Pride Month 2020: How Academy Award winner Sam Smith revolutionalized a section of the queer community
In a month dedicated to celebrating and uplifting queer voices, it is a crime to not mention the contributions Sam Smith's coming out has made to the discourse around queer identities. As one of the most famous contemporary pop stars, Sam Smith has practically become a household name.
In 2019, Smith created history by clarifing in a Twitter thread that they would be using the non-binary pronouns 'they/them' going forward, declaring, "after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." The English singer-songwriter first rose to fame in 2012 after being featured in Disclosure's breakthrough single 'Latch', followed by Naughty Boy's number one single 'La La La' in 2013. In 2014, Smith was nominated for the Brit Critics' Choice Award and the BBC's Sound of 2014 poll – both of which they won.
The artiste first addressed their sexuality back in 2014 when they came out as gay, revealing they had been in a relationship with actor and model Jonathan Zeizel. When 'Stay with Me' won Record of the Year at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, Smith shared in their speech, "I want to thank the man who this record is about, who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart because you got me four Grammys!" further confirming their sexual orientation.
On May 26, 2014, Smith's debut studio album, 'In the Lonely Hour', dropped in the UK. The album's second single, 'Money on My Mind' would become Smith's second number-one single in the country, but it was the third single, 'Stay with Me' that shot the young artiste to international fame. With more singles from the album charting records worldwide, the album itself went on to be a smash hit, winning four Grammys in 2015 – Best Pop Vocal Album, Best New Artist, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year – in addition to earning nominations in the Album of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance categories. To top it all off, Smith also took home a Golden Globe and an Academy Award in 2016 for their collaboration with Jimmy Napes' 'Writing's on the Wall', the theme song for the James Bond film, 'Spectre'.
From there onwards, the singer continued to embrace their sexual identity more boldly, and went on to share in a 2017 interview on 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show' that they were in a relationship with actor Brandon Flynn. The relationship ended the next year.
Already riding the waves of success and emerging as a queer icon following their coming out, Smith dropped their second studio album in 2017 titled 'The Thrill of It All', featuring lead single 'Too Good at Goodbyes', to critical acclaim and commercial success. Following the album, Smith dropped several hit songs, including 'Promises' (with Calvin Harris), 'Dancing with a Stranger' (with Normani), 'To Die For' and 'How Do You Sleep?', which was a cover of a fellow queer icon Donna Summer's 1977 classic, 'I Feel Love', and featured choreography by Parris Goebel, performed by Smith and a troupe of shirtless male dancers wearing waist trainers.
Smith's follow-up album was pushed back due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but they still managed to release their upcoming record's lead single, 'I'm Ready' featuring Demi Lovato, a vocal queer ally who identifies as "sexually fluid".
In 2017, Smith further embraced their identity, this time coming out as genderqueer. In an interview with The Sunday Times, the artiste would go on to break down gender roles and barriers, stating they adored high heels and would dress up as Boy George and Marilyn Monroe in their teens. They shared, "There was a moment in my life where I didn't own a piece of male clothing, really. I would wear full make-up every day in school, eyelashes, leggings with Dr Martens and huge fur coats, for 2.5 years." Speaking about their decision to come out, Smith stated in an interview with The Guardian that they were "scared shitless but feeling super free."
In a separate interview with Jameela Jamil, the artiste stated, "I’m not male or female, I think I flow somewhere in between. It’s all on the spectrum," describing the experience of being non-binary as "your own special creation." On top of being a queer icon, Smith also openly identifies as a feminist and has been honest about their struggles with body image issues since their pre-teen years. Speaking to Jamil, Smith shared that they had received liposuction treatments at just 12 years old due to extra estrogen causing them to develop breasts which led to severe bullying, but they soon dealt with weight issues which would continue well into adulthood.
Smith has been lauded as a revolutionary, who has brought the identities of being genderqueer and non-binary to the mainstream in a way that hasn't been done before. Smith, as an internationally recognized and award-winning artiste, exposed the world to experiences that are often overlooked, even within the LGBTQIA+ communities, boldly allowing an individual's journey into self-discovery and defining their own identity to play out in a very public way.
What Smith's coming out accomplished was providing marginalized groups with the kind of visibility that is rarely afforded to those who do not fit 'societal norms'. Not long after, people all over the world were beginning to look up and understand what it meant to be genderqueer, with many more recognizing what it meant to use the right pronouns while referring to someone who is non-binary.
But most importantly, Smith's coming out meant that genderqueer non-binary people across the world now had a prominent voice, one that could bring awareness to their experiences and struggles while also helping them feel seen and heard. As Toryn Glavin, the trans engagement manager at Stonewall (an organisation leading campaigns for the equality of the LGBTQIA+ people across Britain), stated in an interview with the BBC, "We’re delighted that Sam Smith feels able to speak openly about their gender identity, and their visibility will have a huge impact on many non-binary people." Galvin added, however, "Sadly we know that it is still far too hard for people to be open and accepted for who they are, and we will keep campaigning until every LGBT person is accepted without exception," highlighting that while Smith helped propel the movement forward and encourage more conversation with regards to queer identities, this is still only the beginning and the road to more visibility, better representation, and equal rights is a long and winding one.