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Opinion | ‘It’s time for Sam Smith’s gay critics to back off and leave them alone’

The community's treatment of someone who's different is too painfully ironic, writes Jamie Tabberer.

By Jamie Tabberer

Words: Jamie Tabberer

First things first, this isn’t quite my Chris Crocker moment, as I’m in total agreement: Sam Smith is everywhere right now.

But that’s what happens when one of the world’s most successful music acts drops an album. Ariana, hello?

If you’re not a fan of Sam’s, I’ll admit I’m not either (although ‘Diamonds’ is irresistible). I mostly tune their stuff out.

Unfortunately, others are loath to do the same. 

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Reminder: the queer visibility Sam brings as one of the century’s most successful LGBTQ people – theirs was the UK’s highest-selling debut of the 10s; they’ve cracked America – is invaluable.

It’s well worth a few mum-friendly ballads that aren’t hurting anyone. (‘Stay With Me’ is a modern classic!).

But we can’t have nice things, can we? A simple scroll through social media proves it: Sam’s critics can’t look away. And that often includes LGBTQ people.

“I was an overweight, femme gay person”

The vitriol can be breathtaking. And by the sounds, it’s been going on from the start.

“I was an overweight, femme gay person – it was really, really hard” Sam recently told Vogue of their “traumatising” pre-fame years on London’s gay scene, despite their “privileged” situation.

I can just picture the sneering, judgemental gay men in question. I’ll bet some are still sneering now, while reading this very article, and branding Sam the same old lazy insults: a ‘whiner’, ‘self-absorbed’, ‘pathetic’, ‘just plain annoying’.

“So you came looking for acceptance and community and found hostility, body-shaming?” asks interviewer Paris Lees.

“And a bit of rejection,” explains Sam. “You have to accept that’s your community, work through it and forgive.”

All power to them. I’m not sure I could forgive a community – or factions of it, at least – that was still horrible day-in, day-out.

That some gay men have held distaste since Sam first appeared in 2012, as the straight male-presenting, make-up-wearing singer of ‘Latch’ and ‘La La La’, is no secret. (Both awesome songs, btw. Evidently, I like more of their music than I thought).

“I read an article that said no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar…”

Sam later came out as a gay man, before tainting any goodwill they’d fostered by suggesting they were the first to win an Oscar – irking Oscar-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, among others.

It was a cringe-inducing moment, for sure. But if we can’t forgive a then-23-year-old for a mistake they made four years ago, when can we?

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Not by 2017, when I questioned whether the ever-increasing abuse from gay men towards Sam was due to jealousy, and perhaps something more complicated and rooted in misogyny. We gay men are prone to femme-shame, after all.

Upon their coming out as gender-fluid that same year, the criticism entered new spheres. Then, last year, Sam announced they were switching to they/them pronouns, prompting ridicule and nastiness from all corners: from anonymous trolls to newspaper columnists.

“I want to be mummy”

That such abuse can come from LGBTQ people is beyond disappointing. (Albeit, if a quarter LGBTQ Americans voted Trump, unsurprising). And it’s not just gay men anymore.

Lesbian and bi women – some of the trans-exclusionary radical feminist variety – are taking vitriolic issue with Sam’s recent assertions that they have “women’s thighs and breasts” and want “to be mummy” and have kids by 35.

So many of the comments do not bear repeating, and the purposeful misgendering is especially hard to stomach. (Accidental misgendering, by the way, is something I’m realistic about. I’m guilty of it, and Sam says they take it in their stride).

“Remind yourself: live and let live”

Sam may not be your cup of tea. Their identity journey might not interest you, might not be something you understand. But don’t react by bullying someone for being different. It’s too painfully ironic.

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Want to criticise the music? Go right ahead. Want to enter wider debates about sexuality and gender? Be my guest. But in public and online, mind your tone and language. And remind yourself, for the love of god, to live and let live.

True, we’re not obliged to like everything a fellow LGBTQ person does – or indeed like all LGBTQ people. But we are, I believe, obliged to stand up and defend those within our community most vulnerable to abuse based on their sexuality and/or gender. Or in the very least, not be part of the problem.

Because, in the words of another global hit you’ve no doubt tapped your foot to (and I know I have), ‘How Do You Sleep’, otherwise?

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