AS I GAZED OUT THE window, the winding roads and stately buildings fading into a blur, my thoughts drifted toward the future. With only a few short weeks remaining before my scheduled return to South Africa, I was faced with the daunting task of putting the pieces in place for my post graduate life. After a year of emotional exhaustion, navigating the labyrinth of caregiving and medical appointments, I longed for stability and comfort.

I was determined to find a care aide who would understand my needs and work in tandem with my mother to help me recover my strength and vitality. As I scrolled through my contacts list, my eyes landed on the name of someone who had been a source of solace in the past—Laeticia. Her profile picture, a grainy image captured years ago, was still a beacon of warmth, with her smile reaching her sparkling eyes and her pixie cut accentuating her high cheekbones. I sent a message, inquiring if she would be interested in serving as my care aide upon my return. As I hit send, I took a deep breath, fingers crossed that this arrangement would work out.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. I swiveled my wheelchair toward the entrance, calling out, “It’s open.” And there, standing before me, were three of the most brilliant and innovative trans artists of our time—Alok Vaid-Menon, Travis Alabanza, and Kat Kai Kol-Kes. Each of them looked like a goddess from a fantasy novel, but their cultural impact and refusal to be pigeonholed into gendered boxes were undeniably real. The Parisian couture houses could not hold a candle to their fierce fashions and dazzling style. They were like the Three Wise Men but genderqueer. And they had a gift for me.

Alok, a dear friend and fellow traveler on this journey, had called me a few weeks earlier to offer a listening ear as I struggled with my financial and emotional difficulties. The three were in the middle of a European speaking tour and were making a pit stop in Oxford to see me. The plan was to put on a photoshoot in full glam to celebrate my graduation and honor my cobblestoned path to this moment. The thought of reclaiming my experience with this shoot sent shivers down my spine, as it was a fitting way to conclude my Oxford chapter with the same sense of magic and wonder that had marked its beginning. And as I gazed into their eyes, full of love and support, I was reminded that the beauty I sought was always within me.

Alok, Travis, and Kat, each carrying luggage of different sizes and shapes, entered my room, their expressions serious and determined. Kat was the first to speak: “Darling, consider this your graduation ceremony.” And with that, she pulled out a makeup kit from her suitcase. They had arrived as guardians of love and restoration, bringing with them talismans of beauty: makeup, pearls, lace, feathers, and dresses.

As I gazed upon my friends, an overwhelming sense of belonging washed over me. I had risen from the lifeless gravel after nearly succumbing to the ableism that so many people with disabilities face. And here I was, getting dolled up in all my brilliance alongside friends who, like the squad, truly understood the battle to be oneself. Warsan Shire’s words echoed in my mind: “If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious.” And so we titled our performance “Welcome to Your Funeral.”

WE EMBARKED ON OUR PILGRIMAGE through the ancient streets of Oxford, draped in fabulous attire. Though we were met with the leering stares of onlookers, I drew fortitude from the fact that I was not alone. As we approached the Radcliffe Camera, I rolled my wheelchair forward, defiant and determined to show the world that disabled bodies are deserving of intellectual curiosity and the education to foster it. Posing in front of the camera was an exercise in agency. I wasn’t appealing for the benevolence of strangers to fund my care or making a case for a global news outlet. Instead, this was my moment to be playful, to be irreverent, to be myself.

Just a short distance away, the Sheldonian Theatre was a sight to behold, its grand facade a testament to the rich history of the university. And yet disabled voices had been ignored and sidelined for far too long. But with my friends by my side, I stood tall, my head held high, and claimed my rightful place in history with some solo shots.

The Bodleian Library was next, its shelves upon shelves of books inviting us to explore the infinite possibilities that lay ahead. My disability was a source of strength, and I refused to be limited by society’s narrow understanding.

At Christ Church College, we celebrated in the love and support of our friends. We huddled together, posing and throwing our heads back like Hollywood starlets captured on candid camera. The majestic spires of the college rose toward the sky, reminding us of the limitless potential that lay ahead. Here, staring down the camera with my larger-than-life contemporaries, I was filled with peace, knowing that no matter what the future held, I would always be accepted and loved for exactly who I am.

Finally, I arrived at the Blavatnik School of Government, the site of my yearlong trial. The imposing building loomed before me, a monolith of glass and steel. In that moment, I realized that my journey had come full circle. I had faced my fears, overcome my struggles, and emerged victorious. The photographer captured the moment as I sat there, lost in contemplation, the sun sinking low on the horizon, casting long shadows across the grounds.

Excerpted from SIPPING DOM PÉRIGNON THROUGH A STRAW by Eddie Ndopu. Copyright © 2023 by Eddie Ndopu. Reprinted with permission of Legacy Lit. All rights reserved. 


  • Described by TIME magazine as “one of the most powerful disabled people on the planet,” Eddie Ndopu is an award-winning global humanitarian and social justice advocate. He serves as one of the UN Secretary-General’s SDG Advocates and sits on the board of the United Nations Foundation. Ndopu has been featured in Forbes, Global Citizen, Rolling StoneGuardian, OkayAfrica, and more. He lives in New York City.