July 7, 2021 / Ty Marsh 

“And no matter where I go, you’ll always be here in my heart, here in my heart, here in my heart.”

What does it mean to be ahead of your time? To pioneer? To break ground?

What does it mean to those who see you? To those who identify with your insurgence? To those who recognize themselves in your revolution?

Everything. It means everything.

SOPHIE was a visionary from the start. She, before even showing herself, held an individuality within her music unlike any other. Her sound was fully hers. Her faceless existence didn’t matter to listeners, but her introduction did.

Strangely, I can remember that day in high school with vivid detail. I was in a welding class surrounded by masculinity and sweat. I, the clear (queer) outlier, was abstracted by my two best friends in school: my iPhone 7 and wired headphones. Scrolling through Twitter, I saw it. A music video from a faceless artist I’d held a minor interest in, showing herself in full for the first time.

“It’s okay to cry,” she sang, baring her breasts for the world with scenes of shifting skies in the background. As morning sunrises morphed into midnight storms on screen, tears began to develop in my eyes. This was something, no, someone different. Someone I saw myself in unlike anyone before. Someone who, in doing so little, did so much. My first exposure to the wholly new world of SOPHIE, I listened to her discography through the rest of the week. I wasn’t sure why.

Life as a queer person is confusing, especially when it comes to gender. It’s hard to escape a construct that is solidified in one’s life from birth. A set, inescapable truth within this world of pinks and blues, it puts a gag on queerness and leaves knots of shame and confusion around the limbs of people who feel othered.

Then, enter the visibility of SOPHIE. SOPHIE’s world is one without conventions. In her music and in life, she sees things differently than anyone to whom I’d been exposed before. Her sound is instantly recognizable, with its heavy snares and glistening, pitched vocals. Self-described as a pop star, SOPHIE takes the Top 40 sound and pushes it toward the horizon alongside her. She speaks in a tranquil British voice of a future without restriction, one without the confines of stereotypical gender. Her studio album is titled a reverse mondegreen of the phrase, “I love every person’s insides,” exemplifying this. She is the first to show me how beautiful queerness is, how immaculate a body of unaltered self-expression can be. Her interviews burst with thought-provoking sentiments on how freeing impenitent self-expression is. She is sexy, she is visible, she is unabashed. She is inspiring.

She taught me that there were no rules. That traditionalism is not the standard, not “correct.” I’d learn more about myself with each of the interviews I’d read as her career and visibility progressed. I would find comfort in the unapologetic queerness of her music, turning Immaterial’s, “I could be anything I want,” into a mantra. As I dove into myself, SOPHIE was a consistent touchpoint of validation and understanding in a way only she could be, encouraging me to swim deeper and explore further.

There comes a shift in mindset when you deconstruct the rules. You realize that all you once knew was not the truth, that there’s no reason as to why the world isn’t a kaleidoscope of shades. Understanding queerness is understanding difference. It’s recognizing it, accepting it, celebrating it. This is why there’s such a profound connection between queer people. We see each other differently than those who haven’t yet made this revelation. We love each other differently than those who do not yet understand. We hold each other close, for we realize that, right now, what we know is sacred. What we know is the future. It makes it all that much harder when one of us goes.

Strangely, I can remember that day in January with vivid detail. I woke up, glad that I managed to sleep in until 10 a.m. on a Saturday, and I laid in bed for a moment, opting out of the usual instant scouring of my phone. Eventually, my habits got the best of me. Scrolling through Twitter, I saw it. Sophie Xeon had passed in Athens the night before while climbing to see the year’s first full moon. The tears came before the realization, and they stayed for the day.

I listened to her discography through the rest of the week. 

It’s hard to tell how needed someone’s presence is until they’re not there anymore. The loss of SOPHIE’s presence was felt by those who knew her around the world. She was more than just an artist, more than someone who simply understood. She lived it; she experienced it. She was one of us. Her presence was more than just a celebrity for us — it was representation.

In a time when few truly understand us, SOPHIE was a beacon of hope. One of us, living in truth and sharing with the world what queerness is, what transness is. Her words inspired us. She encouraged us to remain unapologetic in who we are, to put our happiness above social conditioning. She explained how beautiful it is to have our experiences, to live our lives unapologetically. It’s things like this that people need to see. It’s groundbreakers like her who inspire change in the world. More importantly, it’s people like her who need to be there for the us who don’t know they’re one of us yet. It’s those ahead of their time who need to be recognizable for when the time comes.

I still see mourning on my media timelines. I find myself thinking about SOPHIE when my mind wanders. I reflect on what a profound impact she had on me every single time a song she touched comes on. It’s a bittersweet feeling knowing how universal she was in so many of our lives, but I think the sweetness overpowers. She is inescapably linked to the queer experience. Her music plays in our clubs, at our house parties, in our cars. She is there on drunken nights when I stomp home in platform shoes to the beat of unreleased demos on SoundCloud. I remember her sounds in the memories I plan to hold on to until I cannot any longer. I think of her when I see the moon, its celestial beauty linked to hers forever.

You can’t put into words how it feels to realize you’ve seen someone live ahead of their time. You can’t explain to others how it feels to be connected to a groundbreaker. What you can do is grab a shovel and help to finish the job they started. ■

For SOPHIE, 1986-2021

Written by: Ty Marsh

Layout by:
Jennifer Jimenez

Alyssa Olvera

Ella Hernandez & Eric Qiu

Shania Wasner

Jordan Teliha

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