Kineen Mafa is a multi-disciplinary artist using the pronouns they and she. Having no credentialed training in art theory, she is a self-taught practitioner who began to make art and create ritual performances when they fully embraced their path as an artist and ritual officiant in 2015.
Like many trans-spiritual leaders, Kineen’s back story is one of religious trauma that produced deep spiritual wounds. These wounds were inflicted in several ways and began at home as traumatic betrayal when their religious response to their gender identity led their family to subject Kineen to extreme medical interventions. In some blind caring effort to heal their child by making Kineen’s female gender conform to their male biological sex, the family and the doctors nearly broke their spirit, but Kineen’s story is one of triumph. She rose from the ashes and now forges a novel spiritual path, one that allows her to remake a world in her own image.
As a joyful and self-assured child Kineen felt a sense of safety in her felt and expressed gender identity that would avalanche into a danger zone once she hit puberty. At 14 Kineen was diagnosed with a malady medically known as one’s condition of body dysphoria resulting in gender identity disorder. Given that diagnosis, the medical authorities advised her family to have Kineen tested for HIV every six months. The rationale for this frequent testing was the mental health providers’ inaccurate belief that her “identity disorder” made her high risk for the virus. In this way Kineen’s childhood became too severely medicalized. Because no one dared to question medical authority, the bi-annual testing that began at age 14 continued until the age of 26 when she finally tested positive for HIV.
Being a poor, black, and trans child in the south made Kineen quite likely to receive disregard by some health care workers and less appropriate medical care. Just last week (3/17/2023), the PBS News Hour reported the research finding that black adults in California consider it prudent to adjust their appearance and behavior (and that of their children, as well) in their attempt to avoid discriminatory treatment by medical providers. It therefore is not likely that Kineen’s family was able to acquire these highly urbanized black Californian skills while living decades ago in a small rural southern town outside New Orleans.
Subjecting Kineen to HIV testing every six months rendered them susceptible to medical mistreatment which heightened their anxiety. Rather than medical caregivers adjusting their behavior towards the child, to make them feel safe, medical providers decided their gender disorder also meant she required added mental health counseling. Now she was interfacing with three institutions with the power to name her. The mental health community declared Kineen to be an unbalanced “Manic Depressant.” Kineen wanted to be whole, so tried balancing their mind, as doctors requested, by using their physician-prescribed pharmaceutical medication, but the adverse side effects most times left them feel drowsy and incapable of being fully present.
Kineen’s life took a dive because she was now living with multiple diagnoses. Religion diagnosed Kineen as an abomination and warned her family that if she did not change her ways that she and they were destined for hell. Unable at that point in time to recognize religious abuse, the Mental Health physicians who initially diagnosed Kineen’s gender identity disorder later diagnosed her anxious response to their bi-annual testing as manic depression. Kineen by then certainly felt out of sorts because they could see that society basically was throwing them to the wolves. Kineen saw herself being shut out of opportunities other children could enjoy and finally turned to what was left - street drugs and sex work. Soon thereafter, the Criminal Justice system would diagnose Kineen as a felon. These several diagnoses imposed on Kineen ultimately would alienate her from society. Just like the PBS-reported study found evidence of health care systems diminishing Black Californians’ pursuit of good health, Kineen’s life chances were restricted the more often she was diagnosed by institutions founded on racially and patriarchally oppressive colonial practices.
Disenchanted with the healing power of medicine, Kineen sought relief by turning to religion. She tested different religions conventionally centered in patriarchy, and she also dabbled in alternative religious practices condemned by the status quo because they did not center a patriarch. One aspect of the latter experience stemmed from the spiritualism associated with Kineen’s Black-Indian cultural background. In this tradition Indians and Blacks converged their spiritual practices during and after slavery when finding that they shared practices like ancestor reverence, mediumship, drumming, chanting, ritual dance, propitiation of natural forces, and ongoing relations with departed spirits. Yet, Kineen committed initially to the familiar, patriarchal southern Baptist church she so enjoyed as a child. They sought refuge there and began to heal by embarking on a closer walk with God.
Just as soon as Kineen’s repressed intelligence began to blossom and leadership qualities began to be valued by other church members, she found herself being appointed to administrative and advisory positions in the church. Despite efficiently executing the new leadership roles ascribed to her, Kineen also soon found herself being exploited in church. She learned that religion centering a patriarch only laid on another layer of trauma that threatened to worsen and not heal her physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual suffering. Kineen might have sunk into despair had she dishonored herself by staying in patriarchal institutions, but God had other plans for her. She was cast adrift for a time upon a sea of uncertainly but never gave up their desire to know God more completely.
