Rebel: Full Interview
Interviewed by Tami
20 May 2019
T: Hi, it’s Tami interviewing Rebel for West Yorkshire Queer Stories. The date is the 20th of May 2019 and I am in Huddersfield.
T: Hi! [Laughs] So...yeah, so we’re here in Huddersfield, how long have you lived here for?
R: So I moved to Huddersfield when I was 17, so I’ve lived in Huddersfield for three years, but I left Huddersfield last year and moved to Newcastle for a while but now I’ve come back.
T: Oh great, how come you moved to Newcastle?
R: Since I finished college, I went to do a swimming course, but it wasn’t meant for me. So, it didn’t work out but I came back to focus on my music.
T: Nice, nice. And how long has music been important for you, in life?
R: [Pause] It, it – essentially it started out as poetry. So I was writing poetry from I think a really young age, like 12, 13. Yeah. And then when I, when I was 15 I started to...yeah, really focus on it [laughs]. And...when I was, I think – I went to college, Greenhead for a while, and was doing subjects that other people wanted me to do and then I decided, in the second year that that’s it, I’m gonna focus on music properly and combine my poetry with my music.
T: Yeah, nice! So -
R: It’s been like five, six years. Five, six years of doing music.
T: And with your poetry, what do you like to write about?
R: I think, I had a lot of internal anger when I was younger. And I didn’t really know how to express my emotions. So poetry like a way to kind of release, and, I didn’t really feel like I could relate to anyone. Apart from Eminem, but like, but like me writing poetry and being able to look back at it and being able to relate to it made it more real and feel less alone.
T: Yeah. Great. And with the relating bit, what do you mean by that? What were you able to relate with?
R: I feel like...being, being a Muslim, and being [pause] like...being gay and then, like, having a childhood that wasn’t...completely the best – I felt like, I wasn’t very…I wasn’t – I couldn’t really relate to most the people that I knew. And I couldn’t really connect with them because we didn’t have that much in common, and I was more or less like hiding a lot of aspects of myself. And so, it did feel like I was alone in a lot of things, but like, by writing poetry and expressing myself, reading back on it felt really good, yeah, felt like I was talking to someone even though it was another part of myself.
T: Great, and...and it seems to me that you’re...doing things quite independently. Do you feel like you – do you feel less alone now?
R: Yeah. I feel like the more I’ve grown up and realised that there are other people out there that are similar to you, and meeting them has helped me to kind of...embrace aspects of myself that I used to push away. I feel like that’s really helped. There are people out there that are similar to you, and you just need to express your honesty and truth and not be afraid to be your authentic self, in order to find them.
T: And how – in what spaces and places have you found these people?
R: Hmmmm...ok funny story, I went to Mirfield Grammar College. For about two weeks cos, I wanted to go there and I seen a guy in the street, and...he had the Greenhead tag on his lanyard. And I asked him ‘what’s your college like?’ and he was like ‘yeah it’s really cool’ blah blah, and I was considering – I already got in, and I was considering going there, and then...I thought ‘ok, this guy says it’s nice, the people are really nice’, compared to Mirfield Grammar, it sounded a lot better. So when I went, I – started the college and saw him in the corridor. I was like ‘oh my god you’re the guy in the bus stop, I actually came!’ [Laughs] And then, he was like ‘yeah’ and we talked a little bit and then he was like ‘I’m gay’ and I was like ‘woaaaahhhhh!’. First person I ever heard say ‘I like – I’m gay’ out loud right in front of my face! And then like, like, so many, so many feelings inside of me wanted to just speak to him and let out everything about all the things that I’ve been experiencing over the years, and like, we became really close, like best friends, and, you know, he helped me to like embrace aspects of myself that I was afraid to before, so yeah. He even took, he even took me to this gay group called Brian Jackson House. Have you heard of it?
T: No, where is it?
R: Oh, it’s in, it’s in Huddersfield. [Beeping noise and brief conversation] It’s in Huddersfield, it’s right by the train station actually, you find quite a few, gay people there, but it’s like a youth club almost. Yeah. And there’s lot of, there’s a lot of transgender people, gay people, bisexual, lesbian, even – I think there’s straight people there too, they just come along to make friends. But yeah, they, they do exist.
