Koko Barno
Paris, France


I have a tattoo on my neck. It says Mukatila in Arabic script. It means female warrior.

I think that when we’re growing up, we’re taught to think there’s only one type of woman. But when I was about five years old, my brother used to play a lot of Tomb Raider. I’d sit next to him and watch, and I got kind of obsessed with Lara Croft. She was sexy, and also smart. She was strong, she was badass. She was masculine and feminine at the same time. And as I grew up, I’d project myself as her onto everything I was doing.

I grew up in a tiny town in Bordeaux. We were the only black family. When I was 17, my father and brother left, I didn’t feel understood and I was becoming quite toxic, and projecting all my fears and pain onto my mother and sister. I started to realise something bad would happen in my future if I stayed there. And then the flash of a camera changed everything.

At 18, I took a flight to London. I had just one bag, I could only say ‘hello’ and it was hard in the beginning, but I worked many jobs, learned a lot, made many great friends, and found out who was Koko. I needed that time to grow. Then, after seven years, lots of work and lots of travel, I was ready to come back to France and move to Paris.

The Paris is Turning issue

This story first appeared in The Paris is Turning Issue, available in print and digital.

Subscribe today or purchase a back copy via our online shop.

I was afraid to move here, I was afraid of what I had seen before of French people’s attitude to difference, and I thought I might be dead in a week. But I don’t like to have fixed opinions, and so I came. And Paris is very cool. There’s diversity, there are plenty of communities – gay, trans, black – but they’re still communities, it’s not mixed the way it is in London. But it’s moving. Three steps forward, two steps back maybe, but diversity and acceptance are growing. And I’m proud that this year I became the first black trans woman to win the French national kickboxing championship, winning it for the third time.

Boxing is so masculine, and when I got into it when I was young, I was just fighting to win. Now it feels like fighting for who I am, for where I belong, and where I want to go in every aspect of life.

Paris is beautiful, and so rich culturally. I love the galleries and museums, the architecture is so beautiful – I love being high up in Montmartre, and those views of the city. The food is amazing too, and the wine, and there are really great places to hang out and meet cool, artistic people. And there’s lots of cool Shatta and Afrobeat and jungle to party to.

But really, above all I’m here to work on my goals. I train other people professionally in the early mornings, because I understand how much sport has saved me and connected me with myself, and I want to help people feel good the way I do. Then I do my own training for around two hours. That’s my focus. And I have my shoots, and I work on my content, and I try to spend as much time as I can in nature, I find that very spiritual. I aspire to serenity – feeling like I’m supporting myself, I’m respecting myself and I’m respecting other people. I’ve really learned to understand how privileged it is to do things you love to do.

And I’m really happy to do this shoot with OutThere. It’s a great opportunity to be ‘front row’, to say what we’ve got to say, show we are living our lives in different contexts and let people know there are places around the world that are safe, and beautiful, and where you can feel good.


Interview by Kaiden Ford and photography by Martin Perry