Sam Smith’s non-binary identity deserves respect

The pop star’s recent revelations are paving the way for acceptance

Image by: Tegwyn Hughes
Even if you don't have a deep understanding of someone's gender identity

While celebrities are most often thought of as figureheads reinforcing rigid standards of beauty and gender roles, they can also use their influence to help normalize less-accepted or misunderstood facets of society. Recently, Sam Smith did exactly that.

In a series of Tweets sent out last Friday, singer Sam Smith announced that they identify as non-binary and asked that others use the pronouns “they” and “them” when referencing the British star. They went on to express that “[they’re] so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support [them] in this decision,” and said they’re also “scared shitless, but feeling super free right now.”

Today is a good day so here goes. I’ve decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM ❤ after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out…

— Sam Smith (@samsmith) September 13, 2019

Smith isn’t the first celebrity to have a non-binary gender identity—they follow in the footsteps of actors like Ezra Miller, who doesn’t identify with a specific gender, and Amandla Stenberg, who uses both she/her and they/them pronouns interchangeably.

However, Smith is certainly one of the highest-profile non-binary celebrities out there today, and their announcement will probably introduce the concept of non-binary gender to many fans.

Being non-binary means something different for each person who identifies that way, but it can be broadly defined as a gender identity that falls outside of “man” or “woman.” Some people might choose to use the term “genderqueer” to mean the same thing. When Smith announced they were non-binary, it essentially meant that they’re neither a man nor a woman.

While Smith received plenty of congratulatory messages online, they also received jokes and jeers from people who didn’t seem to have a firm grasp of what it means to be non-binary. Even though it might seem odd to some to hear about a person deviating from what we generally consider to be binary genders—man or woman—this doesn’t mean they deserve to be attacked.

Gender is a spectrum, and it’s different for everyone. I could go into a deep explanation of different gender identities, or how gender differs from sex, but those explanations are easily accessible on Google, at the library, or in published studies.

What I’d really like to get across instead is that you don’t have to have an in-depth understanding of someone’s gender identity to respect it.

Smith wrote on Twitter, “I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering [sic] but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now.”

While you might find yourself instinctively referring to Smith as “he” in the future—it is, after all, the pronoun they used for as long as you’ve known the pop star—what matters is that you correct yourself and try your best.

If you’re concerned about using the pronoun “they” correctly, read over this article and note how I’ve referred to Smith in different types of sentences.

It may seem redundant to advocate for a celebrity whose pronouns you’ll probably never use to their face (unless you’re lucky), but Sam Smith is one of millions of trans of gender non-conforming people in the world.

By respecting their identity, you might be able to gain some experience with non-binary identities that will make you a great ally for current and future friends with gender identities outside of the established binary.


celebrities, gender identity, inclusion

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