Sam Smith helped me accept my queer and Catholic identities

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Image credit: Ruven Afanador

Sam Smith helped me accept my queer and Catholic identities

June 1, 2018
“I want to thank the man who this record is about who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart because you got me four Grammys.”

Sam Smith said this at his Grammy-winning night in 2015 for his freshman album In the Lonely Hour. I heard these words when I was 16, barely through high school and only a few years since I came out. Up to that point, I’d struggled to find representation in the media— especially in music—as someone who had a passion for the arts at a very young age. But finally seeing queer excellence in the music industry was beneficial to my confidence and acceptance of my sexuality.

An openly gay man on my television screen was going home with four awards that represented the greatest honor in music, one of which was for Record of the Year. His shoutout to his ex-boyfriend was not only a stab at the unlucky fella who missed out, but also proved to the queer community that we can take up spaces in the entertainment industry—and we can be the best.

Sam Smith provided a softer and more vulnerable perspective of the male aura, while being an openly queer man who sang heartbreak anthems that listeners of all sexual orientations could relate. By speaking these words and singing songs about male love, Smith was one of the first openly queer figures in media of my generation.

One of the biggest reasons I stan for Sam Smith, however, is that he is also one of the first unapologetically Catholic and queer people I connected to. Smith’s sophomore album, The Thrill of It All, infused religious themes through lyrics and gospel-inspired tracks, while using he/him pronouns when referencing lovers. Smith was able to resonate with queer listeners who came from religious backgrounds—like me.

I grew up in a Catholic home with traditional values where my existence as a queer person was seen as blasphemous and a choice. I attended a Catholic middle school where I felt the need to always hide my queerness in order to fit into the community. Smith’s song “HIM” brought up my struggles to acknowledge and accept my intersectional identity, and reminded me of my younger self. When the song first played in my college dorm room, I was overcome with emotion upon hearing the chorus:

Say I shouldn’t be here but I can’t give up his touch
It is him I love, it is him
Don’t you try and tell me that God doesn’t care for us
It is him I love, it is him I love.

The first two verses refer to members of the Church not approving of Smith’s presence at a service due to his affection for his male partner. The following verses are his rebuttal to the Church using a juxtaposition of “him” to no longer refer to his partner, but to “Him,” the higher power.

For the longest time I felt I was in a pendulum swaying between religion and queerness, and that both identities could not coexist. In church, I felt the need to tone my queerness down and to not make my sexuality obvious, overcome with the feeling that I did not belong. In queer spaces, I felt the need to refrain from mentioning my religion, as Catholic doctrine does not support queer existence. “HIM,” however, represented the idea that queer people do belong in religious spaces and that we can coexist in our love for members of the same sex and to a higher power. At 19 years old, I came to accept my two identities because of this song, and I can only imagine the impact it has on the younger generation of queer youth who struggle with these identities, as well.

Trying to grasp your truth as a queer person at a young age is an interpersonal battle you often feel you can’t overcome. To have your religious upbringing take you back two steps every time you move one step forward makes this process of figuring out who you are that much harder. It’s important for queer influencers to use their platform, like Smith has done, to produce projects and perspectives that help ease this process.

I stan Sam Smith because his music helped me strengthen a part of myself I thought I lost. I stan Sam Smith because he was an early inspiration for me to pursue whatever endeavour I dreamt for myself, regardless of my sexuality. I stan Sam Smith because he proved that queer excellence is possible, that my excellence is possible.

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Andre Menchavez is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and sophomore at University of Washington studying law, society, and justice. Andre also serves as the youngest ambassador of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in the organization's history. 

the voice and vision of a new generation