Sam Smith is an openly gay musician, who also was raised Catholic. Earlier this year, Bondings 2.0 reported on how his recent song HIM, which contains several references to religion, has inspired a generation of LGBT Catholic youth to begin their reconciliation with sexuality and faith. In HIM, Smith sings about the religious guilt he feels when in a relationship with a man.
In a recent post on GLAAD’s blog Amp, Andre Menchavez writes how Smith’s music helped him to be his authentic self and to embrace his identity as both queer and Catholic. Menchavez, who is a campus ambassador for GLAAD (an LGBTQ media watchdog organization), recalls the emotional experience he had when listening to HIM for the first time:
“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.”
Smith’s use of the word “him” to refer to both his partner and God resonated with Menchavez, and made him reflect on his own Catholic upbringing:
“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.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.”
Menchavez praises Smith’s use of music to help other young, queer Catholics work through their faith and religious struggles:
“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.”
HIM is not the only song that Smith uses to combine his sexuality and religious upbringing. Menchavez observes:
“One of the biggest reasons I stan [i.e., to be a fan of] 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.”
For Menchavez, HIM was an important part of being able to live his life as both a member of the LGBT community and as a Catholic. It was also a way to see that there was a bright future ahead:
“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.”
HIM came out in January, and Smith has been vocal that it is directed at church policies that make LGBT people feel that they are less than welcome within the church.
HIM is a beautiful song, but it is also a representation of possibilities for young (and old) LGBT people who are working to make sense of both their Catholic faith and their sexuality.
You can listen to the song and follow along with the lyrics in this video:
—Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, June 11, 2018