When SOPHIE first emerged on the scene in 2013, we really didn’t know much of anything about her and the details are still scant. Wikipedia only pins her origin as “Scotland, United Kingdom,” her given name was Samuel Long, and good luck finding much of anything beyond that. Maybe it’s SOPHIE’s playful presentation, the fact that she once referred to herself as “advertising music,” or some other reason that has nothing to do with gender presentation, but very few took SOPHIE’s name at face value as a declaration of femininity.
Somehow, the entire music press, myself included, failed SOPHIE in this respect (while I’ve never written anything about SOPHIE before today, I fell for it, too). That is, everyone but the writer Sasha Geffen, who had been sounding the alarm for years about an artist presenting themselves as one way, and being assumed as a cis male performer.
In a 2016 Guardian review of SOPHIE’s set at London’s Village Underground, there’s at least an acknowledgement of this ambiguity: “His reclusive tendencies have been noted in the past – he did his best to remain anonymous, leaving Sophie’s gender open to speculation for a while, and has given very few interviews since his career took off.” As Geffen also noted last October, SOPHIE herself never confirmed a given name in interviews—that just surfaced on forums and was considered implicit proof of gender until this October.
Geffen profiled SOPHIE today for Vulture (with an abrasive, clubby new song called “Ponyboy” within), which is illuminating in both learning about SOPHIE’s vaping techniques, along with how she’s skirted around explicit clarifications of gender and queerness in her art and interviews. SOPHIE boils it down as well as anyone could, sort of nodding to the fact that this was deliberate from the beginning:
“That’s a running theme in this music — questioning preconceptions about what’s real and authentic,” Sophie says. “What’s natural and what’s unnatural and what’s artificial, in terms of music, in terms of gender, in terms of reality, I suppose.”
Anyway, never assume someone’s gender! And if they don’t tell you, ask! There’s a polite way to do this, and it goes like this:
“Hey, what are your preferred pronouns?”
Since I’ve never interviewed SOPHIE before, I can’t confidently detail how she would answer if asked this question before October of this year. But I can’t help but wonder how many journalists even bothered to ask.