Interview: Rae Spoon – 'I was very tired of being a part of the gender binary'

Artist on identifying as agender, their ever-evolving music and biographical doc A Prairie Home

The first thing you need to know about Rae Spoon is that they are one of Canada's best-kept secrets: a multi-platform artist with over ten albums of music, two books and a short film under their belt. The second is that 'they' are one person, and they are absolutely a 'they'.

As a transgender artist, Spoon prefers not to be assigned a gender pronoun. 'I was assigned female at birth,' Spoon says, 'and when I was about 20 I came out as male. I lived that way for about ten years. When I moved to Montreal, people were using "they" as a different, non-binary gender pronoun. I started to use it in my personal life, and I had to come out again as agender.'

Identifying now as neither male nor female, Spoon explains that gender-specific pronouns are not sufficient for everybody. 'Every pronoun is separate from every identity', they say. 'For me, I felt like I was very tired of being a part of the gender binary.'

Much of Spoon's art is about their trans identity, but their work is rooted in a life history which extends beyond the meaning of 'he' and 'she'. Spoon grew up in a Pentecostal household in Calgary, with a reportedly abusive father. The details of Spoon's troubled childhood are captured in My Prairie Home, a documentary by the artist's friend Chelsea McMullan.

'It was her idea,' Spoon says of McMullan and the film. 'I wasn't the director. I think I gave up a lot of control because people don't tend to want to do anything that's painful.' Though the memories are personal and often upsetting, the process of making a film about their difficult past proved a positive one in some ways. 'I never thought I would do something like that, so it gave me the opportunity to retell my story back to myself.'

The story of the film was so powerful in fact, that it was picked up by the Sundance Film Festival, giving it international exposure. 'Touring it around the world was pretty intense,' says Spoon. 'It was on repeat for a couple of years of my life. But having it finished, seeing the product and seeing how people were relating to it was good. It's really important to me as an artist to make things that people can relate to.'

Though Spoon's life has been played out on film, it's also embedded in their music: ten albums, which have evolved from country ditties to amped-up, electro / indie rock songs. 'I think I definitely started writing music as a teenager as a bit of a an escape from the situation I was in', they say, but it's also about the experiences of an ever-evolving life (Spoon has lived all over Canada, as well as in Germany).

'I always stay close to my folk / roots music, but I haven't played country music in about ten years,' Spoon says. 'I grew up in a place where country music is very common, but then I moved all around and got to explore other styles.'

Perhaps this sums Spoon up: a self-aware artist, whose life is in their art, and whose art is in their life.

Rae Spoon tours the UK until Mon 23 May.

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