Changes: Kae Tempest
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to Changes. It is Annie Macmanus here. Today, I am bringing you a conversation that's really, really stayed with me ever since I partook in it. One of those conversations that is so thought provoking and kind of perspective tilting, it just blew my mind in the best possible way and gave me a whole new, deeper level of respect for my guest than I already had. The guest in question is Kae Tempest. Kae Tempest is a poet, a writer, a lyricist, a performer and a recording artist. They were born in London in 1985. They still live there. At 16, they went to the Brit School in Croydon. It was kind of around then that they discovered rapping as well and found a new and very, very obsessive love for that. When they were in their early twenties, they discovered the spoken word poetry scene and that is when change started happening for them because they started getting bookings for that and with those bookings, offers to write for theatre. Since then, Kae Tempest has published three plays, a novel, a book length essay, five books of poetry, and just last month their sixth book of poems Divisible By Itself and One was released. For their poetry, they have won the Ted Hughes Award, and in 2014 they were named a next generation poet by the Poetry Book Society which is a once in a decade accolade. Their books have been translated into 11 languages and published to critical acclaim around the world. And then there's the music. So K has released five studio albums, two of which have been nominated for the Mercury Prize. They have toured extensively selling out shows from Reykjavik to Rio de Janeiro and have such an amazing reputation for their live shows. It was an absolute pleasure to have this time and conversation with Kae, to talk about all their big changes. Kae Tempest, welcome to the podcast... Kae, you're so welcome. Thanks for being here.
Kae [00:02:15] Thanks for having me on.
Annie [00:02:16] It's quite overwhelming even knowing where to start when it comes to interviewing you because your brain is so prolific in terms of words. But I guess the best place to start is change. What's your relationship to that word?
Kae [00:02:31] I like it.
Annie [00:02:32] Yeah? Good.
Kae [00:02:32] *Laughing* I think it's healthy. It's a good word, yeah. Yeah, it's something I feel close to. When things are in flux and in transition and in motion and in movement, I feel comfortable. I think it's constant and slow. Not necessarily something that you can even know when it's beginning or ending, or at what point something is or isn't changing. But I feel like it's a natural condition for life, you know?
Annie [00:02:56] Do you think that there's ways of being better at it or better at being aware of it, if you know what I mean? If you say it's there all the time.
Kae [00:03:06] Yeah. Well like the last record, The Line Is a Curve, the whole album is about finding peace with not just what change is, but what stays the same, you know, the cycles. You go through all this stuff in your life and you find yourself repeating something that you thought was over, or stuck in patterns that you tried to break. And even just trying to find comfort with that, in that resolution of like ahh I'm back here again, it's never the same. You face things differently even if you're making the same choices or in the same patterns or it's the same- you keep doing the same things. There's constantly this opportunity to refresh and to just face things in a different way. I don't know if there's ways of being better at it or not. It's never something that I can easily get my head around but it's everywhere all the time.
Annie [00:03:55] What about writing? Has your relationship with writing changed since you started writing, I suppose?
Kae [00:04:02] Yeah. I've been writing for a long time and when I started writing- ahh I have this obsession with it, this fixation. It was like, it was the only place really that I felt alive, really. And like that anything really made any sense to me.
Annie [00:04:15] Can I ask you how old you were when that happened?
Kae [00:04:18] I was a kid.
Annie [00:04:20] Right.
Kae [00:04:21] I was a teenager when I started to speak what I was writing out loud. But I had been writing, like privately, for many years before that. Like, I was always writing. I didn't know that's what it was. I didn't know I'm writing, these lyrics, these are poems or these are stories. It was just something that I had, always had a relationship with text but the way that it is for me now, now it's my craft. It's something that I take really seriously. I've spent 20 years studying and learning and listening. And I'm in a different stage of craftsmanship. Actually, what's happened to me now is when I sit down to write it's like being with an old friend and it's like being with somebody you don't know yet, you've just met, you know. It's like where are we going to go? What are we going to do today? The greatest part of where I'm at right now is knowing that the things that I'm trying to achieve now, it's new. I don't know if I'm able to do it.
Annie [00:05:16] How do you live with such a kind of voraciously creative brain?
Kae [00:05:22] Yeah, it's all I know basically.
Annie [00:05:25] Mhm.
Kae [00:05:26] So the way that my mind works, over the years I've had to get to know how to live with this brain that I have. And it's hardcore. I feel most peace and most rest when I'm in like this constant motion, when it comes to like pursuing ideas, my creativity is, is fierce, you know, it wants to all the time be absorbed until the point it gets exhausted and then I just can't. Everything shuts down and it's like, okay.
Annie [00:05:54] Okay, so that does happen.
