When singer and podcast host Demi Lovato announced this week that they would start using she/her pronouns again, I was probably one of the few who had little to no reaction. In May 2021, the 29-year-old singer, who is of Mexican descent, first announced that they identified as nonbinary and would use they/them pronouns to coincide with their gender identity after years of therapy and introspective work.
“I feel that this best represents the fluidity I feel in my gender expression and allows me to feel most authentic and true to the person I both know I am and am still discovering,” Lovato said in a now-viral video on social media. “Today is a day I’m so happy to share more of my life with you all,” they wrote. “I’m doing this for those out there that haven’t been able to share who they truly are with their loved ones. Please keep living in your truths & know I am sending so much love your way.”
The announcement at the time received waves of support, especially from her LGBTQIA+ fans, who felt represented since there are only a handful of nonbinary celebrities and artists in the public eye. In the years previously, the singer had made it clear that they were a part of the queer community when they came out as pansexual and sexually fluid online. So for me, this latest change in her identity was just another sign of growth and self-discovery. In the LBGTQIA+ community, not only is changing pronouns a personal and private choice, but it’s also a fairly common practice. Especially for nonbinary people, it’s normal to want to still use gendered pronouns, as well as gender-neutral and neopronouns, genderless pronouns like “ze”. If anything, I was happy that a celebrity of her stature was finally normalizing the idea of pronouns—and changing them—in the mainstream.
“I just felt like a human. And that’s what they/them is about. For me, it’s just about feeling, like, human at your core,” Lovato recently said on the “Spout” podcast. They added, “Recently I’ve been feeling more feminine, and so I’ve adopted she/her again. But I think what’s important is, like, nobody’s perfect.”
Personally, I think her only mistake was assuming that gender expression and pronouns always have to line up perfectly. As someone who uses both she/her and they/them pronouns, who expects people to interchange between the two sets, I can tell you that I’ve had to explain many times that they/them pronouns don’t automatically make me nonbinary. In reality, anyone can use any sets of pronouns that they want, including neopronouns, regardless of their own gender expression or identity, and both can constantly shift. That’s what makes the experience so liberating and freeing, that pronouns can function as just one piece of the puzzle of identity.
Still, I appreciated Lovato’s candor and honesty with the public during these moments of reflection and reveal, which they had no obligation to explain or justify to anyone.
Which is why it was such a surprise when I found out that this change in her pronouns had garnered a whole storm of controversy and discourse online. Some fans thought the singer was “erasing” their nonbinary identity or was genuinely confused, and many felt frustrated by their seeming flakiness and inconsistency. The singer has even been accused of queer tourism, the practice of straight people trying to adopt queer culture and take advantage of the supportive community for clout or their own benefit.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I’d never seen her fans or the general public be so toxic, harmful, and just plain wrong. Nobody seemed to care that Lovato had just gone through yet another revolutionary moment of self-discovery, or that they were likely in a vulnerable place and had opened up this private part of their lives with strangers anyway. Instead, most people were voiced their frustrations with her evolving sexual and gender identity. Now it would be inconvenient to discuss them online because everyone would have to be constantly switching between the two sets of pronouns. And even worse, some right-wing people got their hands on misinformation and thought that she was identifying as a woman again.
“To recap, Demi Lovato has spent the last several years taking all of her wonderful feminine qualities & eliminating them, all while forcing you to acknowledge her false ‘truth’,” Political commentator T.J. Moe tweeted “Now she realized she was just confused & is going back to being a woman,” a statement that was not only incorrect but ignorant about the differences between biology, gender expression, and pronouns.
But since when have nonbinary people owed anyone convenience or “consistency”? When have people owed nonbinary people—or really, anybody—anything but basic respect?
Identities and announcements like Lovato’s aren’t new. Even fellow singer Janelle Monáe, who has also been candid about their bisexual and pansexual identities throughout the years, came out as nonbinary this past April and shared that they will be using both they/them and she/her pronouns moving forward. We’ve seen this all before, so I was confused about why only Lovato’s announcement had turned into such a negative storm online. Maybe it was because she has become a controversial figure in the media for a variety of reasons, or maybe people were already prepared to dislike anything she had to share.
Either way, the truth of the matter is that nobody’s pronouns are up for discourse, discussion, or backlash. When expression and identity are such a private matter, it’s unnecessary, and even harmful, to make someone else’s identity their business to ridicule and doubt.
The whole controversy reminded me of when I started using both she/her and they/them pronouns in college after many years of self-reflection. At the time, I received a lot of love and support, but also questions about what that meant for my gender identity. Even now, more than a year later after changing my pronouns, I’m not comfortable discussing that part of my identity just yet, and in fact, it might be more fluid than most people think. I felt elated that I had finally shared this truth about myself, and yet also intimidated by the thought that I would be expected to know everything else. But that isn’t fair.
Nobody should be pushing me, or Lovato, to “just figure it out already” or “make up my mind.” How we express ourselves and move through the world can fluctuate with time, growth, maturity, and self-reflection. How did we get to this point of tearing each other down instead of lifting up and supporting one another through the journey? Hopefully, thanks to Lovato and this recent announcement, that’s all about to change.