T: And how often do you go there and what’s your interaction with that space?
R: To be honest, I, I used to go, when I was about 18, 17, 18. They do – they used to do it every Wednesday, and when I started to go, I made a few friends...But I stopped going after a while, I just kind of outgrew the friendship group and wanted to focus more on my music and more on studying psychology and other aspects. But it’s still a nice open safe space and I’d like, recommend it to people who want to meet new gay people and stuff.
T: Great, great. That’s great. And, have you – do you have a community or a...yeah, do you have other gay Muslims around you in your life?
R: Actually, yeah. By accident I bumped into a girl in college, who looked a little similar to me and she’s become one of my very very close friends. [Knocking sound and conversation]. Yeah, she’s became one of my close friends, she’s not gay, I think she’s bisexual, but, she understands a lot of the things that I say and I understand her, we can connect a lot on a level. And, she’s also made a, a new friend who’s gay and he’s a Muslim too. So it’s like, kind of been introduced like that so it’s – yeah, it’s really nice.
T: Great. And where does the name Rebel come from? I’m -
R: Oh my god! [Laughs] So that’s good question!
T: [Laughs] I was wanting to ask that for ages! [Laughs]
R: That’s a good question! The first high school I went to, was an all-girls school. I don’t know if it was a little nickname there, but I, I can’t, I can’t remember it being there, I think – the second one I went to was an all-white school and I was the only Asian then the third one was an all-girls school and it was very – it was a Muslim all-girls school. And I really disliked it because there were only 30 girls there and I didn’t like being cooped up in such a small narrow-minded environment. And it was my mission to get kicked out [laughs]. So like, I know I was really disruptive and I used to mess about a lot. And...I did earn the nickname from other people, people used to call me Rebel, ‘oh, little Rebel’, you know. And then...when I started to realise, like, my music is a little controversial and goes against the norms of society, I decided, yeah, Rebel is me, like I am Rebel. That’s me, and it’s a part of me that – yeah, I love, so I’m gonna be that.
T: Great. And...in what way does your music tell a story about, kind of being against society, and do you link any elements of, of, of being gay into that?
R: Yes, but I usually am very reluctant to share...because the music that I’ve released so far is...more to do with...the generation and how we’re addicted to social media, or having problems with insomnia, or like – there’s a song called Phoddict, which is about phone addicts and how we’re all addicted to our phones and then we, we’re, we’re separating ourselves. Yeah but, that is, like, different to some of the things that I actually do portray in my music but I don’t release it.
And I think there’s a fear there, of being a target. And I’ll have to overcome that because a lot of my music does incorporate my feelings and my sexual feelings and my, my love and my – even my lust. So, in terms of...the story that I tell...there is a trilogy coming out which explains a story – the story of actually what did happen to me…during high school and after high school, with one – my best friend from high school who…basically had… - well it’s her story, I can’t say it. But you’ll see it in the trilogy, it’s called on Heroine, it’s gonna be on YouTube, probably by the end of a few months, but we’re shooting it, it’s got three different videos. So the first song is the journey of high school and how the girl used to get bullied, and how I kind of stepped in and we kind of, like, became friends because of it. And the second one is when she was extremely suicidal, and in that song I do mention, ‘I’ve started to hate this rain day by day/can’t find the words to say my pain/can’t find the balls to say I’m gay cos my parents might disown me/they might take my name’. And that lyric I’ve always kept in, I’ve kept it in for like, three years now, I haven’t released it and I feel like that in itself will – when I realise it which I will – it’ll just open loads of doors for me. Because it’s like, once it’s out there then there’s no going back and then I can release all the rest of the music that, that comes from it. And it’s...it’s scary because like, being an Asian...there’s so much judgement based around it, there’s so much discrimination, people don’t understand that it’s a natural feeling, like, the inclinations are natural, they’re not like - ‘oh, well if you think about it’, if – being gay is a choice, go and choose to be gay then, like, if, if a straight person comes to me and like, ‘yeah, being gay is a choice’, I’ll ask them ‘why don’t you choose to be gay for one day? Come on then, try it’. It’s – I don’t think it’s a choice, in fact I feel it, I think it’s natural, it’s in animals too. And...I feel like...a lot of the Muslim community doesn’t understand that because they’ve not experienced it themselves. And if they were to experience it themselves, then they’d know. And I represent that because, I feel that naturally so it’s like, I can’t change it, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to change it and it’s better to just be authentic. And, and, and be who I am so I can represent that side of people who are usually don’t – we’re voiceless basically.
