Bring back kink-shaming

Sam Smith is a cultural authoritarian masquerading as a rebel.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Culture Identity Politics UK

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There’s a striking irony in the public debate over Sam Smith’s metamorphosis. It will have escaped no one’s notice – because there’s no escape from this crap – that Smith has turned from a Next suit-wearing warbler of deathless ballads into a BDSM chub who trolls the nation by mimicking piss play in his music vids. And yet the shrillest pearl-clutching in the Smith discourse is not coming from the religious right or even just everyday men and women who would rather not see a portly fella in nipple tassels. No, it’s coming from Smith’s fans, who cannot believe anyone would dare to diss their kween and his kinks.

Sure, hands have been wrung and teeth gnashed over Smith’s porny new persona, especially after he dressed like the devil for the Grammys performance of his song ‘Unholy’. (Hilariously, it wasn’t only right-wingers who were unimpressed with Smith’s dabbling in Satanism – so was the Church of Satan, which sniffily described his performance as ‘nothing particularly special’.) But for real fire and brimstone, for the most blazing expressions of censure, you need to look to the Smith camp itself. They’re the real religious zealots in all this. They’re the ones condemning to death – social death, that is – anyone who criticises Smith and his holy identity as a genderqueer they / them.

Every elite academic slur has been hurled at the blasphemers against Sam. Wonder out loud if it’s a good idea for a man carrying some extra weight to pose in little more than a few strips of red tape for an art mag and you’ll be accused of ‘fatphobia’. Wince at Smith’s arrival at the BRIT Awards on Saturday night in a porn-genre inflatable latex body suit that made him look like a cross between one of Jeff Koons’ balloon animals and your middle-aged nextdoor neighbour who goes dogging and you’ll be branded a ‘kink-shamer’. Refuse to address him by his preferred pronouns – they / them – and you’ll be castigated as a bigot. It’s pure ‘culture-war bigotry’, says one observer, to bristle at Smith and the ‘body-positive sexual themes’ in his new music. There it is: the real dark, demonic forces in the Smith discourse are not the people who squeeze their flab into latex and drink champagne in the manner of a watersports weirdo from Pornhub – it’s the people who say ‘Eurgh’.

Everywhere one looks, brimstone is being rained down on Smith’s dissenters. The Smith backlash is all ‘bigotry and fatphobia’, says one fuming columnist. You lot ‘just can’t stand seeing fat queer people living their truth’, he says. The slamming of Smith is ‘homophobic and transphobic’, says the NME. A writer for the New Statesman let the cat out of the bag when he denounced the mainstream media for criminally hosting debates about Sam Smith. TV execs are giving ‘transphobes’ a ‘platform to express their bigotry’, he says. The media should not ‘dignify that bigotry’. In short, shut down the transgressors. Pious anger, a fervent urge to shush heretics, is far more pronounced among Smith’s lovers than among his mockers.

These people are like Mary Whitehouse in drag. A pair of red horns may have replaced the blue rinse, but the impulse to silence blasphemers remains. The howl of ‘transphobia!’ plays the same role as the howl of ‘blasphemy!’ once did. It’s a bony finger of condemnation aimed at those who are insufficiently deferential to dogma. Consider what happened to ITV’s Richard Madeley when he accidentally referred to Smith as ‘he’. He was Twittermobbed for his bigotry, shamed for his speechcrime. It’s a strange free-spirited queer counterculture that seeks to destroy any poor soul who offends against its moral code.

The real rebel today is not Sam Smith – it’s Richard Madeley. It’s those of us who think they / them is bullshit, and that people with penises are men, and that women should have the right to create their own spaces without worrying that some big lump in a wig like Eddie Izzard or Sam Smith will pop in for a wee or whatever. I see your Satanism-lite and latex get-up – worn at an awards ceremony sponsored by Mastercard! – and raise you our defence of reason, science and women’s rights. It’s the latter that’s truly daring in this unforgiving era of woke, in this strange moment when virtually the entire elite has converted to the cause of identitarianism and will No Platform (woke for ‘cast out’) anyone who refuses to do likewise.

That’s my beef with Smith and today’s ‘queer’ counterculture: for all its claims to radicalism and mischief-making, it’s really a new form of cultural authoritarianism. They’re not smashing taboos – they’re enforcing new ones. Smith and his media fawners are the despots of new customs that instruct us on how to speak and even think about sex, gender, reality and women. And deviants will be punished. There will be be crusades to rob them off ‘platforms to express their bigotry’ – or to guard society from their ‘indecent’ ideas, which ‘despoil our communication’, as Mary Whitehouse more honestly said of the ‘filth’ she wanted to banish from the airwaves. One feels obliged to remind those screaming ‘bigot’ at anyone who disses St Sam what ‘bigotry’ actually means: ‘intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself.’ Sound familiar, lads?

There are other forms of bigotry in the ‘queer’ ideology beloved of Smith and others. Take Smith’s claim that he feels ‘as much woman as I am man’. And the broader trans lobby’s insistence that feeling like a woman is all it takes to be a woman – literally, legally a woman. This is misogynistic. It is expressly anti-woman to reduce womanhood to garb and to erase women’s spaces in order to flatter the delusions of men in dresses. As for the idea that ‘fat queer people’ like Smith are only ‘living their truth’ – it’s entirely legit if gay people who fought for their rights over decades bristle at this association of homosexuality with devilish fetishwear and simulated piss play. ‘Gays are not freaks’, they said for years. ‘Yes we are’, say today’s overeducated millennial queers. You want to talk about homophobia? Okay, let’s.

The new counterculture isn’t about freedom. We know this because the people currently shouting ‘Prude!’ at those of us not in love with Smith’s new look are the same people who will dial 999 in a cold sweat the minute Posie Parker says ‘Men are not women’. Smith’s ‘queer’ antics are really just a garish expression of the intolerant ideologies of the new elites. ‘Don’t kink-shame him’, they say, by which they mean: don’t criticise; don’t judge; don’t question the gospel of gender-fluidity; and whatever you do, don’t ask if women and gay people might be the big losers in today’s gender dogmatism that masquerades as a queer revolt. Bigotry is bigotry, guys, even when it’s wearing nipple tassels.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Culture Identity Politics UK


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