We know that the pronouns someone uses for themself can be incredibly validating to their gender identity, but using pronouns beyond "he/him" and "she/her" can also open up the door for ridicule, snide remarks, and general confusion from people who simply don't understand (or don't want to). Unfortunately, singer and songwriter Demi Lovato is the most recent celeb to be on the receiving end of this discourse.
In a recent interview with Spout Podcast, Lovato opened up about wanting to use "she/her" pronouns again (in addition to "they/them"), while she had previously only used "they/them." As you can imagine, the singer's disclosure prompted an unnecessary and unfair debate surrounding the legitimacy of their identity.
Many people interpreted this as Lovato's way of erasing their nonbinary identity — even accusing her of engaging in "queer tourism," a term that describes when straight, cisgender people adopt queer culture. Other people made claims that Lovato was previously "confused," insinuating that by readopting she/her pronouns, the singer is now "back to normal." These are two incredibly harmful perspectives.
In the interview, Lovato explained, "I felt like, especially last year, my energy was balanced and my masculine and feminine energy so that when I was faced with the choice of walking into a bathroom and it said women and men, I didn't feel like there was a bathroom for me because I didn't feel necessarily like a woman. I didn't feel like a man. 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."
They continued, "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. Everyone messes up pronouns at some point, and especially when people are learning, it's just all about respect."
Personally, as someone who identifies as genderfluid, I relate to Lovato's experience. For me, being genderfluid is about being free — being able to embrace my gender expression and gender identity as it changes and fluctuates. It's an identity that lives under the nonbinary umbrella, and it doesn't just support change — it welcomes it.
For most of my life, I identified as a woman, mainly because it was expected of me. Although I knew something wasn't quite right with that identity, I didn't know what was missing or how else to define myself. It was only as I got older that I started to realize I wasn't living inside the gender binary like others do. There was a fluidity to my identity, with me sometimes feeling both masculine and feminine while also feeling like neither.
When I finally came out as genderfluid at 30 years old, I felt like a weight had been lifted. Yet I still wasn't sure what pronouns best suited me. I found that sometimes "they/them" felt right, but at other points, "she/her" became a better form of expression.
Here's the thing, though: both sets of pronouns are me. For me, gender identity shifts and changes as I learn more about myself. I'm no less genderfluid for times I've used "she/her," and that doesn't make my experience using "they/them" any less valid.
I'm no less genderfluid for times I've used "she/her," and that doesn't make my experience using "they/them" any less valid.
But gender nonconformity is about more than pronouns, which is what a lot of the discussions surrounding Lovato's interview miss. While it can be hugely validating when someone is referred to by their correct pronouns, only focusing on what pronouns someone uses almost trivializes gender identity as a whole. As Brock Colyar wrote in New York Magazine, it risks turning nonbinary identities into "the third gender after male and female, more static and concrete than its original fluid intentions."
Some of the reactions to Lovato's news have an undercurrent of exasperation, as though people want the singer to just make up their mind already — to just pick a lane. But moving past the gender binary means challenging, rethinking, and unlearning the traditional binary way of thinking about gender — which means asking if there's even a lane to be picked, really. By only honing in on one piece of the puzzle — in this case, someone's pronouns — people miss out on the beautiful and eye-opening nuance of what makes someone nonbinary.
Though society at large generally treats gender experimentation as a bad thing, there's no harm in exploring your identity, even if you ultimately decide that the pronouns you were assigned at birth are the right ones for you. Changing your mind doesn't make you an attention seeker, it simply means you've gained the tools to better know yourself.
And in fact, being against people who change their pronouns or identities only helps reinforce the myth that people "just know" their gender, which is a fallacy. The expectation this creates is stifling, making it harder for people to explore and try new pronouns and parts of their identity. Experimentation is one of life's joys, not just because it opens up fun, new possibilities, but because it helps us make informed decisions.
Bottom line: Lovato's announcement shouldn't be shocking; it isn't proof that she's been "faking" her identity; it doesn't mean that she's "confused." If anything, the way some people have responded shows just how desperately we need better gender-identity representation in all media — including representation of what exploration can look like — and space to have conversations about what it means to fully accept and respect different gender identities.
The fact is, self-discovery isn't linear, nor should it ever be. And the pronouns you or somebody else uses should never become something up for debate.