Kae [00:05:56] Yeah.
Annie [00:05:58] Is that often or has that just happened once or twice?
Kae [00:06:01] It's whenever I can *both laugh*. Whenever I possibly can do nothing, then I'm doing nothing.
Annie [00:06:08] So you're good at that. Have you learned, have you trained yourself how to do that over the years?
Kae [00:06:13] Yeah, I think it's easier if you're in a good place, to be at rest. Like sometimes, if you're not in such a good place, you can feel like ahh I've let it all go, like what am I doing, you start attacking yourself.
Annie [00:06:24] And also writing, in my not very long experience of it, it's- and writing novels, writing fiction. I find I'm just in another world. I'm in that world all the time in my head and sometimes it's- I'm just not really present, not really very good at being present. How are you with that?
Kae [00:06:40] I've got ADHD and amongst- whatever, like everyone's got a brain and everyone's brains are different. My particular brain, I recently learned some things about it that mean that I can cope a bit better with having the type of brain I have. And the relentlessness and the pace of it and the hyperfocus that I have for certain things, means that it can be really hard for me to be present with other things. And it's like, I find not being present really stressful. I hate it. I hate not being able to just be where I'm at, and be thinking about 100,000 things. I hate being stressed. I hate that. I hate anxiety, I hate it. But you know whatever, it happens, it's in the body. But what I can say is that moments when I can just totally be present, when things quieten down a bit, I'm so happy. I'm so happy with the smallest things like the other morning, I just like, stole this bit of morning from like the jaws of the day, you know, we just somehow managed to like steal this little bit of time, me and my girlfriend. And I could hear her, she was in the kitchen and she was singing Saving All My Love For You, you know, Whitney Houston?
Annie [00:07:47] Yeah, yeah yeah.
Kae [00:07:48] She was singing it. And I could just hear her singing, I could smell the coffee, the light was coming through the window. The clocks had just gone back so it was like, kind of sunrise. And it was just- I was sooo happy. I just thought like, I literally caught myself just like, happy. And I thought like, I was so grateful to have had this moment of- But no matter what else the day throws, at either of us, me and my partner, tt's like we just got this beautiful, this moment. It's like a fortification against, you know, the stresses of the day.
Annie [00:08:26] Yeah, and so, so cool that you can recognise how important it is and not just let it go, you know, really like bask in it.
Kae [00:08:34] Yeah because when I'm stressed, you don't, you can't even notice it. It's like when I'm in stress and anxiety, I know the things that would normally make me feel really good, like walking in the park and looking at the trees, I just can't see anything. It's tunnel vision. Everything's like, everything's uncomfortable. Everything's like 100,000 thoughts. I try to make decisions and my mind then makes every single possible outcome of every single possible decision that could get made. I'm just swamped. Like, you know, on another day it would be simple, it would be easy. But on a day when I'm in stress or anxiety, it's like, it's so frustrating because it's like, in the bigger picture! Like, what the fu- what are you doing, like what you fucking doing like *laughs*.
Annie [00:09:14] Yeah, yeah.
[00:09:14] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:09:26] Well, let's get on to that first change question then, if that's okay. The biggest change that you went through in childhood, looking back, you've kind of cited two things so tell me about them, please.
Kae [00:09:37] Yeah, I thought it was a cool question to be asked. For me, like, the two biggest changes was starting to rhyme. Discovering that lyricism. Because that gave my life its direction and it gave me the life I have now. That happened around 15. And before that, probably the biggest change of my early life was puberty. I think for any human being it's a tough time, but for a trans person, for a trans kid, puberty is just devastating. It's just a fucking nightmare. It's just horrible. And it was horrible. And so, like, I think that now I have the perspective that I have and the understanding that I have about who I am and about the way that I was born. Which at the time I didn't have. It was just the beginning of a world of pain, you know like, because up until that point I'd kind of lived as a boy anyway, even though I knew that I wasn't because people would tell me that. And I remember really, really young, people saying like, you know, when you grow up are you gonna have a sex change? I remember there was like words like this, people knew about this stuff but there weren't like- there was no- I don't know how we knew about that but I remember this person asked me that once. But there was no dialogue. There was no understanding. My family, my friends, my culture, the community, nobody knew in the way that I suppose they do now. Hopefully there's more communication around the fact that some people are one gender, some people are another, some people are neither, some people are both, some people are trans, you know. I feel like that's something that there's more cultural awareness of. But at the time it was just err, yeah, it was devastating. But then the two things are kind of linked because when I found music, it gave me a way out of my body that was causing me so much pain. And it gave me a way out of like, being in the world as I was socialised to be in it, that was very difficult. It gave me so much life. And, that bit between puberty and finding music, a lot of my life force got sucked out of me at that point. But then I found it again through music and that was the beginning of me coming alive again.