A wave of big changes would turn Kineen’s life around and redirect her to non-patriachal religious practices. First, her name, Kineen Mafa, was not yet known but it was in the making when Kineen had her genitalia reconstructed in 2014 to mirror the ancient womb of the divine feminine, a decision to undertook as a tribute to her foremothers who relied on their ritual acts to walk the land before her. Even though Kineen was born into a world where the divine mother energy was not celebrated with the same reverence as the divine father energy, she longed for a way to embrace the whole. Kineen also was hired in 2015 to work for the state of Louisiana as a prevention specialist where she was the first openly Trans Black Person, and began using art that year to learn more about what was truly going on inside of her. It was her inward journey through art that brought her out of patriarchy and much closer to God. Drawing on her roots in Black-Indian spiritualism, as found in history of Mother Leafy Anderson of New Orleans and the Indian roles Black tribes played in the Madi Gras, Kineen began reconceptualizing the Christian concept of God in a radically new way.
The pivotal moment came for Kineen when in 2016 she finally walked away from the Christian religion. If the God of Abraham no longer was working for her and nor was any religion with patriarchal trappings, then what concept of the divine would work? Kineen knew that she did not want to erase the father and thought it essential to also include the mother. She saw these energies as being divinely inseparable just as they are in her own embodiment. So Kineen began to recognize these two energies as one and began referring to the divine no longer as God the Father, but interchangeably as GoddessGod and GodGoddess. She ratified her conception of divinity by taking the name, Kineen Mafa, in 2017. Kineen derives from King-Queen. Mafa derives from Mother-Father, and the name, Kineen Mafa, means Kind-Queen/Mother-Father I am Whole. Carrying and embodying this name would be a constant reminder of her wholeness.
Kineen was truly born again upon anointing herself with a new name, and by doing so, she reclaimed nommo - the African power of the spoken word, the power to name. She first uttered LelimLeLur in a 2017 healing circle she conducted. Kineen had been fasting with others that weekend when the name for the baby - a new faith, the new path she had been gestating for most her life - finally was born. The cobbled-together sounds, LelimLeLur, as a word means, ‘Let him, Let her, and is synonymous in Kineen’s evolving lexicon with ‘I am whole.’ Coining this new word and using it as an affirmation became the foundation of Kineen’s new faith and daily spiritual practice.
When the work she was doing brought such powerful healing and freedom to herself, Kineen felt spiritually called to help others build a culture that reflects her non-patriarchal concept of a higher power and affirms gender non-conforming people. She began crafting spiritual tools to provide a sacred space in which other marginalized and disenfranchised beings could be vulnerable and open about their observations and experiences. Her creative word-play and the novelty of her art garnered quite a following in New Orleans that today is expanding to include other venues in the nation, as well as new locations in South Africa, where the demand for Kineen’s art and spiritual practices is growing apace. All of this manifested through the sharing of her of art.
In other words, Kineen’s spiritual path is being embraced and encouraged by others who witness LelimLeLur culture flourishing after years of necessary turmoil, labor pain, and postpartum depression. Out of all the loss and grief was emerging, Kineen observes, a being with an ability to diagnose herself. What began to pour out of her through painting, modeling, visual story-telling, and photography was an authentic and inclusive culture, one being generated from her heart and by her newfound self-awareness. Kineen’s approach to the art of ceremony and healing ritual came to be grounded in a gender-nonconforming process of cultural production that she calls, LelimLeLur Culture.
GoddessGod/GodGoddess had for Kineen a greater plan and purpose. Embracing the LelimLeLur culture and performing the spiritual labor of sharing her ritual art with others in ceremony has nurtured Kineen and helped her to grow. The tough and chaotic times she experienced earlier in life were challenging and beautiful times, she graciously is able to say with a smile. That is because they were crafting who she was destined to become as an artist, teacher, healer, guide, advocate, minister, content creator, harm reduction specialist, ambassador storyteller, orator, sibling, mentor, child, model, servant, prayer warrior, spiritualist, and friend. As Kineen says to her constituents with open arms: Welcome to LelimLeLur Culture!
(This biographical statement written by Enoch Page from an interview with Kineen Mafa.)
Biography Date: March 2023