Poet Kae Tempest opens up about ‘beautiful but difficult’ journey of coming out as non-binary

Kae Tempest said coming out was 'beautiful but difficult'

Kae Tempest has spoken about their coming out journey for the first time.

In an interview with The Guardian, the hip-hop poet and playwright said their coming out was “huge”, and “a beautiful but difficult thing to do publicly”.

“I’ve been struggling to accept myself as I am for a long time,” Tempest wrote in an August 2020 Instagram post announcing their new name and pronouns.

“I have tried to be what I thought others wanted me to be so as not to risk rejection. This hiding from myself has led to all kinds of difficulties in my life. And this is a first step towards knowing and respecting myself better.”

Tempest, 36, rose to fame through the ranks of London’s performing arts scene in their late twenties. With their unmistakable South London accent, their music, such as their Mercury-nominated album Everybody Dawn, tapped into both the quiet beauty and gritty silences of London living.

But being a trans person in the public eye is a whole different experience, as Tempest explained.

“It’s hard enough to say: ‘Hey look, I’m trans or non-binary,’ to loved ones,” they said. “And I have this twin life beyond my friends and family.”

They continued: “Trans people are so loving, so f**king 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.

“If I hide, and I’m ashamed of myself, it’s [as if] I’m ashamed of them.”

Kae Tempest: Trans people ‘used in weird ways’

As any trans or non-binary person in the UK knows, the rampant anti-trans hostility in the media and politics over the last few years means it can be challenging or dangerous to be openly trans.

Reports of homophobic hate crimes have risen by 210 per cent over the last six years, according to Vice World News, while reports of transphobic hate crimes rose by 332 per cent in the same period.

But most anti-trans hate crimes go unreported, with the community reporting they don’t trust the police not to be transphobic themselves.

The prejudice trans people experience is routinely stoked by so-called “gender critical” activists who harass any trans person who dares to be visible online. In this atmosphere, Tempest has good reason to choose their words carefully.

“I don’t want to say the wrong thing for my people,” they told The Guardian. “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 f**k up or waste the opportunity.”
Trans people are “used in these weird ways to express people’s deep fears about other things”, they continued. “Obsessed over by people void of humanity… I don’t understand how my body, our bodies, became a territory for war. These bodies we’ve spent lifetimes living in.”