Annie [00:12:05] Yeah. Can I ask about pre puberty? Like, did you have brothers and sisters? What did that look like? Your family, when you were as a child kind of, living as a boy, very free.
Kae [00:12:15] Yeah. Well, it was. It was never, like, discussed. It just was what I was.
Annie [00:12:19] Yeah, it just was.
Kae [00:12:19] I just was. And it was kind of- I suppose it's all right up until a point. People in school used to call me Kev *laughs*.
Annie [00:12:31] No way.
Kae [00:12:31] They used to call me Kev yeah *laughs* I miss them days. It was cool. I was just this kid, you know, I liked playing football, I liked telling stories. I'm the youngest of five kids.
Annie [00:12:39] Oh wow.
Kae [00:12:40] We lived in Lewisham. I liked playing out on the street and going up the park and-
Annie [00:12:45] And was there a sense of freedom just to be, just to do you?
Kae [00:12:50] Yeah. I mean, it was like agony going to get your haircut or go to buy clothes. That was just horrible. My mum didn't know why it was so painful for me. I took on a lot of weight. I became not very, very, very- I was an obese child. I don't really talk about that but that is a big part of what happens when you start to realise that you're in the wrong body. The body becomes the enemy. You know, this is not- you realise you're not the same as other people. So by the time I hit like ten years old, I weighed ten stone. I was a big kid. That made things, you know, it can be difficult. It makes things difficult. You can't- you're not the same as other people. You don't have the same abilities. And so there was things that set me apart. One was that I, well, I was trans. The other was that I was big. I was also tall and big for my age, you know, like. And then the other thing was that I was like, my brain was intense. Like, I was- the teachers told my folks that I should maybe be in a special school or something because- not necessarily special educational needs, but more because I was advancing fast and there wasn't really much for me to do in that kind of school set up. By age two I could read, so.
Annie [00:14:10] Wow.
Kae [00:14:11] Yeah, I was always reading much further than my age so there's things that I would just sit with a novel and read and it was odd, I was odd. Weird kid but at the same time, I liked people and I liked my friends and there was a lot of things about me that people didn't understand. You know, just daily in the street, you know? But the people that knew me, knew me, and they accepted me for who I was. But it was hard to meet new people because you always have to start from zero. Like you know, what are you?
Annie [00:14:42] Did you have a way of kind of masking, I suppose, those feelings of confusion about who you were? A way of kind of presenting yourself, behaviourally I mean, in school. Did you kind of overcompensate? Were you loud, were you-?
Kae [00:14:55] Yeah. Yeah. I was like, yeah, yeah. All that.
Annie [00:14:58] Right, yep.
Kae [00:14:59] But like, I think it was all pretty much blessed. It was good. It was happiness as I remember it. Until puberty and then it was just like... Now I understand it when I look back, that's when it's like, the seeds were all there in my childhood but that's when the bottom fell out of it. Compared to people in my life, what they went through in their childhood, I don't want to sound like I'm saying ahh like *crying noise*.
Annie [00:15:24] Of course.
Kae [00:15:24] I had a wonderful childhood, I had a beautiful, loving family. I had a lot of incredible support. I was in a stable environment. You know, we were never beaten, we were never abused like- it's real what happens to people and I don't want to sound for a minute like I'm taking for granted or trying to position myself as somebody who has suffered when I haven't. It's just that shit with the body, when I think on it now I think it's useful to say because I wish I'd known. I wish someone had- an elder had been able to say to me, it's alright what you are you know. It's beautiful what you are, it's natural, you're normal, it's okay. You don't have to fight it or be afraid or hide or run away from it or, you know, or just want to die. It's really alright what you are.
[00:16:14] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:16:15] And so your body starts changing. How did that change you as a girl then?
Kae [00:16:30] It's just a thing isn't it you know.
Annie [00:16:30] Person, yeah.
Kae [00:16:31] Yeah, as a person init. I was assigned female, understood and socialised as female. I thought myself to be a girl. I was trying to be a girl, I was trying.
Annie [00:16:43] You were trying to lean into it and trying to go with the puberty or?
Kae [00:16:46] Just trying, I was just trying. It's hard. It's not what you are but you try. You're paying attention to other people and you just don't understand why it doesn't apply to you. And then meantime like, being oestrogen dominant, I was never really- that probably was never meant to be my lot, but it was. And I'm glad of it because it's made me who I am and it's given me the experiences that I've had and I'm very glad of being this person now because I have the perspective of both. I have the perspective- I've been gifted with the perspective that I've got, which makes me sensitive to things about gender that cis people or people that have always been confident and comfortable in their gender, it would be much harder for them to have contact with. And this is real. This is what we have. This is the blessing of it. This is why it's beautiful to have people like us in the world, because there's things that we know that other people just don't know. In like, in ourselves, in our hormones, in our bodies. Anyway, like, I started to experience depression and I started to experience anxieties and I started yeah. That's when things started to be difficult in my mind actually.
