Kitoko Mai is an award-winning performance artist who explores their dissociative identity disorder through performance and art. Photo: Hamilton Artist Inc

Meet Kitoko Mai.

Mai is a Black, non-binary, disabled, emerging multidisciplinary performance artist, originally from Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mai’s pronouns are she/her and they/them.

Also, meet Cheyenne, Niles, and Annie. They are three separate and distinct personalities, but they all exist within Kitoko Mai.

As a multidisciplinary artist, Mai engages audiences in art and film that is socially conscious and work that is based on their lived experiences as a former sex worker and someone who has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID). From their real experience, Mai says that it was through becoming a sex worker, that they were able to become assessed and diagnosed.

They are a writer, director and producer for ongoing projects and scripts. One of those projects became a short film that was recently screened at Outfest Fusion and Sundance Film Festivals.

In Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie (2023), they star as a former sex worker who has been recently diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. Mai is nonbinary, but their alters are not. The alters run their own lives and when it comes down to it, they help Kit, or “the system host,” get through tough times. This film is a light-hearted, surrealist exploration of the real-life challenges a person faces, as they confront and try to balance mental illness, capitalism, and a worldwide  zombie emergency.

“[The film] is very true to my experience,” said Mai. “During the pandemic, it kind of felt so absurd that we were all going to work and trying to pay rent when the world felt like it was literally burning.”

When they are not writing, directing, and starring in their own film, Mai is also a multidisciplinary artist who paints, creates and educates.

“I make a lot of community-engaged work and bring people from various communities together to share their experiences and journeys,” said Mai. “I’m really into educating people, and again that comes up in the film. Part of it is teaching people about DID.”

Mai also does performance art and received the 2021 Promising Pen Prize from Cahoots Theatre and the 2020 Gilded Hammers Emerging Artist Award from the Hamilton Festival Theatre Company.

Mai draws from their lived experiences to help others talk about sex work through performance art. They create the space within acting and creating, to not only talk about lived experiences but also to come together as a community, to heal from sexual violence and other trauma.

Though they were born and raised in South Africa, Mai became disconnected from their motherland after moving to Toronto, Canada in 2010. “As a result [of moving] I struggle with my connection to land but find that the in-between spaces feel like home.”

Giselle Palomera is a nonbinary, Mexican-Colombian journalist from East LA, California.

This story is made possible with support from Comcast Corporation.