Sam Smith speaks out
On March 15, 2019, Sam Smith joined Jameela Jamil on her Instagram interview show I Weigh. In the interview, Smith came out as gender non-binary. While identifying as non-binary can mean different things to different people, it generally represents people that do not identify as any gender and prefer pronouns such as “they” and “them.”
While this is the first time Smith has labeled his gender identity, he has stated in a previous interview with The Sunday Times that he lacked a label for his identity. “I don’t know what the title would be, but I feel just as much woman as I am a man,” Smith said.
Following this interview, conversations began to arise on social media of many people being confused by the differences between gender and sex. While sex is the biological way we are born, gender is much more fluid and can either align with our sex, be opposite of our sex, or fall somewhere in between. Smith is open about how from the young age of 16, he stopped wearing make clothing and would often wear fur, makeup, and other things labeled feminine in our society.
Smith also begins a conversation about his struggle with coming to terms with an identity and figuring out if he was transgender rather that non-binary. Being transgender means that an individual identifies, whether mentally or both mentally and physically, as opposite from the sex they were assigned at birth. In the interview he talks about his thoughts about a sex change and whether he wants one since he notices that he thinks like a woman sometimes. Ultimately Smith knew that wasn’t for him when he read up on the term non-binary and realized that was the best way to identify himself. “Maybe I’m not a man, maybe I’m not a woman, maybe I’m just me and maybe that’s okay,” Smith states.
In the western culture, people feel the need to label things as either masculine or feminine, and straying from what you are supposed to like/wear/do is looked down upon. For this reason, individuals who identify as gender queer, another term for non-binary, often feel pressure to perform as a certain gender to feel accepted. In Jamil’s interview, Smith speaks out about his resentment towards his feminine side and how he always felt angry with himself for his feminine actions and movements because they weren’t “manly” enough. He would send pictures of male celebrities such as Tom Hardy to his trainer and say that’s what he needed to look like. This shows the effect of the social construction of gender performance and how men are supposed to act. Smith so desperately wanted to live up to society’s manly standards that it has caused him to struggle with his identity and self-confidence. The negative effects of expected gender roles not only hinder a specific genders’ ability to express themselves, but also hurt those that don’t identify as any gender.
While a lot of the response to Smith’s discussion was positive there was some backlash, including mockery from Piers Morgan. On Good Morning America, Morgan said “…he can’t work out if he’s male or female, whatever. He’s now identifying as non-binary. I’m now identifying as Sam Smith, so I can get his royalties.” Morgan tries to use Smith’s identity as a punchline and goes onto mock the progression of gender-neutral places, cartoons, and clothing. Morgan is a clear example of why many non-binary people are afraid to come out and express themselves. There is little to no representation of gender queer in the media, resulting in many people to think of it as a joke and ignore the seriousness of the issues these individuals face.
Other celebrities that have come out as non-binary include Asia Kate Dillion from “Billions.” Jill Soloway, the creator of “Transparent,” and RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Valentina. These stars also received backlash, but nowhere near as much as Smith. People often have a more difficult time accepting this kind of identity for someone who looks traditionally male. Both Dillion and Soloway perform as more masculine, making it less”offensive” to people who are unfamiliar with the gender spectrum. Also, a man displaying feminine traits is looked down upon much more than a women displaying male traits. This is because men are seen as the stronger gender, so if a man performs more feminine, he is essentially “downgrading” himself.
While complete acceptance is still a huge work in progress, multiple states in the United States now officially recognize non-binary as a legal identity on documentation. As of June 2018, three states and Washington, D.C. offer non-binary as an option on driver’s licenses and three allow non-binary birth certificates.