British musician Sam Smith said this about himself yesterday on Ellen: “People say, he doesn’t want to be a spokesperson for the gay community. I do, of course I do, but I want to be a spokesperson for everyone. Straight people, gay people, bisexual. I don’t want it to be limited.”
What exactly is a straight advocate? I thought they already had the entire staff of Fox News, the NFL, and Rupert Everett working in tandem on this day and night.
Real talk: This statement makes Sam Smith an incredibly selfish person.
Sam Smith has now been given (or “earned” depending on your perspective) a huge platform from which he can sing his songs and spread whatever message he likes. So far he’s chosen not to spread the message that actively fighting for LGBT+ rights is a noble and important thing we should aspire to.
Instead he’s chosen to spread a message of complacency. I thought we already had Lana Del Rey for that?
Just for backgrounds sake: Sam Smith represents, to many people, a certain kind of homophobia in the gay community, a more sleek and pernicious kind of homophobia. For example: Sam Smith, who has never been in a relationship, thinks Grindr is “ruining romance.” Grindr is ruining romance like Seamless is ruining restaurants.
No, Sam Smith isn’t required to do anything. Just like wealthy people aren’t required to donate to good causes and you aren’t required to give your old clothing to the homeless. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Nobody is going to make you put your recycling into the right bin, but shouldn’t you? Doesn’t it take just as many words not to say that LGBT+ people, especially LGBT+ youth, need assistance and acceptance right now as it does to spread complacency? The recycling bin is right next to the garbage. You know where that bottle goes.
People say we expect more from gay celebrities. We don’t. We expect more from all people who have an opportunity to help, and that’s a good thing. We should hold people to a higher standard of selflessness. We should spurn our friends and family who have it within their means to do charity and choose not to volunteer their time and voices.
Sam Smith is in a position to be heard about LGBT+ issues. He’s a rarity in his profession and the media would amplify whatever message he gave about people like him.
“It didn’t feel like a coming out. I came out when I was like four years old. My mum said she knew when I was like three. I didn’t have to actually properly come out.” Sam seems very lucky! It’s great that the gay rights movement has gotten to the point that people have stories like that. Perhaps his easy coming out process led to a cavalier youthful attitude to the struggles of others, but this isn’t an excuse for ignorance as an adult. When talking about coming out professionally he’s even said “It felt like a brave thing to do.” Why do you think you needed to be so brave, Sam? Is it because people prejudge the LGBT+ community? Because people hate and stereotype us? Because it could have hurt you? Well, now you have a chance to make it slightly easier for people just like you. You have a chance to make it so people don’t have to be so scared and you’re blowing it.
Those who have the ability to help others should. It’s his responsibility to give back. If simply existing as a successful gay man in the public eye made meaningful change then Boy George would have passed gay marriage a long time ago. Much like Meghan Trainor, of the “I’m not a feminist” crowd, Smith seems happy to enjoy the benefits of equality movements but does not feel beholden to joining in their good work.
“I’ve tried to be clever with this album, because it’s also important to me that my music reaches everybody. I’ve made my music so that it could be about anything and everybody— whether it’s a guy, a female or a goat—and everybody can relate to that. I’m not in this industry to talk about my personal life unless it’s in a musical form.” This translates roughly to: “Lots of people would be uncomfortable about non-heteronormative lyrics and rather than make them think too much I wanted there to be no barrier to entry for my work, so as to reach a mainstream audience.”
That is clever, Sam. It really is. And while your success is proof that gay and straight feelings aren’t that different and that a mainstream gay artist can get the same following as anyone else, it’s a shame that in order to prove this point you’ve neutered and neutralized your work. You probably didn’t need to, but now we’ll never know. Maybe you could take these talk show sit downs as an opportunity to point that out; maybe this attention and success could be used to raise up other LGBT+ people. Perhaps if somebody with mainstream success stood up and sang a song about gay love, despite their shame, the next person wouldn’t feel like that. Perhaps that person could’ve been Sam Smith. For now I encourage you to give Mary Lambert a spin. She’s had a bigger hit than him and she’s never been so cowardly and selfish.