Demi Lovato joins other celebrities who have come out as non-binary. Here's what that means.

·6-min read

Demi Lovato has repeatedly opened up to fans about their personal life through documentaries and candid Instagram posts. Now, Lovato has a new announcement: They're non-binary.

Lovato, 28, shared the news on Instagram and in a new 4D with Demi Lovato podcast, pointing out that they now prefer the pronouns "they/them."

UNSPECIFIED - APRIL 08: In this screengrab released on April 8, Demi Lovato attends The 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards broadcast on April 08, 2021. (Photo by The 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards/Getty Images for GLAAD)
Demi Lovato announced they were non-binary and preferred the pronouns "they/them." (Photo by The 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards/Getty Images for GLAAD)

"I've spent the majority of my life growing in front of all of you," Lovato wrote on Instagram. "You've seen the good, the bad, and everything in between. Not only has my life been a journey for myself, I was also living for those on the other side of the cameras."

Lovato then said that they are "proud" to identify as non-binary, and it's a decision they made "after a lot of healing and self-reflective work."

"I'm still learning and coming into myself, and I don't claim to be an expert or a spokesperson," they continued. "Sharing this with you now opens another level of vulnerability for me. 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 and know I am sending so much love your way."

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On the debut episode of Lovato's new podcast, 4D with Demi Lovato, they delved into their gender identity further. In the podcast, Lovato said that they felt their overdose in 2018 was linked to being misgendered.

"I feel like the reason why that happened was because I was ignoring my truth, and I was suppressing who I really am in order to please stylists or team members or this or that, or even fans that wanted me to be the sexy, feminine pop star in the leotard and look a certain way," they said.

Lovato also said that they "want to use these pronouns that feel right to me," and said that they understand if fans mix up the pronouns with their previously used pronouns of she/her. "I also just don't want people to be so afraid of messing up that they don't try to use them," Lovato said.

GLAAD released a statement of support following Lovato's announcement. "Gender is not simply male or female. Non-binary people live outside of those rigid categories and they should be respected for who they are, which includes using the pronouns they tell us to use," said Anthony Ramos, GLAAD's head of talent. "People identifying as non-binary is not new — and recognition and visibility of non-binary people has been growing. Demi has always been one of the loudest and proudest advocates for LGBTQ people and issues. In sharing their story today, they will educate countless people around the world and reach other non-binary people with a message of pride."

Lovato joins a growing group of celebrities who have publicly identified as non-binary, including Joey Soloway, Sam Smith, Jonathan Van Ness, Indya Moore, Janelle Monae, Amandla Stenberg, Asia Kate Dillon, Nico Tortorella and Jameela Jamil. But what does this mean, exactly? Here’s what you need to know.

What is non-binary?

Non-binary is a term used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman, according to GLAAD.

"Non-binary people live outside of those binaries," Mary Emily O'Hara, rapid response manager for GLAAD, who identifies as non-binary, told Yahoo Life. "You might feel that you’re in between male and female, or that you don’t relate to those traditional ideas of gender at all."

Non-binary gender identity is also "not necessarily tied to the way your gender expression looks," O'Hara said. "It doesn’t necessarily mean that you appear androgynous or, if you were assigned female at birth, that you appear more masculine."

For someone like Lovato, who is "very likely to be misgendered going forward," asserting gender identity is "even more important," O’Hara said.

How is non-binary different from transgender?

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned to them at birth, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Non-binary is an identity embraced by people who do not exclusively identify as a man or woman.

"Non-binary is similar to transgender, but not all non-binary people identify as transgender," O'Hara said. "Some do, though."

Why are the correct pronouns important with someone who identifies as non-binary?

"Pronouns are used in everyday language and many non-binary people prefer to use the pronouns "they/them," O'Hara points out. "Pronouns are important because they identify our gender in everyday language," they said. "You really need pronouns in order to speak about people."

"Referring to anyone with the correct pronouns is important," Madeline Roberts, deputy press secretary for HRC who identifies as non-binary, told Yahoo Life. "It's just a sign of respect, and it shows that you recognize someone for who they really are."

Roberts says it’s "painful" and "really hurts" when someone is misgendered. "It shows that someone doesn’t recognize them in the fullness of their identity and humanity," they say.

Using the correct pronouns "acknowledges their right to space: We are signaling that we see you," Dr. John Henry Pang, assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery, who provides specialized care for the transgender/gender non-conforming community, told Yahoo Life. 

"Take a moment and imagine what your day-to-day experience would be like if people misgendered you, calling you by the wrong pronoun," he said. "Aside from being offended, you would begin to feel invisible, unwanted, unacknowledged, confused, angry and hurt. It is a deeply painful experience to be misgendered. If you can learn someone's name, you can learn their pronouns."

What does non-binary have to do with sexual orientation?

Nothing. "Sexual orientation and gender identity are two separate things," Roberts says. "Sexual orientation is if you are bi, gay, lesbian, or straight, and involves sexual attraction or lack thereof. Gender identity, on the other hand, is more of an inner concept of yourself."

Pang agrees. "What gender we identify as has nothing to do with who we want to have sex with," he says. "For example, we would never assume that someone who identifies as a woman is only attracted to men. She is a woman. Her gender identity stands separate from her sexuality. She could be straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual — it has nothing to do with her gender identity as a woman."

Experts applaud Lovato for opening up about their gender identity. "It's really wonderful to see Demi Lovato coming out and living their truth," Roberts said.

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