Annie [00:18:03] Can I ask when you, you know, you said you wish there was someone around who could have just told you a little bit, that you could have been a bit more knowledgeable about what was happening. Was there a point, a kind of definitive point where you remember a kind of light going on in your head about the possibilities of you not having to present as a girl?
Kae [00:18:24] Not until like, recently, in my recent life. The last like five, ten years. No. I knew, I always knew. But I could never accept. I had this thing of like, there's no point. There's no happiness for you. You will never know happiness like that. You will never know it. This is the way you're born. This is what you have. I had just put it so- buried it so deep. Put it so far away and I just threw myself into working and to music. And I was lucky to have had music. I loved music. And I just thought, that's what your lifes for and you as a person don't get to have feelings of vitality, but that's okay because you have creativity and many people don't have anything to live for and you have this to live for. So I just put it away. I buried it real deep down, and it was through my relationships with my partners, my lovers, that I got to know. I wasn't really tuned into queer community. My friends were heterosexual men, cis, heterosexual men, boys. They were my people. And bless them, I love them but you need your community. You know, you need it, you need it. And my access to my community came from my lovers. You know, at first I was afraid of the queer community. I was so- my homophobia and transphobia was so deep, internalised so deep. Like I was ashamed, you know, of the me in them and the them in me. You know, it's like you look at them, you see yourself and you feel shame, fear, resentment. But it was strange. I used to want to cut my hair so bad, so bad. And everyone used to say to me, like, don't do it. It was my only thing, my only past. I had this long hair, it was curly.
Annie [00:20:09] I remember it well.
Kae [00:20:11] People used to always say, your hair's so beautiful. And it was like, I just wanted to shave it off. And they said you might be a dike, but why would you want to live like one? Why would you want to look like one? People used to say that kind of shit all the time. Dike, it was such a dirty word. It was like the worse you could be. It's like, alright, maybe you're a lesbian but you don't have to be like, butch, you know? And butch was like the lowest of the low. I was the lowest of the low. Even in the hierarchy of queerness, it was like, you had these beautiful, fem gay guys. That was cool, beautiful. Then you had like fem gay women. That was cool, that was beautiful. They were sexy, but it was like, to be the butch. It was like, ridiculed. And it's only now that I realised that butch is the most beautiful thing that I could be. This is me. This is what I was born with and this is the ability that I have to take care and to love in the way that only a person like me can, like the way that- what we have. I've learned this because of my partner, what she sees in me makes me see it too. So that's the same. The reason I say all this is like, I had these realisations not long ago, not long ago. I'm learning. This was like about seven, eight years ago it started to be too painful to hold down. It started to push up out me. Then five, six years ago, I suffered this like breakdown of sorts and trying to understand what was going on and then like three, four years ago, I've started to be- since coming out in 2019 or 2020.
Annie [00:21:41] Yeah, 2020, yeah.
Kae [00:21:43] So about two years before that, I was really, really, really struggling with it. For about a year before that it was pushing to the surface, I knew something had to change. And then by the time it was time- this time to kind of come out publicly, that's been the beginning of a happiness I've never ever, I've never known. I've never known happiness in my body or in my life the way that I do now. And it might be because of coming out, it might be because of where I'm at in my life. It may be many things. But for sure, it's something I've never known. Not since childhood. Not since before puberty.
Annie [00:22:16] Can I ask how your family feel about it?
Kae [00:22:19] Yeah, sure. Some of them are amazing. Really, really good. Like, really good. Really interested, explaining to their kids that there's not just one of Kae, there's also many people like this *laughs*. I then have to be like, you know I'm not a girl, I'm not a boy. And for children, especially my nieces and nephews, at a certain time of life you've just become obsessed with that.
Annie [00:22:46] *Laughs* yeah.
Kae [00:22:46] You know what I mean, that's like, what are you? And in some ways, it's a really valuable thing for my beautiful nieces and nephews and kids of my family.
Annie [00:22:57] I think in all ways, in all ways, it's so valuable for them to have you in their lives.
Kae [00:23:02] But like, some of my family are a bit less on board with it.
Annie [00:23:09] Okay, right.
Kae [00:23:09] We can say that. But it's a process, it's a journey, we're all learning, you know.
