Kae Tempest publishes first book since revealing they are non-binary


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 Kae Tempest, performing at BBC 6 Music festival in March. 

The award-winning poet and musician Kae Tempest has published their first work since announcing they are non-binary, a meditation on creativity and connection written for “others who don’t fit”.

On Connection, published this week by Faber & Faber, explores how in a time of division, “immersion in creativity can bring us closer to each other”. It is Tempest’s first piece of writing since the acclaimed artist announced they would be changing their name to Kae, and their pronoun to they in August.

Making the announcement in August, Tempest said they had struggled to “accept myself as I am for a long time … 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,” they wrote. “I’ve loved Kate. But I am beginning a process and I hope you’ll come with me.”

In On Connection, Tempest reveals the “strange and passionate relationship” they have had with their own creativity since the age of 12, “suffering from mental health problems and using drugs and alcohol to cope with a difficult brain, troubles at home and gender dysphoria”.

Tempest says that they were a “teenage runaway, a school dropout and a drug dealer”, sleeping in churchyards “with my best mate and his heroin addiction, or allowing myself to get in a car with a 50-year-old stranger who bought me beer and cigarettes because I let him touch me”. It was creativity, they write, that saved them.

“Every day was just about trying to make enough money to get fucked up. That was the major goal of my life. I was in a lot of pain. Somehow, creativity reached through the fog when nothing else could,” they write. “It was transformative. I fell in love with music. I fell absolutely head over heels in love and I became joyful. I experienced creativity as my older self, or higher self: a voice that literally came into my head and told me what to do.”

Tempest went on to win the 2013 Ted Hughes award for Brand New Ancients, an hour-long “spoken story” with orchestral backing. Their long poem Let Them Eat Chaos was shortlisted for the Mercury prize and a Costa book award, and they have also been nominated for two Ivor Novello awards.

The book also reveals the darker side of Tempest’s fame: while “running from gig to gig four nights a week”, they developed nodules on their vocal cords, stopping them from speaking or performing until they could be operated on.

“My voice was not only my livelihood, it was also how I asserted myself in a room. My pass. The one thing about me, as I saw it at the time, that made it OK for me to exist in public, considering all the things that I was – dyke, fat, bloke, unfemale, unmale, anxious, full of dysphoric shame and discomfort, painfully shy and simultaneously overbearing in social situations or around people I didn’t know,” they write. “My voice and my lyricism gave me an escape route from my body and from the way being trapped in that body made me act and feel. My voice was my ticket to existence. And I’d lost it.”

The surgery went ahead, with three full weeks of total vocal rest to follow. “I was reduced to the corporeal. After a lifetime of trying to escape my body, trying to be more than my body, trying to excuse my body, needing to talk my way out of my body because it was the wrong body and it didn’t look like other people’s bodies, I was my body entirely,” Tempest writes.

On Connection explores the poet’s hope that tapping into our creativity can help bridge the “canyons that have opened up between us” in the world today. Tempest writes that it is for those “who realise there’s nothing to be gained from even trying to fit, and eventually have just had to find their own way through.”

But it is also for “those who have always fitted. For those who don’t give a shit about anything … People who share my beliefs and people who find them fucking ridiculous. Everyone. All the time. No matter what.”


Tags: non binary

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