has put them in displacement. Fortunately, with the support of members of the show and other friends, the couple have begun to secure stable housing and the promise of newer opportunities.  

“Being true to yourself and the person you love comes with sacrifices, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Akeelah says on the current obstacles she’s overcoming. “We have relocated from Selma and have new people in our lives that support us and believe in our dreams. Bob the Drag Queen is my mother. She’s really come through for us, in addition to a woman I’ve always considered family, Tarana.” 

 Yes, Tarana as in Tarana Burke, the creator of the ‘me too.’ Movement 

 RELATED CONTENT: Tarana Burke On Living Well, Writing And The Future Of The ‘me too.’ Movement

While living in Selma, Tarana had co-founded an organization called Just Be Ink that was rooted in building self-worth for young women in the community. Akeelah was a dance instructor for one of the programs within the nonprofit and We’re Here explores her relationship with some of the dancers she mentored there.  

“I taught so many girls how to be women in that program,” Akeelah said of her time at Just Be Ink. “Tarana embraced me and loved me like nobody I knew. We helped a lot of young girls who struggled with confidence feel empowered. It kept me alive.”

Today, Akeelah wants people to simply “respect and love everybody.” Reading headlines about comedian Dave Chappelle’s recent controversy around the transgender community has made her simply “bored.” 

“I don’t hate Dave, but at some point I wish he would just leave us out of it,” Akeelah says in regards to complaints of his latest Netflix special The Closer being transphobic. “We as transgender people are never left out of the jokes. They are always coming for us in everything. My entire life has been filled with nothing but people constantly having something to say about us. I know Dave comes for a lot of different people, but given what we’ve gone through as a people, I would appreciate it if he just kept our lives out of his mouth.” 

But beyond what she wants those outside of the community to stop doing, Akeelah keeps it “completely 100” about what others to do instead. 

“Say my name, respect my name, and let’s just love people for who they are,” she concludes. “Seriously, you don’t have to understand someone’s entire life to love on them. That’s all we really need across the board. Too much is happening in the world for us not to just simply put some love on people’s name.”  

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