Kae Tempest discusses “beautiful but difficult” process of publicly coming out as non-binary

"I really wanted success. So I just ignored it," they said of their "boiling hot secret" and gender dysphoria

Kae Tempest has discussed publicly coming out as non-binary for the first time in a new interview, reflecting on the “beautiful but difficult” process.

Tempest, who will release new album ‘The Line Is A Curve’ next month (April 8), announced in summer 2020 that they would be changing their name and wants to be referred to with they/them pronouns.

Sharing the news on Facebook, the spoken word artist and rapper said at the time that they have been “struggling to accept” themselves for a long time, and that these changes are “a first step towards knowing and respecting myself better.”

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In a new interview with the Guardian, Tempest has now discussed the process of publicly sharing the news, and how their body dysmorphia has held them back in the past.

“Coming out has been huge,” they said, describing it as “a beautiful but difficult thing to do publicly. It’s hard enough to say: ‘Hey look, I’m trans or non-binary,’ to loved ones. And I have this twin life beyond my friends and family,” they added.

“Trans people are so loving, so fucking beautiful. I think of my community, and how much strength I’ve got from people telling me I don’t have to go through this alone.” They added: “If I hide, and I’m ashamed of myself, it’s [as if] I’m ashamed of them.”

Discussing the wider visibility their announcement could give trans people, Tempest said: “I don’t want to say the wrong thing for my people. When trans issues are spoken about in the press, it’s often not trans people doing the speaking. So in this rare moment there’s a trans person talking about trans things, I don’t want to fuck up or waste the opportunity.”

Kae Tempest
Kae Tempest. CREDIT: Wolfgang Tillmans

Discussing their childhood and journey to coming out, Tempest said: “Until hitting puberty, I lived as a boy. People around me would say: ‘You’re a tomboy, you’ll grow out of it.’ I internalised that, and hoped I would. Puberty was disorientating. It brought a lot of pain to me.”

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Of hiding their true self in order to get musical success, Tempest recalled: “I was so desperate to make it,” they say, “I really wanted success. So I just ignored it, and carried on. For a long time, my dysphoria was also hidden from me. For the last 10 years, it has been gnawing away at me. The increasing discomfort of: when are you going to do something?”

“I was resigned to living the life I was in,” they added, “and then maybe at 50 when I stopped having this career I thought I might be able to finally transition. But increasingly I couldn’t bear it.”

They added: “All that fear was about shame. I was afraid, because of internalised homophobia and transphobia. I was afraid to be who I was, because I’d learned that it was ugly. I was resigned to being wrong all my life. Coming out and saying I’m trans, non-binary, is me saying I’m on a journey. But I realised the ramifications of what might happen didn’t seem as scary as living with this boiling hot secret in my heart for eternity.”

Tempest’s collaborative new album has been teased in past months by the tracks ‘Salt Coast’ and ‘More Pressure’, the latter of which features Kevin Abstract of the LA hip-hop collective Brockhampton. Another collaboration, ‘No Prizes’ with Lianne La Havas, was shared last week.

‘The Line Is A Curve’ will also feature two tracks with Fontaines D.C. frontman Grian Chatten, who discussed the “blessing” of working with Tempest on the red carpet at last week’s (March 2) BandLab NME Awards 2022, where they later picked up the award for Best Band In The World.

Watch that full interview above.

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