T: Wow. [Laughs] Yeah.
R: [Laughs] Sorry if it’s too much info.
T: Yeah. No it’s, it’s absolutely amazing and it’s, it’s great to, to hear that, and I’m sorry that… - cos I’m also Jewish and my community didn’t accept who I am as well, so there’s also kind of, having to, kind of take away the shackles of where you come from to really be your true authentic self. And, can you describe the, the shackles – what – the restraint that you felt from your family and your community? And you don’t need to go into detail that’s too triggering or anything, but is there anything that you think – that you’ve experienced? There’s, there’s, there’s discrimination that you talk about, the holding in, holding in those lyrics. What was doing that?
R: I think it was the fact that...if it’s expressed out there on social media or on the internet – once it’s out there anyone can access it, and once they know, it’s like, ‘right’, it becomes real. Whereas if I keep it in and I keep it hidden, then I’m not...quote unquote ‘bringing shame to my family’, or...you know, ‘exposing my sins’ and this and that. I mean..being gay in, in Islam – I’m just gonna put it out – being gay is not a sin. The act of doing it is the sin, like for example, adultery, exact same thing. We’re not allowed to have sex before we’re married, yet so many people go and, you know, do that. And it’s the exact same thing, it’s just the same, you know. And I feel like people do not go and research it themselves, they just – all they know in Islam is ‘kill the gays’, or ‘stone the gays’, and it’s like, it’s so narrow-minded and I think a lot of it comes from culture rather than religion. But in terms of family...I didn’t tell anyone I was gay until 17 years old. And I was going to Mosque, and going [laughs] to school and having crushes on girls and feeling so much self-hatred, and like...I even like, had a – I, I forced myself to go through an experience with a boy, to try and turn myself straight. At the age of 15, right. And that didn’t work, it just really messed my head up and, and made me feel really messed up, like – not – I didn’t do anything like completely sexual, that’s not what I’m saying, but like, I forced myself to put myself in that uncomfortable situation, just to feel accepted in the eyes of my parents, or the people around me, or even in – what they they say God wants, but I know that God doesn’t want that. Well, for me, I feel like, God loves you unconditionally, and he – if he’s put a test in your life, whether it’s to do with drugs, whether you have inclinations towards...the same gender, or, or, or even – you know, I’m not comparing them, there are differences, these are all different types of struggles that all humans have, but, like, can, can you imagine what it’d be like to be a paedophile? You can’t. Like, we don’t know what’s it like for them to be in their shoes. So like, obviously, when other people are judging them – us, sorry – when other people are judging gays, I feel like they need to take a step back, and instead of assume, actually ask and try to understand. Yeah. Sorry, you know your question, I kind of -
T: No, no, I – it’s, there’s no, there’s no rules, there’s no structure. And – where did you grow up by the way, I forgot to ask, was that -
R: Grew up in Batley, so that’s near to Leeds. And it’s really [laughs] like – the people there are quite – not all of them, but they can be quite judgemental and stuck in their own kind of beliefs. And then once you bring something new to the table, they’re like ‘nope, bye’. So it’s like -
T: And, don’t know if I – you don’t need to answer, but...have you come out to your parents? Slash family?
R: No, I used to think that I had to be a boy to be accepted. Like, I had to change my gender and then at least I could marry a woman and it’d all be fine and I’d be normal and... I – that’s what like, I was continuing thinking ‘I’m a boy, I’m a boy’. And I’d try to express that to my mum one time and she was just like, ‘There’s... something wrong with you, I’m gonna pray for you’ type of thing [laughs]. But then you can’t pray the gay away! I tried! I tried for time! No. I, I haven’t, I haven’t actually come out. I haven’t… I don’t even, I’m, I don’t even want to say anything to my father, I don’t even want him to find out. Because there was one time when I asked him ‘what do you think about gay people?’ and he was like, ‘It’s a disease, stay away from it.’ And I was like, ‘Ohhhh [claps] shit! How am I supposed to run from myself? Like, where do I do that?’ [Laughs] Yeah, how do you do that? Like how do you run somewhere – like, okay!
