Marty Davies explores the transfem mirror that is the singer’s Gloria era


At 18 I had just come out as gay and I was starving myself in an effort to love my body. I remember weighing myself each morning and refusing an apple offered to me because of its 52 calories. It never worked even when the scales told me it had. In the years since I had become more disconnected from my body, less able to feel, mirror avoidant and dreading pleas for photos with friends. As an impulsive collector and keeper of life’s meaning-imbued artefacts; you know, ticket stubs, theatre programmes, birthday cards and clothes this absence of a history in photos always saddened me.

Sam Smith Album Cover: Gloria

At 35, surfaced by the pandemic and therapy, came my understanding of my non-binary transfem identity – something about the trauma, isolation and self-reflection of that moment jolted to life a buried truth, a truth I’d kept from everyone, including myself. The opening to the Gloria album, Love Me More, articulates the daily work to soothe that queer inner child, “maybe I am learning how to love me more.”

There’s been a growth and a hardening of anti-trans rhetoric in recent years. In one 30-day period alone last year, there were over 1,000 in legacy media most often centered around irrational fears people have of transfeminine people – about 0.2% of the population. This has stoked a 56% rise in reported hate crime toward trans people. In the Zane Lowe interview for the album Sam talks about being called “trash” and being spat at in the street, “If that’s happening to me, and I’m famous, I’m a pop star, can you imagine what other queer kids are feeling? It’s exhausting.”

Sam’s right, it is exhausting being a non-binary transfeminine person in the UK right now. I’ve always found knowing your true authentic self to be a deeply complicated exercise. Entering secondary school, it was pointed out to me that my walk was “gay” (I didn’t know what that was but it was clear to me it wasn’t good) so I trained my walk to match my friends. I’ve observed myself performing a heightened queerness in queer spaces to find community and in non-queer spaces to be defiantly visible. But my innate authentic femininity? That scared me and I’d hidden it from myself. 

Sam Smith I’m Not Here To Make Friends video via YouTube

In the much-discussed I’m Not Here To Make Friends video, Sam struts out with skin out, dripping in sequins and cream latex, covering their nipples further emphasising their gender ambiguity. It’s unapologetic and uncompromising. It’s a powerful pre-emptive bite back at their many confused dissenters – desperate for Sam to be re-confined to a suit with a shy and diminished demeanour, solely performing ballads for their own emotional release. It’s empowering to see self-love, self-expression and transfem joy illuminated and celebrated on such a stage.

Unholy stands tall on the album as a real glassbreak moment for trans people, making Kim Petras the first publicly out trans woman to claim US Billboard number one and sit a Grammy in the toilet beside her HRT. But the duet that concludes the album deserves its own special recognition, too. Who We Love is written by Ed Sheeran and sung with Sam. For one of this generation’s best-selling cishet artists to close the album with this love-soaked queer ballad is quite the statement of solidarity.

These days I visit my reflection often. Like Sam, I’m beginning to see myself in my body and I’m learning how to love me more.

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@marjodasays (they/them)

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