“I’m such a fluid person,” Lovato, who came out as nonbinary in 2021, told host Tamara Dhia when asked about their pronouns. “Recently, I’ve been feeling more feminine, and so I’ve adopted she/her again.”
Across social media, people have reacted to the news with both appreciation and confusion. Some, including Dhia, have crit the media’s coverage for lacking context on the nuance and complexities of gender identity.
For the record: Demi Lovato did NOT say she is abandoning they/them as her pronouns, she simply said she is adding she/her. Please listen to the entire clip. Media friends, it’s important to get this right.
— Tamara Dhia (@tamaradhia) August 2, 2022
While some outlets’ language suggested Lovato had “gone back” to she/her pronouns, experts say it’s common for trans and nonbinary people to use multiple pronouns, and to interchange pronouns throughout their gender journey.
“Oftentimes, people might cycle through different gender identities, or different language they’re using or different pronouns, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not their true selves,” said Sabra Katz-Wise, an assistant professor in adolescent /young adult medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s just sort of part of this larger gender journey that people are on.”
A guide to the words we use in our gender coverage
Indeed, many on social media reinforced that idea and expressed hope that Lovato’s story would help normalize this experience: “This is a reminder that gender and sexuality can be totally fluid and that’s okay!” one user wrote on Twitter.
And many criticized the media’s portrayal of the news. “The media’s reaction to Demi Lovato using she/they pronouns is why I wish I’d stuck with they/them,” another user wrote. “The second I switched to he/they everyone stopped using they.”
Aaron Williams, 21, has used they/them pronouns for more than a year. Aim it feels like their gender journey is just beginning, they said.
“I’ve become a lot more understanding and aware of gender as a social construct in only the past few years,” said Williams, who lives in Port Talbot, Wales. “Being autistic, most of us don’t feel that we can relate to social norms and I realized I don’t relate to gender binary norms. It’s a work of progress.”
Cierra “ChiChi” White, a mental health counselor and Twitch streamer in Colorado Springs, said their journey began during childhood after they struggled to connect with feminine labels — particularly as a Black girl in a non-Black community. “My idea of femininity was completely different than that of those around me,” they said.
“For my whole life, I was very comfortable with any pronouns for the most part,” White added. “And then I just decided to go by they/them pronouns exclusively and identify as agender.”
To White, 26, it makes sense that a person’s gender identity and/or pronouns would change over time.
“If you’re constantly having your ideas challenged or meeting new people who maybe help you to change or better construct your own idea of what gender means over time, it’s natural that it would change,” White said. “I don’t know too many people who haven’t experimented with pronouns.“
According to data released from the Pew Research Center in June, about 1.6 percent of the US population identifies as trans or nonbinary. The survey also found that young adults were the most likely to identify this way.
5 percent of young adults identify as trans or nonbinary, survey says
Katz-Wise, whose research examines sexual orientation, gender identity development and sexual fluidity, echoes White’s view on how communities and environmental factors can influence identity. “There are a lot of contextual factors that appear to be related to people experiencing these changes,” she said. “A lot of them are about meeting new people [and] learning about new terms that they hadn’t been exposed to before.”
Amid an onslaught of legislation targeting trans and queer people, many in the LGBTQ community have been especially wary of narratives that can fuel stigmas and misconceptions about queer and gender experiences.
“I think there’s a real fear of transgender and nonbinary rights being removed if there’s a suggestion that gender can be fluid because people might say, ‘Well, if it’s fluid and you can change it, then why don’t you just be cisgender? ‘ ” Katz-Wise said. “But in reality, people wouldn’t usually describe it as they made that change themselves but rather they experienced that change happening to them.”
Since coming out as nonbinary in May 2021, Lovato has been open about anticipating such changes, telling the 19th at the time that her gender identity would be a “forever” journey. She has also said she identifies as queer and pansexual.
“There might be a time where I identify as nonbinary and gender nonconforming my entire life. Or maybe there’s a period of time when I get older that I identify as a woman,” she said. “I don’t know what that looks like, but for me, in this moment right now, this is how I identify.”
In recent years, other celebrities have come out as nonbinary or transgender. In 2019, singer Sam Smith changed their pronouns to they/them. In 2020, actor Elliot Page came out as transgender and nonbinary. And this year, singer Janelle Monae confirmed she is nonbinary, telling the Los Angeles Times she’ll use both they/them and she/her pronouns.
White is grateful for their stories: “It means a lot for me personally as a transgender and nonbinary person because it helps to normalize conversations about gender and fluidity.”
“It’s so important for our communities not to just have allies but to see representation,” they said. “If it wasn’t for social media and the change in conversation in popular culture, I may not know these labels existed.”