T: Same with my dad [laughs].
T: Yeah, yeah.
R: Did he say the same thing?
T: I – yeah, I asked him what he thought of, of gay people and he said a similar very negative thing, I was like ‘ok well I’m not telling you about myself’ and also, they don’t need to know, as well, it’s, it’s part of you. And...do you – so, you grew up in Batley, and then – was in Batley? And then you went to Huddersfield for college. And -
R: Yeah, three years -
T: Three years -
R: I was living independently since 17.
T: Independently, great. And then from Huddersfield to Newcastle for a bit. And then back down here. And do you feel right now supported by the queer scene?
R:...I’m not gonna lie, I don’t…I don’t really have a gay community any more, like before, I used to go to the Brian Jackson House and, you know, people were open-minded there which was cool. But...I feel like there needs to be more understanding and awareness around it. Because there’s so many girls that, that live in Batley or that live in Huddersfield and they’re in the closet still, and even Muslim girls, people you wouldn’t expect, and they’re still afraid to even tell their friends or tell, like, their parents – parents is the last thing that they wanna tell. Cos, you know, it’s seen as such a huge bad thing. And for me it’s just like – it, like, ok, if you’re, if you’re a Muslim or a Jew or a Christian, and your, your son starts smoking weed or smoking cigarettes, then what do you do, do you kill them? No you don’t, you just, you be there, you support them through it and you let them make their mistakes and you let them have their own – that’s how I think it should be but obviously there’s, there’s a culture clash going on. Massive culture clash.
T: What advice would you give to say, a 15 year old...gay Muslim woman, from Batley? What would you say?
R: Oh my god...oh my god. I would say, like, it’s ok to be who you are. You’re beautiful in every aspect. And, don’t, don’t suppress yourself and who you are just to make other people happy or to be liked. When you come out, or when you do the things that you want for example, some people like cutting their hair off or dressing the way they’ve always wanted to – anything like that, when you do that, the, the people who you don’t – you’re not supposed to have in your life will naturally just fall off, like, the trash will take itself out basically [laughs]. And the right people will stay in your life. You basically get a chance to distinguish between who’s your real friends and who, who don’t actually know you and you think they’re your friends but you would not hang out with them if you could see their belief system. Yeah, so I’d say like, don’t be afraid, to speak about it openly with your friends. Obviously with parents it’s a little different because, it’s very easy to tarnish the relationships, with your parents and, a lot of people… - you don’t need to do that, you don’t have to go and tarnish your relationships, you can keep your sexuality to yourself. It’s ok, but, but I’d say with friends and stuff, I think, like, it’s a bonus [laughs] it’s actually a bonus.
T: Thank you, yeah, that, that’s really, that’s really solid advice. And, linking to...music, and like, people and, and, and media that you absorb, do you look to, kind of, queer artists? Gay artists? For inspiration in your life?
R: I mean...I mean in, in terms of inspiration I feel like I’m extremely original and authentic, like my style is just to me. But there are artists out there who...like make it ok, like they, they make me feel like it’s ok, for example there’s an artist called Kehlani. And she’s bisexual so she talks about men in some of her songs, and women. Don’t know if you’ve heard of any of her music. There’s also Hayley Kiyoko. She’s got a song called Girls Like Girls. It’s so good, you need to hear it! [Claps] I really wanna feature with her one day actually. That’ll be sick. And, I feel like the more I grow as an artist, I might be seen as like, the, the [pause] – in the future, like, the [pause] the rapper who’s gay, like the female rapper who’s actually gay. But I do, I do see myself as bisexual but it’s like, 90% gay and then that little 10% that comes once in every four years [laughs] you know. Yeah. That’s, that’s what that is. But I feel like I’ll be seen as the stereotypical – like you know how Ruby Rose was like the ambassador for all gay girls? I feel like I’m gonna be the Ruby Rose but like, the rapper version and in my own element because I’m also like...like, Asian. Do you know what I mean? So, it’s gonna be a very – just my existence is extremely controversial and stuff, so. Yeah, it’s, it’s gonna be a tough one.
