Drum & bass artist B-Complex discusses her 'complicated' gender
An undeniably masculine sound, drum & bass is the world in which B-Complex has been immersed for more than two decades. She started playing around with music at the age of 12 and rose to prominence within the scene at the age of 25.
A precursor to genres such as dubstep and EDM, drum & bass is a highly masculine sound. It is perhaps electronic music’s equivalent of gangster rap - complete with basslines, bravado and bodysonic dancefloors. However, B-Complex has carved out her own sound. Hailing from Slovakia, she has performed all over the world and, in 2015, announced: "Call me Matia".
Four Nine: When did you transition? Was this a difficult decision or did it seem like an obvious one?
“I started to realise that something was different when I was in puberty. Though I remember some things even from when I was a kid - like how I was drawn to the female world. But I didn’t know how to deal with that because you’re kind of missing the language for it.
“It was different with me because I’m not transsexual - I’m more transgender. I think the term ‘bigender’ describes it best. I’ve never had such strong dysphoria that I would transition 100 per cent. But I always felt much better in the female gender. I didn’t really discover it until I was 30 when I did the full 'coming out' and started to live as a girl.
“But it was a full process in between and I really started to open up at 22 or 23. I was really worried about how it would be accepted and how it would be seen. I’d be checking for clues in surroundings - about how my parents or friends would see the issue.
"There was the Jenner magazine cover. A lot of trans people used it to show that not everybody is glamorous"
“In terms of how I would describe it, I would often compare it to 1984 - the book. They try to change the language so that you would be more controlled. I felt, in a similar way, I couldn’t really describe who I was before I discovered the term 'bigender' and how fluid it can be.
“Eventually, thanks to the internet, I found out that there are so many more people in very similar conditions to what I am experiencing. It helped me, a lot, to open up towards it and to become myself. Or I would be really afraid that I’m too strange or that I have a psychological issue. If you have nobody to talk to about it and you have to find confidence, it’s quite difficult.”
Four Nine: Did 30 seem fairly late to properly come out?
“I’d grown up enough, with confidence in myself, that I opened up 100 per cent. But there were other small steps before - like my 'close' coming out. When I was 23, I opened up to my friends and to a little circle on the internet but for me to come out 100 per cent, that was when I was 30.
“There was the Jenner magazine cover. A lot of trans people used it to show that not everybody is glamorous - you don’t need to be on that level. I felt like this might be a nice way for me to come out as well so I posted it on my music page - so that was a proper coming out.”
Four Nine: Your track Beautiful Lies propelled you to prominence. Did this notoriety within the scene change how you perceive yourself?
“I was making music for more than 10 years and I was never really aiming to be famous. But I would always try and make music my way. Sometimes it was maybe too complicated. Even tracks before Beautiful Lies were getting some attention. But it was definitely the track that opened doors, internationally. Since then, it’s been a bit different.
“In many ways, it gave me confidence not because of the track but because of what followed. I would have to learn how to negotiate and be a 'star' when I would be DJing somewhere and how to deal with the interest. So it definitely gave me a lot of confidence.
"When I got into drum & bass, it was a masculine culture but a very open-minded one"
“But at the same time, I'd been internally struggling since I was a kid because I was born with a cleft lip. So I wasn’t a normal kid, since I was a little one. I was trying hard for some time to be normal. Even when I managed to release Beautiful Lies, I already knew how to filter out who was genuine and who wasn’t. So if, suddenly, a lot of people who I knew before started to act like we were best friends, I could see how true that was.
“Because of my experience of being a kid who was hard to understand because of my speech impediment, it put me in the position to know when people were treating me in a different way to how they treated me before. It helped me open up to my transgenderism and I already had enough confidence and enough experience. I was surprised as more of the reactions were positive than negative.”
Four Nine: Drum & bass is a genre which is often perceived as highly masculine. Has this affected your experience of being a trans artist?
"It’s one of the reasons why I did it - because Slovakia is very conservative and xenophobic, in a way. I’m not saying it’s intended to be like that but a lot of people don’t have a lot of experience with different kinds of races and sexes. It can even be surprising when people see someone of a different colour in some villages here - and that comes down to experience.