[00:23:13] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:23:23] I'm really interested in you as a writer through all this. And you know that old adage, 'you write to know yourself', right? So you as a young child writing because you needed to, not even understanding what it was and this idea of pushing down these feelings. I guess what I'm interested in is can you hide yourself when you are a writer? Can you avoid these feelings of shame or fear and still write? I mean, you obviously did. You won fucking every accolade going. You were such a successful writer. But how does it work being a writer when your job is to literally search your soul? How does that work when you're kind of living in a secret, I suppose?
Kae [00:24:04] My internal world was always the refuge, the sanctuary. What I was always drawn to in people was, the people, the within, the inside. And that's who I write, that's the characters, that's the dialogue. The thing about who I am, my misery, that was just like, this is just a fact of- this is just it.
Annie [00:24:26] Okay.
Kae [00:24:28] I know what it's like to have severe depression, for example. And so in those episodes when I was low or when things were happening or when I was trying to cope with different things.
Annie [00:24:40] Yeah.
Kae [00:24:41] It was just something that went on in this world but there was another world which is the world of ideas. They had to be in this dance with each other but that world of ideas was in the lead and the other world it was like no matter what happened or how fucked up things were, no matter how bad things got, if I could just get myself to the stage, just get myself there, it would take care of itself or of me or- it was, it's like two worlds. It was completely different worlds. It was like what I did for the work and the ideas and then the reality of what that left me with at the end of the day when I got home. Like after the tour or after whatever, after the play, the opening night. But then that person that you're left with, I just thought that that person would just be a wreck forever. I just didn't ever think that that person would be a happy person. I didn't even realise that- I didn't even realise I wasn't- I didn't even know there was another way. I didn't even know that I was in a way, it just was what it was. So this is where I'm at. This is me. I didn't know I was repressing until I was like, fuck, I've been fucking repressing for fucking 20 years!
Annie [00:25:49] But that must have been mad to come to that realisation that there's a whole, a whole you in there that you don't even know yet really because you haven't allowed yourself to, to exist in it.
Kae [00:26:02] But the way I think about writing, the way I've always thought about it, when I was a kid and I was suffering I thought of writing, my lyricism, was like my older self coming into my head and giving me the words and being like, come this way, this way, this way.
Annie [00:26:17] Wow.
Kae [00:26:17] And then as I've got older, yeah, I can remember it was this one time I was in between places to live and I was staying- my friend had this caravan on this site and I was there and I was fasting. I don't know what I was doing- whatever, I was trying to get right with myself and I was visited by this voice and it was- I wrote these lyrics and I wrote this poem. It's called 13 Commandments.
Annie [00:26:44] And that voice was, in your head, the older version of you?
Kae [00:26:48] My older self. It was my older self. Came into my head, told me know yourself.
Annie [00:26:51] Oh my god, that's the line.
Kae [00:26:52] Yeah from the, from the lyric yeah.
Annie [00:26:57] 'Came into my head, told me to know myself'.
Kae [00:26:58] Yeah.
Annie [00:26:59] Oh, my God Kae! It's blowing my mind!
Kae [00:27:02] *Laughs* yeah, it's crazy. But then as I've got older, now I'm like, wait, I am that older self and I'm not going back. I'm not going back in time. I know I'm not. I'm not going back in time and taking that kid. And then it's like actually, every time I sit down to write, that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm going back there, I'm taking that kid and I'm saying, come this way, I got you, I got you. And then as I start to move into more of myself, I feel that kid and all the things they were carrying and I'm looking after them and like, just like they were looking out for me back then, you know. So it's in this process of writing, it strips away everything, you know, strips away everything. You go to the raw place, the true place. That's why I can stand up in front of so many different kinds of people who have so many different kinds of experience and I can tell a poem and that poem can mean a hundred different things to the 100 different people in the room. And it can carry all the different significances of everybody's experience and day and the environment because we go to a place that's even beyond language. But you use language to access the place. But the the place is beyond language. It's like, it's the guts, it's the feeling. It's underneath the feet. You know, it's like-
Annie [00:28:07] It's the window, like you say in your poem.
Kae [00:28:10] Yeah, it's the window.
Annie [00:28:13] It's the line from the song Grace. It reminds me of that line, "but if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you". It's like a future self. It's like deep in your subconscious you knew that you needed to search for yourself, and it's just so deep that you imagined your future self coming back and that was the line that they said, was like, know yourself.
Kae [00:28:35] They said so many things.
Annie [00:28:36] Know yourself. Know yourself. Ahhh, okay. So when you did come out publicly in 2020, did that change- I think I know what the answer is going to be. Did that change how you wrote?
Kae [00:28:47] It changed my life. Kae's life.