T: Definitely, definitely. And, you know artists that you mentioned, are they gay Asians?
R: Hayley, she’s, I think she’s Filipino. Or something, forgive me if I’m wrong but I think she is, but she does – she expresses herself, she talks about how she [laughs] has crushes on her friends, and like she’ll be at a sleepover and have them in her head and, and the other person’ll never feel the same and stuff and it’s like, so many people can relate to that who have experienced that before. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a crush on a straight girl, it is the worst thing ever! And especially if they’re your friend! Because you get so close!
T: Yeah, yeah. It’s difficult, it’s very difficult. In terms of you as a, a artist… - I’m really seeing that you’re going through this journey of like, finding your authentic self. What holds for you in the future, as an artist, what are you looking to achieve? Whether it’s in the music world or the gay world or both? And do you want, do you want to stick around in Huddersfield? Or is -
R: No, I really want to, I really really want to perform in every single country in the world. I would love to do that. I think having my own fanbase and my own platform first would help me, but then the bigger I get I would like to perform at Pride. As a rapper, as a female rapper, it would be so [claps] cool, it would be so fun as well because I have really, like, massive energy, especially when I’m on stage. So, yeah. So like, having my dancers with me as well, I have dancers that perform with me. It would be so amazing to just like, see everyone being free. It would be amazing. I’d love to do that. [Time? Tami checks recording and related chat]. Yeah. I’d love to be, one of the leading headline artists at Pride. I mean, Ariana Grande performs at Pride and she’s not even gay! So like -
T: I know! [Laughs] She’s just an icon! Like Lady Gaga.
R: Exactly! Yeah! Like, I respect her and I like her music, but like, I, I don’t feel like it’s that relevant. They need, they need someone who’s like -
T: What Prides have you been to?
R: I’ve been to Leeds Pride. I think twice?
T: And how’ve you found them? All the, all the Prides you’ve gone to?
R: They were so fun! They’re actually really fun! And everybody is so accepting and loving towards each other. Like you’re walking through the crowd and you just, you’re getting massive bursts of energy, and – straight people are welcome as well, like, they’re ok, I mean – a straight girl was dancing on me and she [laughs] she was like – I didn’t know she was straight, she had rainbows everywhere and stuff and then she told me after, I was like ‘fine!’ [laughs]. But like, it was cool, like, it was nice, it was nice for humans, to come together. For humans themselves to come together and just be in a space where they can freely love each other and celebrate love. That’s just beautiful, I feel like, they should just be more, more events like that, where we celebrate love.
T: Is there a Huddersfield Pride?
R: Is there a Huddersfield Pride? I don’t think so you know. I don’t, I don’t recall there ever being one. I know they’ve got a Caribbean festival, like a Jamaican and Caribbean festival. But, but not a Pride, but we should have a Pride!
T: Yeah, maybe you could set one up, that would be -
T: That would be cool, you seem like a mover and shaker in Huddersfield, so!
R: That’s a good idea! Yeah.
T: Maybe not for this summer, but the following summer. [Laughs].
R: It’s a good idea actually.
T: Yeah. Great. And is there anything else that you wanna say about – all the stuff we mentioned? I feel like the main themes has been like, your queerness and, and Islam and, and, like, music.
R: I wanna say a message. [Laughs] To the straight girls, who like attention. Stop! We have feelings! [Laughs] [Claps] You know what I mean?! You know what I’m saying! Like, we actually feel inclined to you, like, emotionally as well, so when you’re liking the attention and you’re getting a kick out of someone noticing you and calling you pretty and stuff...it’s not the same for us, like we actually feel for you and we actually like you, like you! So stop doing that!
T: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah, for sure. And...I think that’s, I think that’s it? I think I’ve...it’s around 20 minutes so that’s perfect. Ok.