British singer Sam Smith has written a powerful Instagram message talking of self-acceptance – and it's one we should all pay attention to
To be a woman in the public eye is to frequently face wave upon wave of criticism, and while the stakes for men are in no way even in this regard, it's not always without struggle. To be a male in the music industry is to very much need – or certainly, be under pressure – to conform to a stereotype, particularly when it comes to gender.
However, we are seeing many male figures break away from this mould for a more authentic sense of self. Harry Styles is one, frequently meshing what is traditionally 'masculine' clothing in favour of a more gender-fluid look, or indeed, mixed with items that would usually be seen as having a more 'feminine' edge – take his recent Rolling Stone interview photographs or his latest Gucci campaign.
Another figure who is shining a light on the pressures that come with trying to be yourself in the industry is Sam Smith. The singer has opened up about being non-binary and has asked to now only be addressed using the pronouns, 'they/them.'
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The 27-year-old wrote on Instagram: “After a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out.”
In their Instagram post, Smith said they were “at no stage just yet to eloquently speak at length about what it means to be non-binary” but that their intention was to be “visible and open.”
" I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you."
They have spoken of their struggles before, namely their weight and body image. "Toxic masculinity hangs over me - it doesn't feel right for a man to talk about [their] weight," they explained previously.
The interview explored myriad other issues surrounding body image including bullying, dysfunctional eating and body dysmorphia. They then told Jameela how they underwent liposuction at the age of 12. “I genuinely had breasts. I fully had breasts. I had liposuction. I was 12 years old, and had liposuction.”
In a world that embraces much of the same, to stand up and be yourself is still, even in 2019, a defiant act.
Society does not yet embrace individualism as a whole – or if it is embraced, it's within the realms of what's seen as 'acceptable.' It takes immense courage to denounce the label you are automatically given and go your own way, particularly in the music industry where much of the charts and artists look and sound homogeneous.
The importance of using the correct pronouns isn't to be underestimated and taken lightly, either.
Our identity is formed, in part, by way of how we choose to be addressed via a particular pronoun, and in turn, how we are perceived by others as a result of that. As such, a pronoun is weighted with importance. Many articles detailing Smith's announcement have chosen to leave their pronoun out altogether, using just "Smith" or "the singer" for the entirety – a mark of laziness but mostly, of extreme disrespect.
Some have pointed out that the use of they/them in various sentencing is "grammatically incorrect," but are we really going to talk about sentence structure or the feelings of a person who has respectfully asked for their wishes to be heard?
Languages will always change, according to need and to the norms of the speech community. You already know what they/them means, because it is culturally resonant.
— Vonny LeClerc (@vonny_bravo) September 14, 2019
They deserve to be themselves.
And if we, the public, can make this process any easier, we should be treating and addressing them with the same respect they afford us.
Main photograph: Twitter