Annie [00:28:50] Kae in the world.
Kae [00:28:51] Yeah. But Tempest is a different being. Tempest isn't of the world, isn't physical. I don't know where the ideas come from. I don't know. I don't know where any of it comes from. It just happens. I work with it. I use it. But if we can think of these two things as different, Kae's life changed.
Annie [00:29:12] Separate yeah. I get it, I get it.
Kae [00:29:12] Because Kae was really sad, Kae was really fucking miserable. I was ruining all my relationships and I was in a bad place and my brain was fucked and everything was fucked and- but Tempest was doing really well. Like Tempest was smashing it out there, you know, like, everything was fine.
Annie [00:29:28] So that moment when Kae and Tempest *blows* and you come out. And you're like, no actually this is who I've been the whole time. This is who I've been. Hello. Here I am. What was that like?
Kae [00:29:43] Yeah, it was beautiful. It was beautiful because I think maybe- and this is especially useful, I hope, for anybody on their own journey of discovery and towards themselves with their gender it's like, I had this fear that everything would fall apart. I had this crazy fear that if I told people the truth, I would not have the career that I had, that I wouldn't have the position I occupied for people of somebody they could trust, you know, or poetry that was important to people or- I just thought it was all going to, it was all going to crumble. For some reason, this is what I thought. And I think that this is a familiar thing. When I talk to other trans people and other people in the community, it's like in that moment before coming out, whether you're, you know, 16, 26, 36, however old you are, 46, 56 at that point in your life when you're like, actually I'm at capacity and I can't hold this down any longer, there's all this fear around like the repercussions. And then what actually happened for me was like the relief that I felt, the joy that I felt. Not to say this is a simple way of living, people are often confused by me. I'm often a point of ridicule or conversation or confusion. There's a lot of pain in it, you know that you're causing discomfort to people. And just because of who I am, I fucking hate doing that so just daily life is... There's all these, like you know, wounds everywhere that you have to navigate, your own and other people's gaping fucking wounds. So it's not to say it's like a like, you know, sunshine and roses. But what I can say is that no matter how difficult it gets, no matter how painful it can be, the pain of repression and of being isolated and of being like disconnected from my community, most of all, hiding from myself and hiding for my community, being free of that pain is erm... It's euphoric. It's a euphoric feeling. You know, we say the opposite of gender dysphoria is euphoria, gender euphoria. Being like, something that I never had experienced. I had never experienced that feeling. And yeah, it's a long journey and I'm so young, I'm so fresh in it. It used to be that I would see somebody who was like me or who was really living in their truth, and I knew they were like me, whether it was a trans man or it was like butch, dyke, stud, whoever it was. If I saw them, it used to hurt me. It used to hurt in my heart. Used to hurt because I was hiding for myself. And I would love them but I was afraid of them and I was jealous of them. Now, when I see someone like me, the feeling that- I just want to kiss them, both cheeks *Annie laughs* and I want to hold them, I want to be in their crew and roll with them and sit with them and talk about all their dreams and aspirations and and laugh and just kick it. I've got these friends now. These are my bruvs, you know? And it's just like, I never knew that finding the freedom to acknowledge myself would also allow me to find that freedom in other people and to meet people there where this place that has always been a place of shame suddenly becomes a place of joy, beauty. It's beautiful. It's beautiful. Long journey, long road. I've been coming to this point for over 30 years. I believe that I will be heading out from this point, hopefully for as long as I live. And I'll learn more about this journey as I continue on it.
[00:33:30] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:33:40] Can I ask about connection? I know so much of your work revolves around that word. How has your sense of connection, I suppose, to the world changed since that big change of coming out in 2020?
Kae [00:33:53] The thing is, what I can say is like, for writers, often we are outsiders.
Annie [00:33:58] Yeah, observers.
Kae [00:33:58] Yeah, because we're not in the middle. If we were in the middle of it, we wouldn't need to try and work it out all the time *Annie laughing* because you'd just be in the middle of it getting on with it. You'd be fine.
Annie [00:34:10] Ahh man. Yeah, true.
Kae [00:34:10] Because we're not in there we're looking at it like, what are they doing? How is it that-? Okay, that's what being alive looks like. Let me- how do I understand it? I'm, like, so drawn to trying to understand because I never did understand and I was never understood. So, like, the thing that gave me understanding was reading a book by somebody I've never met from a place I've never been to, about a story of something they made up and suddenly I felt known, and I felt connection. I felt something that I felt so rarely from the real world. But because people don't really connect in a real deep way, it's so surface, it's so cruel, people are so weird *laughs*. There's so much performance, there's rules I don't understand. Rules of engagement that you get socialised into just being okay with but in my life, I just knew this wasn't deep, this wasn't what I wanted. But then musical connection. When I started to play music, when I started to freestyle, suddenly I had this way of connecting with people that was deep, deeply felt. It was real, you know? It was like, oh, this is real. That world is fake, this world is real. So I wanted connection that deep all the time. I didn't want surface connection with anybody. It was unsatisfying, it was insubstantial. It was false. It was scary. I still hate being in rooms with these people, I'm like what? Why are you behaving like this?
