One of the musical events of 2014 is the emergence of singer Sam Smith. Smith, a 22-year old from London, has been called “a male Adele” who “looks like the child of K.d. Lang and Boy George.”
His poignant ballad, “Stay With Me,” was number 1 in the United Kingdom and number 5 in Billboard’s “Hot 100” Singles Chart. His debut album, “In the Lonely Hour,” was number 2 in the “Billboard 200” album chart. (Lana del Rey’s Ultraviolence was number 1) Smith also appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Sam Smith is also gay, no surprise at a time when so many pop singers are coming out of their closets. Smith revealed his sexual orientation matter-of-factly, telling the music publication FADER that his muse is male. In the Lonely Hour, Smith said, “is about a guy that I fell in love with last year, and he didn’t love me back. ... I want to make it a normality because this is a non-issue. People wouldn’t ask a straight person these questions.”
Smith eventually told the object of his affection, and he is happy that he did so: “It’s all there now, and I can move on and hopefully find a guy who can love me the way I love him.” Sam Smith is a man-loving man, there were no headlines and the world did not stand still. Only his music makes his love extraordinary.
There used to be a time when a celebrity’s coming out was so rare that it made the magazine covers: Ellen Degeneres came out on the cover of Time (1997) and Lance Bass came out on the cover of People (2006). To a large extent, people are no longer shocked by an artist’s declaration of love for someone of the same sex.
To be fair, Smith’s lyrics and videos are still ambiguous enough so that one could ignore the gay angle if one chooses to do so: “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,” he said. I am still waiting for a goat to respond.
I am old enough to remember when being gay was a Big Deal. When I came out (in 1973) to be gay was to rebel against the universe. To paraphrase the gay writer and film director John Waters, to be gay back then meant you did not get married, have children, or serve in the military. Nowadays, of course, all that lesbians and gay men want to do is to get married, have children, and/or serve in the military. I am not surprised.
Like most other people, most LGB people are conservative, and if society treats them fairly their natural instincts would come forth. Besides, there is nothing our society values more than marriage, parentage and military service. LGB people become more acceptable when we incorporate those values, not as pretend straights but as openly LGB people.
You notice that I left out transgender people from the previous paragraph. This is because being transgender is still a Big Deal. Today trans people are in the same fix, minus AIDS, that LGB people were twenty years ago. It’s still illegal for trans folks to serve in the military. Legislation that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation often ignores discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Trans people, especially transgender women of color, are often victims of violence, more so than those of us who are lesbian, gay or bi. Transphobic prejudice is more prevalent than homophobia, even among members of our LGBT community.
Hopefully, attitudes towards transgender people will evolve as more trans and intersex people come out of their closets. People like Chaz Bono, Chelsea Manning and Laverne Cox - who recently appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, 17 years after Ellen Degeneres did so - show the world the human side of the transgender movement. As a gay man with transgender friends, I welcome this development; and look forward to the day when being T becomes as matter-of-fact as being L, G or B often is.