Tolerance of difference has always had its limits in alternative cultures. Take the Rockers, with their raw conceptual masculinity and their contempt for the perceived effeminate nature of the Mods, as the ultimate example.
Brandished as weedy snobs due to their clean-cut style, Mods became the natural enemy of the leather-clad greased-up Rockers who took insult to what they saw as the adoption of feminine cleanliness. You would have hoped that masculinity would have become slightly less fragile in the 21st century after the infamous culture clashes in 1964. Alas, men are still lambasted for straying from the normative presentation of masculinity.
Anything from showing vulnerability to being kinder to expressing emotions to being a feminist is enough to leave men subject to a barrage of misogynist or queerphobic insults. This archaic gender policing is why there is still an inclination to conform to socially constructed gender stereotypes and keep the myth of a real man alive and well. With that in mind, it is no real surprise that so many people can’t even begin to wrap their heads around non-binary people and those who identify as genderqueer.
Furthermore, this time last year, the BBC reported on how LGBT tolerance is going backwards after a significant rise in hate crimes was reported. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation have risen year-on-year since 2016. In 2016/17, 8,569 of these hate crimes were reported to the police. In 2021, hate crimes based on sexual orientation doubled to 17,135, as did the number of hate crimes against transgender people (1,195 to 2,630 in the same period). But that isn’t even the full picture; an investigation into LGBT hate crime and discrimination by Stonewall revealed 81% of LGBT people have experienced an incident and didn’t report it to the police.
How Sam Smith Held a Mirror to Widespread Queer Phobia
Unless you have been living under a rock, you will have undoubtedly seen the memes and videos taking the piss out of Sam Smith’s performance and red-carpet outfit at The BRIT Awards by now. And while I really wouldn’t expect any less from the mainstream, which loves to ridicule and demonise the people that don’t compromise their autonomy and adopt the desperation to fit in, I would hope for slightly more tolerance from members and figures in alternative circles.
Seemingly, the tragedy of Sophie Lancaster’s death did little to influence our acceptance of difference. Caroline Flack committing suicide after an online hate campaign? Simply water under the trolls’ bridge. But sure, let’s imply that Sam Smith expressing their gender is a symptom of a mental health disorder while tearing them to shreds and pretending that this isn’t indicative of a much more prejudiced picture.
And yeah, the outfits were outlandish. I’m not going to attempt to justify them in the same way a couturier would sell their high fashion collections. As for the attention-seeking claims, behave. If you don’t see garnering attention and hype as a fundamental part of an artist’s existence, you shouldn’t be allowed an opinion on anything revolving around the music industry.
The Rising Tides of Hysteric Hypocrisy
Can we just recollect what Lemmy said about people not wanting their rock stars to look like the blokes from down the pub; we want them other-worldly and alien from the monotony that breeds in the mainstream. To use another dead icon to prove a point, when Bowie died, his death was treated as a national tragedy – yet he was one of the most influentially androgynous people to ever walk the path of popular culture. Was he only so tolerated because his androgyny was alongside a mostly closeted sexuality? Or was it because he was heroin thin that his non-traditional presentation of gender was so widely accepted?
At this point, I wouldn’t expect people that are giddier than someone coming up on ecstasy for the opportunity to tear shreds out of Sam Smith’s willingness to disrupt heteronormativity to get the point.
Even if the point stabbed them in the eye, it is much easier to attack an individual than to contemplate the fallacy of the gender binary and realise that there are miles of personal growth between their current mentality and appearing as a semi-decent human being.
Many voices, including the horror show Matt Walsh, are fully open in their admission that they do not understand the concept of being genderqueer or non-binary. Still, they stand with so much conviction on their soapbox when attacking Sam Smith. Going as far as to call them the white Lizzo, as if something is disparaging about being compared to one of the most culturally influential artists of this generation.
You only need to look at the language surrounding Sam Smith’s latest music video for their single, I’m Not Here to Make Friends, which is on 10 million streams within two weeks, by the way, to see how insidious the prejudice surrounding them is. “Disgusting”, “Revolting”, and “I Feel Sick” were up there with the most inventive tropes surrounding the video, which, honestly, really didn’t live up to the lewd hype.
Hypersexuality in the music industry is hardly a new phenomenon; sex has always sold, and it always will. The issue with the I’m Not Here to Make Friends music video is that it doesn’t appease the male gaze, which is tearing up through the prospect of not dominating popular culture anymore. Remember when everyone was FURIOUS about the All the Things She Said music video by t.A.T.u.? No, me neither; men were too busy getting hard over it to complain.
Unfortunately for those determined to regress progression, 2023 isn’t like the good old days of coercive sex with minors, drugs that become the gateway to the 27-club and rock n roll, which glamourises the aforementioned and a plethora of other toxic traits. We’ve moved on, and we will continue to do so – despite the reluctance to leave prejudice and persecution for being queer in the past.
Sam Smith may never see your memes posted as shitposter fodder, but countless non-binary people will. If you can be content with yourself making staying repressed and closeted more appealing to the silently queer out there, knock yourself out, champ. Just know that negativity never stops with one sour throw-away comment because you’re so miserable in your own lives you need to tear down others. We all see you, and we pity you.
Article by Amelia Vandergast