Artist of the Month Anjimile on Overcoming Addiction, the Power of Ancestry, and Being Black and Trans Under Trump

The singer-songwriter discusses his personal journey and insightful debut album, Giver Taker

Anjimile Artist of the Month

Artist of the Month is an accolade we award to an up-and-coming artist who we believe is about to break out. In September, we focus our attention on Anjimile, a queer Black indie troubadour deeply inspired by Sufjan Stevens.

At age 27, Anjimile has already died many times. But it’s the triumphant rebirths that are most celebrated on his insightfully raw, yet tender debut album, Giver Taker, due out later this week on Father/Daughter Records.

Raised in Dallas before relocating to Boston, the Black, non-binary trans singer-songwriter (he/him, they/them) makes peace with a destructive former self once consumed by addiction while also discovering his place within his deep Malawian lineage. Perhaps most importantly, he embraces and introduces the world to his new trans identity — for the very first time, his mind, body, and spirit are aligned.

Finally, he is Anjimile inside and out. Reflected in his mirror and yours. Seen and named by himself, his ancestors, and anyone he crosses paths with. Living truthfully, unapologetically, and resiliently in the face of hate and violence.

anjimile giver taker artwork cover Artist of the Month Anjimile on Overcoming Addiction, the Power of Ancestry, and Being Black and Trans Under Trump

Despite the advice of his doctor father and computer programmer mother, Anjimile has poured himself into his music career. And it’s proven to be his most vital outlet.

While change has come year after year, music has remained the constant. The site of emotional battles won and lost; a tool used for all the untangling of life’s complexities; and a record of his deaths and evolution.

Giver Taker is his first release since getting sober and identifying as trans masculine, and when comparing the record to his past output, the contrast is staggering. “It’s wild, it borders on disturbing,” Anjimile tells me, half laughing, but also deadly serious. “I still love that music, but it represents such a different time in my life,” he continues, “and also such a different sound of my voice pre-testosterone.”

As many trans people will tell you, myself included, coming out and living authentically feels both new and yet not. Think of it like unzipping a Halloween costume you had to wear for the last two or three decades — you were always that person under the mask, but now you’re free to actually show yourself.

“When I listen to those [old] tunes now, I’m like ‘holy shit,’” says Anjimile. “It feels like a different person, but it’s not a different person — it’s totally me.” He adds, “It’s weird to kind of construct the bridge between my former self and my current self.”

For Anjimile, who for nearly 10 years identified as a lesbian, he always sensed there was something more to him that wanted to be revealed. But he never quite had the vocabulary to articulate that.

That didn’t stop it from manifesting itself in other ways, though. He and I bond over ‘90s male heartthrobs like Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell and Shawn Hunter from Boy Meets World — or rather, we bond over our realization that we didn’t actually crush on these guys like our teen selves originally thought. We wanted to be them.

Anjimile has come full circle from those days, confessing that he “more or less” dresses like Shawn now, leather jackets, plaid and all. I tell him I’ve given up trying to attain the popular Jonathan Taylor Thomas bangs swoop, but have happily hacked off most of my thick and pin-straight, waist-length hair.

A majority of songs on the new album were written just before officially coming out, but hidden within a few lyrics are clues pointing to his transness. “I’m not just a boy, I’m a man/ I’m not just a man, I’m a god/ I’m not just a god, I’m a maker,” he sings on Giver Taker single “Maker”. It’s like a bit of foreshadowing, subconsciously acknowledging the person behind the mask. That person who badly wants to break the binary, and whose gender was “assigned” to them according to social constructs built by patriarchy and colonialism.

“I feel like there’s a part of us that is just essential and who we are,” Anjimile says. “And that kind of gets squashed with socialization and assimilation into culture. So it takes some digging as an adult to uncover what was buried.”

Consider Anjimile risen.

Click ahead for our exclusive Artist of the Month interview with Anjimile…

On Knowing He Was Queer Early On, but Repeatedly Being Denied the Chance to Express It

anjimile giver taker new album announce Artist of the Month Anjimile on Overcoming Addiction, the Power of Ancestry, and Being Black and Trans Under Trump

Anjimile, photo by Kannetha Brown

Yeah, honestly, it’s hard to pinpoint [the exact moment] because I knew I was some version of queer without knowing what that word was. Like, I remember being like, “Oh, yay, girls!” [laughs] And perhaps in an overzealous manner for a second or third grader.

And I remember wanting to wear boys clothes, but also not thinking much of it, just being like, “Well, yeah, I would want to do this. This is my vibe. You know, don’t kill my vibe, Mom and Dad.”

My parents weren’t strict, but when I was a kid, I was a self-proclaimed tomboy. Like, I remember I went to Payless with my dad once after Hercules came out. I wanted some Hercules shoes that were this sick blue. But the store people were like, “Oh, those are boys shoes. You have to get these pink shoes.” And I started crying like, “What the hell?” I always had discomfort with traditional expressions of femininity.

My parents also used to make us go to church on Sundays and would always make me wear a dress and tights or pantyhose and like little girl shoes. And every Sunday, I would rip shit. Like throwing a fit every single time.

On the Many Deaths and Rebirths of His identity

First of all, I feel so old. No, I’m not that old. But I just feel so world weary.

