Last week on Instagram, singer Sam Smith posted an important announcement. After coming out in March as non-binary, Smith shared that they now use they/them pronouns.
“After a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out,” Smith’s heartfelt Instagram caption reads. Their pronoun change is hugely significant, not just for the LGBTQ+ community but also for broader cultural conversations about identity.
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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. I’m so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I’ve been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but fuck it! 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. P.s. I am at no stage just yet to eloquently speak at length about what it means to be non binary but I can’t wait for the day that I am. So for now I just want to be VISIBLE and open. If you have questions and are wondering what this all means I’ll try my best to explain but I have also tagged below the human beings who are fighting the good fight everyday. These are activists and leaders of the non binary/trans community that have helped me and given me so much clarity and understanding. @tomglitter @munroebergdorf @transnormativity @alokvmenon @katemoross @glamrou @travisalabanza @twyrent @chellaman @jvn @lavernecox @stonewalluk @glaad @humanrightscampaign @mermaidsgender Love you all. I’m scared shitless, but feeling super free right now. Be kind x
For those who may not know, they/them pronouns are used by individuals who identify as non-binary or genderfluid, meaning they do not identify with the binary genders of man and woman. An increasing number of people identify as non-binary or gender-fluid—studies show about 35 per cent of Gen Xers know someone who uses they/them pronouns. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has even included the usage of singular they/them in to their definition of the word. Despite this, non-binary identities have been slow to gain acceptance in mainstream media, with some criticizing the pronouns as confusing or unnecessary.
For a less popular artist, using they/them pronouns could have hindered their ability to be covered in mainstream media because of perceived confusion or lack of appeal to audiences. This isn’t possible with Smith. Not only are they the largest celebrity to come out using they/them pronouns, but they are a giant in the music industry. They’ve created some of the most enduring pop songs of the last decade. Their musical style is timeless and widely popular. They’re a tabloid darling, with sensational style and a number of public romances already under their belt. Music journalists and reporters across the world will need to learn to intuitively use they/them pronouns in order to keep up with one of the industry’s most relevant stars. This paves the way for musicians with less clout who the media may not have adapted for.
Smith also offers a positive possibility for non-binary folk. Genderfluid and non-binary identities are beautiful because they offer an endless array of ways for a person to exist without being confined by societal expectations of gender. This incredible amount of choice, however, can be overwhelming to those newly coming in to their identities. Positive examples in media, like Smith, can help folks define for themselves how they want to exist in the world.
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Arguably the most significant piece of Smith’s coming out, however, was how they did it. They approached the announcement with radical vulnerability. They invite us all to get messy in the process because they don’t have all the answers either.
“I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try,” Smith says in their caption, followed by, “I am at no stage just yet to eloquently speak at length about what it means to be non binary but I can’t wait for the day that I am.”
Often, folks face pressure from both outside and within the LGBTQ+ community to be absolutely sure and perfect on how they identify and how they see other’s identities. Smith acknowledges that this is impossible. Instead, they offer an alternative approach, one that encourages mistakes, learning, and empathy. In this way, Smith’s coming out is about so much more than pronouns and being non-binary. They’ve changed the conversation about coming out, making room for imperfection and evolution. They made a bit of space for everyone to be a bit more human.