Nate Ethan Watson: Traversing Transitions in Music, Mind and Masculinity
UK rap artist Nate Ethan Watson shares his observations and feelings on concepts such as growing into complete self-expression, society transitioning out of pandemic nightmare, being a black man in the world and the truth regarding the press infamously labelling Nate, ‘the UK’s first transgender grime artist.’
Interview by Natalie Alleyne
Carrying a contagious zest for life and a powerful sense of self, musician, NHS team member and charity founder, Nate Ethan, is sugar, spice and all things nice, something his followers – and “all of his girlfriends” – no doubt attest to. Referred to by the press as ‘the UK’s first transgender grime artist,’ the multifaceted Nate is no stranger to challenges and changes. THIIIRD’s Features Editor Natalie Alleyne had the privilege of chatting with Nate and exploring notions of Transition through aspects of Present, Past and Future, from his perspective.
Transition (n) the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.
The Present, Pandemic.
Natalie Alleyne: Times are strange, Nate, this pandemic is costing people a lot. How are you?
Nate Ethan: It really is, we are in a surreal time right now. I’ve been better, as I’m sure many would say, but amazing to see and witness how people are coming together and supporting each other with getting through this.
NA: You work in operations for the NHS, right? Being on the inside, what advice would you give to people at the moment?
NE: I currently work in the therapy department, so from that aspect I would say to stay at home firstly and take care of your mental health as much as your physical. Try new activities at home during this lockdown, it’s a chance to also get creative and learn something you have been interested in but not had the time.
NA: How do you think society should transition out of this pandemic nightmare? Do you think there are things we should leave behind when things go back to normal?
NE: At this point I’m not sure if we will go back to normal or if it would be good to. In the last 24 hours I have heard the news that one of my friends has passed away, and know of many more. I just think life shouldn’t be taken for granted, as it shows you nobody is invincible. I think once this is over we all need to be more patient and understanding with each other, as I think many people will by then have experienced some pain through this and will need us all to continue to support one another.
The Present, Nate Ethan
NA: In terms of gender, at this point would you say you have transitioned or are still transitioning? Tell us about it.
NE: At this point I am still transitioning. I started the process in July 2018 and am still going through what’s known as a second puberty, this time in male form. I haven’t had any surgery yet but had consultations to discuss the options.
NA: Meanwhile you have founded TNB Connect. What’s it all about?
NE: Yes, we had a launch event planned last month but had to postpone due to the pandemic. It’s a project based in Wolverhampton for Trans and Non-Binary people and a hub once a month offering support and space to socialise and connect with others. It initially started with the idea of helping trans people who are transitioning and maybe struggling financially and supporting them with free clothing, but has since built into a project that will be very beneficial for the community. We have also had some massive donations from Fila, Gender Free World, Rainbow & Co, GayPrideShop and many more, which has been amazing. From speaking to people in the trans community and a possible delay with my own transition, it’s not an easy time right now at all. For many I’ve spoken to, people are already isolated within how they feel but then told they need to isolate within a household that may not be accepting or people not being able to work and make any money to afford prescription or private treatment costs. It genuinely hurts hearing how this has really impacted some people, through TNB Connect we are trying to be as available as possible and offer support through our online media pages and keeping in touch with all our members as much as we can.
NA: And your music – before the lockdown you put on a wicked performance with the UK dub legend, Gemma Fox. What have you been working on lately?
NE: That was so sick! Me and Gemma are always talking and putting things together so there’s some fire coming there. I’ve been talking to a few producers too and a couple I’ve wanted to work with for years, I just want to get into the studio now.
NA: Have you experienced any difficulty in the grime scene since transitioning?
NE: No, because I haven’t really stepped back into it. I miss grime and still continue to write, but I’ve always been versatile, I just think more of my grime / bassline tracks were heard of. Grime helped me through a big part of my life and I still love it but I’m not in that same space anymore so it’s been a case of finding my style and sound again. I was labelled UK’s first transgender grime artist with a quote I wasn’t comfortable with and didn’t say – I felt that got a few of the grime fans backs up a bit, and would probably do with me, so I got it, and quickly became cautious with the media. Definitely though all the people I was close with or respected working with in grime have all been cool.
The Past, Voice
NA: I want to ask you about your voice, in two senses. The first is literally, could you describe your voice in three words pre T. How does it compare to now?
NE: That’s a hard one. I just know it was very high and a lot more feminine than what it is now, which I didn’t realise until my voice actually dropped and I compared tracks and videos. My voice is a lot deeper now but hasn’t settled which is frustrating sometimes because it’s like my voice breaks mid sentence. I think it’s going through some kinda scooby doo stage.
NA: Has the change in your voice influenced the content of your music? If so, how?
NE: I think my whole experience transitioning has changed the content of my music if I’m honest, and not so much that I’m just writing about me transitioning, but my experiences are different now, which inspires a lot of material and the way in which I write. I feel as though I’m able to express myself as my complete self, whereas before I wasn’t as comfortable and felt restricted with what I could openly talk about.
NA: And now I want to ask about your voice in terms of how outspoken you are. Recently you’ve done amazing things, appearing on both the BBC and ITV speaking about yourself as an artist who is trans. Have you always been this outspoken?
NE: I think I’ve always been quite outspoken with what I believe but I kept quiet about a lot of things that I feared being vocal about which didn’t do my mental health any good. I started to think, why am I trying to please other people and damaging myself by doing that? Since appearing on those TV channels, I found that there’s many people that relate to some things I’ve spoken about and think building awareness on certain issues not only educates us but can give people a sense of self-worth and strength to know they are not alone.
The Future, Black Men
NA: Since physically transitioning, you’ve expressed that you now know what it is to be seen as a black man. What difficulties have you experienced?
NE: This has probably been one of the most testing things about my transition because I have definitely noticed a difference in how people initially perceive me to be or judge me, but it’s hard to explain these things because it’s a feeling you feel and know but wouldn’t be understood if you’ve never experienced it. I’m more cautious with my approach to things and people now and more aware of my actions. I can be quite passionate when I talk but that can easily be labelled as aggressive, that’s not different to being female but I think along with the depth of my voice now it’s easier for someone to try and put that on me.
NA: How do you think we can change these things about society to make a better future for black men?
NE: I think some people, when there are certain stereotypes [against them] and when they know that, sometimes it’s hard [for them] not to be defensive, but I’ve noticed there are people that would like to draw that stereotype out of you too. We need to support each other and each other’s work, businesses, help each other grow and spread more positive representation through these media platforms and not the typical narrative or the ones people expect to read and hear.
NA: Who / where will you be in ten years? (Will you still have two girlfriends?)
NE: You caught that? Boiii apparently I have five now so I’m thinking I might marry at least one of them by then.
Who will I be? Hopefully an improved version of who I am now. I just hope ten years from now I’m happy and healthy and still doing what I love with the people I care about.