I’ve experienced the adoptions of identities and subsequent deaths. That started with me coming out as lesbian, and that was a distinction that felt comfortable and was aligned with who I was for almost a decade. Then, later in college, a couple of my buds introduced me to the term non-binary and genderqueer, and I realized immediately that that was me. That was a distinction that felt more aligned with who I was.

Then I started meeting more queer people and like, engaging in the queer community in Boston and learning more about the concept of trans and the trans umbrella. One of my former partners was a camp counselor at a camp designed to like radicalize youth. She brought me the gender unicorn graphic, and I filled it out and was like, “Oh, I guess I kind of identify as masculine and present more masculine.” And that was when I realized that the gender that I was assigned at birth did not necessarily align with my true view of myself.

The older I get, the more I realize that my identities transform and grow and die and are born again into something else.

On the Hospitalization that Finally Led Him to Seek Treatment for His Addiction

I think that I hit rock bottom, but I had hit rock bottom before my last drink. But for some reason, that time was my rock bottom-est.

So, this time, when I woke up in the hospital for maybe like, the third or fourth time that year, and they asked me if I wanted to go to inpatient treatment for detox, instead of being like, “No,” I said, “Yes.” I’m just gonna throw that one up to the universe.

I think I was just finally tired and in enough pain to just finally say, “I actually can’t do this anymore because I don’t want to die. And I cannot live like this. I don’t know what to do because I can’t stop drinking.”

I got the gift of desperation.

In treatment later, I learned, thanks to the conventional wisdom of doctors and other alcoholics that my alcoholism is not my fault. It’s a disease, but it is my responsibility. And so, I began the process of taking responsibility for my behaviors past and present.

On Reconciling His Trans Identity with His Religion

I used to feel really alienated by religion and religiosity, in large part because of my parents’ reaction to my coming out as a lesbian. Super not pleasant. But over the years, I’ve developed a sense of spirituality that feels more in line with who I am and makes sense to me. And it’s not related to Christianity, or traditional religion, but rather related to me feeling like completely at peace when I’m outside or when the wind blows. Kind of just something as simple as that.

Or I think my spirituality relates a lot to my gut feelings. If I do something shitty, I feel it acutely, and that feeling feels as spiritual to me as the feelings I get when I make positive actions in my life. That’s kind of how my sense of spirituality has developed — it’s action-based, and if I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach, I investigate. I’m like, “Did I cause this? Did I treat somebody poorly? Or is this like generalized anxiety? What is happening?” I place value in my emotions.

On “1978”, the Most “Complex Song” on Giver Taker

I think it has a lot of different meanings for me. I wrote it when I was a couple of months into recovery, kind of doing my whole taking accountability situation and working with another alcoholic to figure out what the fuck my problem was, as compassionately as possible. It was at this time that I started realizing the ways in which I had fucked up in the past, and I started feeling a lot of guilt.

And one thing that getting sober and working with other alcoholics has taught me is how to face guilt and not crumble to it as a destabilizing agent. To kind of recognize the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt can be an indicator that you fucked up, but it also does not mean you are a fuck-up. That was a huge turning point for me.

So “1978” was me reckoning with past behaviors and the ways that I had hurt past partners by just being really selfish and irresponsible. It’s also kind of related to my relationship with my grandma who I never met. It’s kind of an ode to her.

On His Grandmother and the Power of Ancestry

My grandmother on my mom’s side passed away when my mom was pretty young. My mom has told me stories about my grandmother, about how she was a very strong and beautiful and spiritual person. And I feel like her sense of spirituality and her strength pervades my family. Even though she’s passed away, it’s like her strong matriarchal spirit is a part of my family. And it’s inside, like I’ve kind of learned to lean on her as a part of my healing. When I’m feeling isolated or whatever to remember that I’m a part of this lineage.

I was listening to this blog that was talking about praying through ancestors and setting up an altar. It was like a hippie blog. The person said queer people have trauma regarding their families and reaching out to ancestry for fear of being rejected. But then the person said, “So, think about your entire, like family lineage going back whatever, thousands of years, like you don’t think anybody was gay?”

Literally, statistically, some of them [my ancestors] were. And you know, I’ve experienced so many blessings in my life, and I got to believe that they come from somewhere.

Now, I have the opportunity to engage in intergenerational healing. I’m going to therapy the fuck out of this.

On Being Black, Trans, and Non-Binary in 2020 While Under Trump

Honestly, I’m super horrified, terrified of the white supremacist violence that the Trump administration is stoking and supporting, both explicitly and implicitly. I feel like as a Black person, as a Black queer person, I’m not safe.

I’m so terrified that I’m considering getting a gun license. Because I see white people shooting Black people, and I am terrified. And I have never had faith in the state.

I do not pledge allegiance. I pledge allegiance to my people. I pledge allegiance to my communities. I pledge allegiance to the queer PoC. I have always been supported by the queer PoC community and felt communion with that. And I still have faith in it regardless of the state-sanctioned violence against marginalized identities.

I’m still hopeful for the future because of the strength and leadership and creativity of Black and PoC leaders. Once again, no faith in government institutions. Obviously, I’m voting for Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and they can also both fucking kick rocks. But I will always have faith in the radical among us.

Pre-Order a copy of Anjimile’s Giver Taker here.