Annie [00:35:32] But coming out now must even exacerbate that even more because you are living so truthfully in every way. So you must be so much more aware of falseness because of that.
Kae [00:35:43] The thing is, my primary function has got to be love. This is just a decision that I made, even in the face of the fear that comes at you like, you know, the fear. Even in the face of all that, can my primary motivation be a loving one? So, like- and this is easy for me to say, like, I know there's a lot of stuff bound up in this about privilege and all these other things but like, this is just my philosophy that I've come to over the years. So like this thing about connection, it's also about getting myself out of the way, like getting my own- all of the armour that I've taken on, just to try and like *blows* just open that up a little bit and be like, okay, just try and lean in to where someone else is at before immediately putting my own discomfort on them or their behaviour. So for me that's also a connection. As I've grown older and I've started to think about, you know, the world and life and what people have to go through in their lives in order to function, I have no judgement attached to anybody's positioning in how they engage with the world. Like I don't know what someone's gone through, we don't know. And to assume that you know what someone's going through is to immediately fail. You've immediately failed in a possibility to connect with somebody. So often, I'm encountering these very insensitive people, assuming that it's okay to say certain things and they don't know what someone's been through, like what someone's bringing to the table when they walk into a room. I think just the bottom line is, patience. And just remember that you don't know shit about people! Like, I'm a writer, so I spend my life trying to work out people. Like I look at people all the time. I'm obsessed with people. I love people because I never was close. That's probably why, you know, and the writers I love, their outcasts and misfits, but they write not from anger but from love, you know?
Annie [00:37:50] Kae, last question. The change that you would still like to make for yourself or for the world around you?
Kae [00:37:59] Okay, if I could make any change for the world around me, any change, I would like to make it possible for all the people that are suffering to have a brief respite from their conditions, ailments, disease, psychosis. If I could actually make any change right now, I would like to make like one week where we could just take away pain.
Annie [00:38:26] Wow.
Kae [00:38:26] Just for people, you know, just give everybody a week without pain. But like, you know, Monday morning would be fucking awful.
Annie [00:38:37] *Laughing* it would be the biggest come down of your life!
Kae [00:38:39] Ahh fuck!
Annie [00:38:42] Can't you just give them eternal respite from pain?
Kae [00:38:47] Yeah, but then I thought maybe that's too much to ask.
Annie [00:38:49] Yeah.
Kae [00:38:50] So then I thought, oh, maybe it's okay to say just at least a week then, if it's too much to ask. If anything, if I could have anything, that would be it. Just take it just for a minute, just so people could feel no pain. Just for a minute. Because, you know, just a clean bill of health for us all. But then the thing is, that's never going to happen, is it?
Annie [00:39:15] Well, that's what this questions about. It's good to- it's healthy to wish for it, I think. Yeah.
Kae [00:39:19] Okay, yeah, that's my wish.
Annie [00:39:21] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, can I ask how you deal with the kind of overwhelming, relentless torrent of horrible news and horrible shit that goes on in the world. Again, as a writer, as someone whose job is to be permeable, whose job is to allow the feelings to come in and out. How do you do that? If at all.
Kae [00:39:44] I've got quite a particular perspective on this because like, when I was in my early teens, I became like almost religious in my, like, conspiracy theory.
Annie [00:39:55] Right?
Kae [00:39:56] Fascination. Like, I went deep in like *laughs* the shit that I was learning about the state of the world back then and about how we'd got to where we were and all of the ways that- I was really interested in like kind of international relations and how we had got here and colonialism and, and like war and what had happened and so, I've been in this mode of like, the world is so fucked, like, since I was about 14. And it absolutely did for me. By the time I was about 17, I was like, fucked.
Annie [00:40:34] Thats a burden. That's a massive burden for a child to have to take on.
