How Demi Lovato’s Broken Engagement Helped Singer Embrace Their ‘Most Authentic Self’

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Demi Lovato is reflecting on their ongoing gender journey and how breaking off their engagement to Max Ehrich last year was a pivotal milestone.

The pop superstar was the final keynote speaker at Thursday’s The 19th Represents 2021 Virtual Summit, which took a closer look at the constantly evolving cultural and media landscapes over several days. The Grammy-nominated singer opened up about beginning to identify as non-binary in March 2020 after starting to question their gender as early as in middle school.

“I think the first times that I ever questioned my gender was probably in like the fifth grade, fourth and fifth grade. I started dressing more masculine, and even though a part of my life I still was very feminine — I was doing beauty pageants and getting glammed up for these performances or events that I was doing as a kid,” Lovato said, “In my downtime, I was finding it more comfortable to be around the boys and to I guess at the time make fart jokes and whatever fifth graders do. … But that was the catalyst to the rest of my life living in this hyper-feminine state that I didn’t totally always identify with.”

During the June 9-dated episode of the 4D With Demi Lovato podcast, the Dancing With the Devil artist said they once worried about the negative impact on their career if they didn’t have a certain “super sexy hyper-feminine pop star” look. The 29-year-old singer switching up their hair over the last year — from a blond half-buzzed cut in November to a hot-pink makeover in January — represented how Lovato was slowly breaking out of the heteronormative pop-star mold they had been in for a decade. They kept shedding that heteronormativity when Lovato and Ehrich broke off their engagement in September of last year after the couple dated for six months and were engaged for two.

“In hindsight, the dissolvement of that relationship was actually probably the best thing that’s happened to me because of what that led inside of myself,” they said during the virtual summit. “…I was able to stand on my own two feet without needing someone else to validate me or to feel accepted. When I said goodbye to that relationship, I also said goodbye to everything that was holding me back from being my most authentic self. I really started to identify with close friends and family as non-binary toward the end of last year. It was the dissolvement of all those things that had held me back from identifying as the person I do today.”

Lovato previously discussed this on the April 2021 cover of Glamour, saying that after the singer and Ehrich ended their engagement, Lovato started to embrace their queer identity. “When I started getting older, I started realizing how queer I really am,” Lovato told Glamour. “This past year I was engaged to a man, and when it didn’t work, I was like, This is a huge sign. I thought I was going to spend my life with someone. Now that I wasn’t going to, I felt this sense of relief that I could live my truth.”

Working with fellow non-binary pop star Sam Smith was also an “aha” moment for Lovato. After recording their Billboard Hot 100 top 40 hit “I’m Ready,” Lovato asked Smith questions about identity.

“I started asking them questions on being non-binary and gender non-conforming, what that was, and they said, ‘Why don’t you come to this poetry show with me? My friend is performing.’ And it was Alok Vaid-Menon, who we all know and love. And it was when they were speaking on the stage that I had tears coming down my face, I was belly laughing to where they could hear me from the stage, although I was in the front row…. I had that ‘aha’ moment and that changed everything for me,” Lovato said.

Watch Lovato’s speech during The 19th Represents 2021 Virtual Summit around the two-hour, 34-minute mark below.

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