Shamir: Queer Pop and Living Outside the Gender Binary

 PHOTO:  Ryan Duffin  

PHOTO: Ryan Duffin 

Electric pop singer-songwriter Shamir is totally over your straight, cis-normative bullshit.

And he’s not alone. At only 23, Shamir has had quite the spanning career, despite his claims otherwise. In 2015 he made Ratchet on XL Recordings, a debut released among the likes of Adele and MIA, though disputes with his producer and collaborator led to not one but two scrapped projects before he and the label parted ways. In the wreckage, Shamir self-released Hope in early 2017 on SoundCloud, a record he self-produced in a weekend out of frustration. With that, a new, more pure Shamir emerged and that same year his most recent follow-up Revelations cemented his vision; a vision that’s purely and unadulteratedly his. And in an industry that is almost entirely driven by romantic and sexual urges, desires, and motivations, where do queer, pansexual, non-binary people like Shamir fit in, if at all?

“I told myself a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be fetishized or be someone’s experiment.”

WUSSY got a chance to speak with Shamir via Skype from his Philadelphia home one afternoon.

“Where you’re non-binary, you’re somewhere in the in-between, you know? A lot of times it’s really hard to find a place within sexuality because you might lack, for other people a ‘more firm sexuality’ whether it be gay, straight, or even bisexual.”

He expounds how the term “Bisexual” could potentially be triggering for some non-binary people, because it leads to a dreadful and demoralizing guessing game. Romance and attraction is already hindered while people try to navigate their need to ‘figure out’ Shamir and other non-binary people.

He simply puts, “Presenting in a non-confirmative way makes sex and dating a little trickier.”

In his music, especially initially, his youth was played up more than his sexuality. On his biggest hits like “On The Regular”, from his Ratchet days, it’s clear that despite his queerness, the focus at the time was on Pop and fun, and less so about the introspection queer people are confronted with all the time. Safe spaces and people whom they can be their true selves with are few and far between, often relegating to other people’s homes for weekend retreats, instead of a conventional late-night queer bar scene.

 PHOTO:  Ryan Duffin  

PHOTO: Ryan Duffin 

 PHOTO:  Ryan Duffin  

PHOTO: Ryan Duffin 

“Straight Boy”, the closing track from his album Revelations is a cathartic release for Shamir. It’s about the frustration that, despite whatever good intentions the ‘straight boy’ may have in courting or lusting after them, a non-binary person, they simply don’t understand and can’t come to terms with Shamir’s gender identity.

“A lot of my songs talk about the struggles of trying to find connections with people who generally exist on the binary,” he explains, saying that it comes from a fear of fetishization, and the potential violence that comes with that. “I told myself a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be fetishized or be someone’s experiment.”

“Even if I wanted to be more sexual with my presentation and in my art, it would have to be a very specific way. I feel like people still see me as a 19-year-old kid.”

 PHOTO:  Ryan Duffin  

PHOTO: Ryan Duffin 

Dating’s not off the table for Shamir, no matter how hard it might be. His ideal first date?

“Something more casual. Something basic. Dinner and a show. Mostly music.” And when he’s not crafting his own sounds, he’s finding inspiration in HBO’s Veep and Shakira’s 90s discography.  

Nevertheless, he’s optimistic for the future of gender non-binary and queer people.

“It’s a little disappointing, but we’re getting there. Studies have shown people our age are identifying more and more as queer and aren’t in a box, but we still have ways to go.”

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This story originally ran as the cover story of WUSSY Volume 3: The Sex Issue. Since then, Shamir released a surprise album "Resolution" on Bandcamp. 

The Sex Issue is currently Out of Stock, but you can preorder Volume 4 HERE

Photos: Ryan Duffin
Words: Tyler Scruggs
Stylist: Joanne Henriquez
Leather: Mother of Exile