In late January, Sam Smith released their fourth album, three years after their latest one, with performances, music videos, and photoshoots helping promote it. They have since, due to those, been at the centre of many conversations and unjustified controversy.
Sam Smith first rose to fame in 2012 and appealed widely to most households. They looked friendly, sang beautifully, and touched on themes such as love, heartbreak, and self-esteem, combining catchy songs with emotional and relatable lyrics.
For years, most of the public adored Sam Smith. The singer also lost a lot of weight over a few years and grew even more popular. Being openly gay at the time, many people were proud to showcase their allyship through their love and support for the artist, as they became more and more palatable to the general public.
In 2022, they made their return to music with the single “Unholy”, which quickly became very popular on social media platforms such as TikTok. But with this came all the promotional content mentioned above, which left a part of his audience turning against them. People who once screamed their lyrics in their car, and danced to their songs in their kitchen were now pointing fingers, spreading hate, often rooted in queerphobia and fatphobia.
On social media, in the press, and even in public, people spread hateful, queerphobic insults and thoughts, even going as far as accusing Sam Smith of being a groomer. Why? For nothing more than how Sam Smith chose to express themselves.
Whether it was people calling Sam Smith’s behaviour, clothing and performances anything from disgusting, to creepy and even demonic, one thing was clear, Sam Smith’s queerness was not accepted.
History shows we have certainly made progress when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. However, we still have a long, long way to go. We still have journalists, politicians, and of course, much of the general public, misgendering people. Queer people are insulted, humiliated, and assaulted all around the world. Trans rights and lives are more at risk every day, with bills drafted and laws voted to suppress queer rights, and expression in general as well as failing to offer the protection and freedom they, like anybody else, deserve.
Amongst the legal, moral, and political debates, all this controversy also shines a light on how queerphobic society still is. Although more accepting with time, overall, the Western world is still not comfortable with queerness, with the many ways it can be expressed, and with sexuality being discussed beyond the perspective of cisgender, straight men.
Of course, Sam Smith has done nothing wrong, and I am not here to explain why. If you still doubt it, ask yourself this: are they objectively harming anyone? If your answer is anything but no, that opens up a separate conversation. But so why are they causing so much uproar?
As I said, queerness is still not something that as a society, we are used to, and therefore in a lot of cases, comfortable with. A queer person expressing themselves and their sexuality outside of the heteronormative lens associated with gender roles goes against all that we were thought about those roles, sexuality, and expression of those. That makes people uncomfortable.
People from the queer community (as well as queer and non-queer women a lot of the time), behaving in any other way than how the patriarchy says they should confuses and upsets, as it leads to questioning all that society tells us, and why things are the way they are.
Now on a separate note, you might also have been wondering why I mentioned Sam Smith’s weight loss at the start. Well, this links back to the title of this article. Queerphobia was not the only hate Sam Smith was subject to, many people, within and outside his community, also had a lot of fatphobic comments to make, sometimes even mixing the two. Outfits similar to the ones Harry Styles often wears, for example, were now deemed inappropriate, ridiculous, and simply not suitable for Sam Smith.
What this all truly shows us is we have still got such a long way to go. It seems a lot of people who label themselves as allies to a person, are only really supportive as long as that person or group is palatable enough. As long as they adhere to the sexist, queerphobic, fatphobic, and heteronormative standards set by society. It is okay for someone to be gay as long as they don’t “act too gay”, a person is not accepted in a community unless they fit certain beauty standards.
Social justice, but also general growth and self-awareness, come with facing those hard truths and thinking about what we know as the norm or if it is automatically right, just because it is set as that. Letting our internalised queerphobia and fatphobia in this instance, get the better of us, is harmful: harmful to Sam Smith, harmful to the queer community but harmful to society in general. Understanding oppressive ideologies- whether they fall under the ‘norm’ or not- is the first thing, understanding how we uphold them, consciously or not is the next.
We cannot, and should not, limit our support to people, especially belonging to minority groups, who are palatable enough. We can also not limit our support to people, media, and ways that allow us to feel comfortable and able to continue to benefit from whatever amount of privilege we hold, for the exact same reason.