Kae [00:40:39] What I mean by it is, where we're at now and everyone's like, oh my God, the worlds so fucked! Oh my God, how can- it's like, I was early *Annie laughs* it's like, yeah, of course. Do you not know? Look at the world. Look at the way that we have decided to relate to each other as a species. And really what I can say is that the more I learn, the more perspective it gives me. You don't have to get caught up in this like, panic mill of it. But yeah, this is what's happening. The reason things are the way they are is because of the things that have been done, and the things that have been done are there to learn about and see. And there is historical imprint. It goes back to the beginning of historical record of how we got here. And there are ways of finding out about this particular moment, and then recent history and ancient history and pre-history. Talking to other people from other places about their experiences of the same periods. This is where we are. This is it. And it's not- it should come as no surprise to anybody because we've been heading here since- at least since I started getting engaged with the world like, I went a bit too far and found myself in this kind of crisis. I clawed my way back out of it and actually, I feel like knowledge is key. Remember, this is not the be all and end all. This is one moment that has at its back every single moment that's ever been behind it. That's how we got here. And it's got every single moment that's to come heading out in front of it.
Annie [00:42:19] Let me ask you about that then. This idea of a loop, of repetition, going right back to the start of this conversation, the cyclical way, right?
Kae [00:42:26] Yeah.
Annie [00:42:27] And you sat in a caravan trying to conjure up your future self for guidance, for how to live, for how to be. Will you keep doing that? Do look forwards to Kae in the future?
Kae [00:42:41] Yeah, all the time. All the time.
Annie [00:42:44] And what does Kae in the future say? Or feel like?
Kae [00:42:48] I feel like that person, I'm doing the things that that person has been asking me to do for a long time. I think I'm doing those things now. You know, I feel like I've been not doing those things for a while. I think, I don't know, who knows? You could drop dead tomorrow, right now. I could be dead in 20 minutes, you know. But if all goes well, I'd like that person to have a bit of peace. I don't know. I want to say one more thing and then I'll stop talking about it but all this thing about the panic of now, and the panic, and the news feed and the world's so fucked and everything. Just like- just we're not that important.
Annie [00:43:26] Yeah. You have to zoom out, don't you, you have to zoom out.
Kae [00:43:30] Like we've done some terrible things to each other. We done some terrible, terrible things. We've got to make some peace in ourselves and with our people about what's happened for us in our lives. But we're not that important. In the history of things, imagine it's all going to be over. And then from this tiny little speck, something will emerge and then it'll start again in 5 billion years. There will be some other human beings. Do it all over again *Annie laughs*. Hopefully they won't do it as bad as we've done it. I don't know. These are just my things. The other thing I think about all the time is that if I had a different life, if I had lived in a different place, had known a different friend, had had a different parent, I would have completely different views.
Annie [00:44:16] Yes.
Kae [00:44:16] So what are views? Nothing. It's just what I feel. But tomorrow I could feel something different. And if I had a different conversation with somebody when I was ten years old, I would have different views. So these are just mine and they're nothing. Doesn't mean anything. There's no right or wrong it's like *takes a breath* *Annie laughs* Just nobody panic. Everythings alright.
Annie [00:44:32] Don't panic. Everything's going to be okay. Read books, get knowledge. That's the answer. Kae, thank you so much. Thank you for giving such thoughtful and wise answers. It was a real privilege to be able to have a deep one with you *Kae laughs*. I really appreciate it. Honestly, I really appreciate it. Thank you for being so honest and generous.
Kae [00:44:55] Nice one yeah. For anyone that's stuck with it the whole way, thanks for being on board.
Annie [00:45:00] Yeah, yeah.
Kae [00:45:01] Thanks Annie. It's been lovely to talk to you.
Annie [00:45:09] Kae Tempest man. What a wise and thought provoking conversationalist they are. I have to say that I was so buzzing after that! I felt a bit high after that conversation. I was so kind of- they really stoked my brain in a good way. I kind of felt on the edge of my seat for a lot of the conversation in that kind of way where I was completely transfixed by what they were saying. I'm very grateful to them for being so forthright about their personal life, and I think it will, and I hope it will help a lot of people listening to look at the world in a different way or if you know anyone who is trans or non-binary to kind of yeah, just to relate to them that bit better. Goes without saying, spread this conversation far and wide. Anyone who you think kind of needs to hear this, spread it to them and anyone who you think would really appreciate and feel seen by it then yeah, just anything you can do in terms of spreading it would be so appreciated. And you must if you haven't already, go and check out Kae's work. So, Divisible By Itself and One is the new book of poems, that came out at the end of April. Go check their music as well, The Line is a Curve is the most recent album that came out last year. There's a new single Nice Idea, and also that new EP forthcoming so, so much work to kind of dive into with regards to Kae Tempest. I wish you the most wonderful journey consuming that work. If you haven't already, it would be so appreciated if you could press subscribe and get these Changes episodes into your inbox every Monday morning. And just thanks for listening, so grateful to have you with us. If you are one of our regular listeners week in, week out, even if you just come across this, thanks for giving us your time. It means loads. Alright, see you next week!