Ten years ago, finding a musician who identified as LGBTQ was like finding water in a desert. There were a handful, of course, but it was nowhere near the oasis of diversity we’ve begun to see in the last few years alone. This seemingly seismic shift in queer representation has given us everyone from Mykki Blanco and Troye Sivan to Olly Alexander and Kele Okereke.
The latter two artists recently got together for a duet called “Grounds for Resentment” off Okereke’s new album, Fatherland, which is itself a testament to how far we’ve come. The former Bloc Party bandmate’s latest is a collection of stripped down ballads about, among other things, becoming a father to a newborn girl with his partner at age 35. Through discussing the LP, we arrived on his track with Alexander and how monumentally important the Years and Years frontman has become as an openly gay rock star.
“If somebody like Olly Alexander had been around when I was growing up,” Okereke says, “I think I might’ve had a very different idea about what it meant to be gay.” This sentiment echoes the importance of Okereke performing today as an openly gay musician. After agreeing on how fabulously formative Alexander has become to music, we turned to Okereke’s own tumultuous coming out story as it happened years ago and how, with time, he’s come to find the beauty in standing on his own.
OUT: What was your coming out experience like when you were younger?
Kele Okereke: It wasn’t a nice situation. When I came out, my parents disowned me. I kind of knew that they would because I know their religious background and beliefs. They threw me out and we didn’t speak for a week, so I went to stay with a friend of mine in South London. But after a week, my mom called and said she wanted to see me. We spoke and hashed a lot of things out and it was an ongoing process and discussion.
There were tearful moments on both sides, but the space we’re in now is the best space we could possibly be in. My mom and my dad are always in my house. My parents love [my daughter] Savannah so much and she loves my partner, as well. The space that I’m in now as a 30-year-old gay person... I could’ve never imagined I could be in this space when I was a teenager pre-coming out. It was something that was very, very fraught but then, over the years, has become very, very beautiful.
Do you remember how that felt?
Even in the week I didn’t speak to my family and they threw me out, it was the best feeling ever to know that I was living as myself. Obviously it was slightly scary not knowing what I was going to do...
How old were you?
I was in university, so I guess I was 19 or 20 or something. Although it was scary, nothing compared to having this feeling of a weight off my back and knowing that now I could start to live my life. I know that everyone’s personal situation is different and I see lots of my Black, gay friends who aren’t out to their family. It makes me sad because how can you have an authentic life if you’re not living authentically with your family, you know? We have to learn to stand on our own.