"It’s similar with drum & bass. When I got into drum & bass, it was a masculine culture but a very open-minded one. So I got in there as a very nerdy, awkward kid and I was made to feel really welcome. Many people didn’t care how I looked and what I did. So even when I was shy, I could go to drum & bass parties and feel good about it because no one was judging me.
"Every time I walk down the street, I know people are looking at me. It may not be offensive but you know that people are clocking you"
"In the beginning, it was definitely a very masculine thing. I knew that actually [transgenderism] is something that can be part of drum & bass and I feel like there needs to be something like that. I just hope it will help other people in similar positions - like the other people who helped me to become how I am and who I am.
“What is most important is that it was actually very well-received. I have releases on Hospital [Records] and I was very supported by Tony Colman (London Elektricity) and people around him and the label. Tony said [on social media] ‘Matia is part of her team, we are behind her and if you don’t like her, just don’t buy our records and don’t go to our parties’.
“It was very strong support from a very strong medium. I’m pretty sure that a lot of people would talk a lot of sh*t behind my back but, in general, it was very well-received and I’m very glad for it. I think it’s at least made people think about the issue and eventually know that it really doesn't matter what kind of gender you are - it depends on the music and what type of person you are.”
Four Nine: Have you ever experienced transphobia?
"At first. Every time I walk down the street, I know people are looking at me. It may not be offensive but you know that people are clocking you and checking you out. You can just ignore it. When there is a challenge, all you have to do is look at them and they will look away - in their own direction.
"I would say most people are cowards. They would do it behind your back. They would try to offend you in a way where they would avoid the gender but that would be the problem. But then you can get people who say really bad stuff. They usually try to come up with arguments like ‘it’s not natural’, ‘it’s against God’ or ‘it’s against science’.
"But I have experience of people groping me or attacking me sometimes, not even aware of what they’re doing. I’ve definitely seen the world from a bit of a different perspective. What I’m experiencing as a trans person is something other girls have been experiencing their whole lives. What they can wear, what kind of make-up and how everybody is judging them."
Four Nine: Did music play a role in your support system during your transition?
"Music, for me, gives a space where you can create an environment on your own. So for a long time, I felt like I couldn’t be myself or open up - or else I wouldn’t experience love or relationships because I would be denied. So I was very afraid even to talk about it with anybody.
"I’m not saying that all my music is precisely about being a girl but it definitely was an outlet to channel my emotions and that was definitely part of those emotions. For example, Beautiful Lies is not about me being a girl. But I was in a relationship and it was a time when I really opened up to who I am - it was when I was about 22 or 23. I told the girl. And I was so energised that I had opened up and I didn’t have to hide anymore. The relationship didn’t really go well but I don’t think it was entirely down to this.
"When I opened up, I really had a lot of energy, I felt really positive and like it was all under my control, finally. I was very hyped, in a way. But at the same time, it was like my first relapse. It didn’t really go well. So it was a clash of emotions. I was very positive in one way but in the other, I was crushed. And I think it all combined into the track."
Four Nine: When did you first think that you might not be male?
“It’s kind of complicated because I would say the best way to describe how I am is 'bigender'. But to be honest, it also might be that I’m in denial. It was always a process of how to really find who I am. I was always drawn to the female gender much more. I didn’t really like what I would have to wear as a boy. I couldn’t really talk about it because I had hints from my parents that it wouldn’t be something that they support or like and even today, they like me and everything is well but they’re not really cool with the whole gender thing.
"I never felt so strongly that I would have to go through the whole transition"
“I would try on my sister’s skirt when I was four years old - this is the first memory I have. So I would always want to be presenting myself differently and I knew I couldn’t. So I was presenting myself in a way where I didn’t really care how I look and it’s because I couldn’t look the way I would like to. So as a guy, I looked really awkward and nerdy because I just didn’t care. I wasn’t happy about it but I was just trying to show that I was too cool to care about how people look.
“The reason it’s complicated is that I never felt so strongly that I would have to go through the whole transition. So I’m not like the classic case of a transexual. That was the only thing that we were taught when we were kids - that you have gay, lesbian, bisexual and transexual. And I knew this wasn’t really the case with me. This was before I learned about gender and how varied gender can be and that it’s not an A/B thing. So for me personally, it would be best described as 'bigender'. I would just switch bodies if I could and be the gender I feel like.
“But the truth is, if I could just click my fingers and decide if I’m a guy or a girl, I would prefer to be a girl and I wouldn’t really miss being a guy. But at the same time, I never really hated being a guy. I’ve never had that negative feelings about my body that I would want to endanger it. But at the same time, I was wondering if I’m gay and who I really was.
“I was never really attracted to guys so I would never look at their bodies or appreciate them in any way different to how a normal heterosexual guy would. So it was difficult for me to realise it and even now people ask me ‘why are you doing all this if you’re interested in girls?’ For a relationship, it would be much easier for me to just never talk about it and just be a guy. But I wouldn’t be happy because I would have to push myself away from how I really feel.
“Because of my cleft lip, I was in hospital for a big portion of my life. So at the minute, I really don’t need that. I mainly do cosmetic stuff. I’m definitely much happier to present myself as a girl. But at the same time, I haven’t drastically changed my anatomy. So, at times, I still have to present myself as a guy. So I would say I don’t mind being a guy, but I prefer to be a girl.”
Four Nine: Did your decision to transition affect your relationship with your fans?
“I learned to filter out people in my surroundings thanks to my health situation and thanks to being a “star” or people recognising me. It helped me to be with people who, never mind if I opened up and came out, didn’t turn their backs on me. All of my friends are still my friends and I knew that my family would support me even if they don’t understand it 100 per cent.
“When it came to fans, I knew that I would lose some. I was ready for it. It might be people who supported me because I was successful and then they would find something else. I care more for a deeper connection.
If there would be nationalist fans on YouTube, I would wonder if they would support me if they knew the truth about me. I’m pretty sure I lost some of those guys but at the same time, I gained a lot of other people.
"A lot of people in Slovakia would be very similar to those in America. They would be on our side. But they don’t have the vocabulary for it"
“From the beginning, I never really tried to be mainstream. Drum & bass will never really be mainstream music. LGBT will never really be mainstream. And I just felt like I have a privilege. I’m doing what I love for work. People in Slovakia, and maybe people in the drum & bass scene as well, need people to be open about their situation. For others, it may be so much harder.”
Four Nine: So your parents still haven’t fully accepted the situation?
“The thing is, I always knew that we loved each other. One of the reasons why coming out came so late is that I was really worried I would hurt them. Eventually, I realised that it’s my life and if they love me, they will love me no matter what. And it’s kind of true that it’s the hardest thing for people who have known you for the longest time, which is obviously your family.
“So even now, very often they misgender me and I correct them or they correct themselves and then, in the next sentence, they misgender me again. My mum would be shopping with me with me and she would call my boy name and I would feel really embarrassed and know that she’s embarrassing herself.
“This is something where they are also beyond a certain age - more than 60 years old now - where I just can’t push it. I need to be patient. It took me a lot of time to even have my own confidence. I couldn’t expect them to change from one day to the next. I think from my position, I know they support and love me even when it can be really difficult for them to adjust.”
Four Nine: Do you find people from different countries have different views on transgenderism?
“I would say that the level of exposure and information is different. Nevermind how liberal a country can be, you can still find some idiots who would threaten you or try to put you down. We can see what’s happening in America where you have a super liberal half of the country and the other half of it is trying to ban transgender people. And you can find these different groups of people everywhere.
“I know that a lot of people in Slovakia would be very similar to those in America. They would be on our side. But they don’t have the vocabulary for it. They don’t have examples of it. They don’t have any experience. So what I’m trying to do is reach those people who never had the experience and show them that yeah, I’m different but it doesn’t make me who I am.”
A multifaceted person, Matia clearly doesn't see her gender as a defining attribute. She is a talented musician who has triumphed in a competitive scene and also just happens to be a woman.