Editorials

May 18, 2011

A Love Letter: In Defence of Gaga

Lady Gaga

Everyone and their dealer has something to say about Lady Gaga and her recent metamorphosis from basic cured meat-wearing pop star to self-proclaimed equality rights messiah with her accelerated involvement in the LGBT community. Since the release of Born This Way however – a song that couldn’t scream GAY any louder if it were performed by Liberace in glitter-encrusted leather chaps at a San Francisco Pride parade – a growing number of critics, gay and otherwise, have since taken the opportunity to lash out at her every move.

Initially captured in the Daily Beast article, “Gays Turn on Lady Gaga”, the article highlighted growing resentment among urban gay men with Born This Way’s use of cliche lyrics and stereotypically gay melodies. Since then, the conversation has shifted to a much larger issue, in which she’s perceived not to be queer enough to sing about equality rights, let alone represent them.

With a penchant to hype herself in epic, Kanye West proportions, I can understand if her new music has been slightly underwhelming. But criticism regarding her bisexuality and her initial involvement with Target, most notably from Gays Against Gaga – one of the more prominent members of the growing anti-Gaga movement –  now verge on bullying.

Once word spread of Target’s history of donating to the campaigns of certain anti-gay candidates, she was accused of being a hypocrite and phony for working with them. Not only did she immediately break ties with the megastore, but her actions also prompted them to reform policies within the corporation as well as renew their support for the LGBT community. I don’t see the recently out Ricky Martin washing his hands of the megastore, and yet I don’t see anyone with pitchforks and ‘Gays Against Ricky’ signs anywhere, and I certainly don’t see much acknowledgement from her critics about how significant it is for the world’s biggest pop star to refuse to work with one of the fastest growing chains in the world. Double standard much?

As an out bisexual woman, Gaga is arguably the biggest pop star on the planet today, is speaking out, and is successfully bringing focus to issues to incredibly important issues like DADT, marriage equality, and teen bullying. But for some reason, her bisexuality is being viewed as one of two things: a well timed marketing ploy or that bisexuality is not “gay enough” to earn her status as a gay icon. Not only has Gaga been up front about her relationships with and interest in women from the start, but that any questions regarding her sexuality insinuates, explicitly or implicitly, that a bisexual individual is perceived to only be half-gay at the most.

Heterosexual Billboard Hot 100 regulars like Katy Perry, Britney, or Kesha are all treated like gay icons cause of their shiny hair, pre-drink appropriate music, and fancy dance moves (ok, maybe not Britney), and  often heralded for their support of our community. But filming an ‘It Gets Better’ video, tweeting about gay marriage or throwing a random quote about loving their gay fans does a not a gay icon make. On the other hand, Gaga’s work on repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ played a significant role in helping it get overturned, which is unprecedented and exciting. And if every time that Born This Way, is played on the radio, another sexist, derogatory, or homophobic song isn’t, then I definitely don’t see what the problem is (I’m talking to you, Tyler the Creator).

Having grown up in the Middle East, surrounded by people who would’ve thrown stones – not support – if I had come out, all I had was an exceptionally effeminate Jack McFarland on Will & Grace reruns to look up to. Trust me when I say that Gaga appropriating gay culture for her own benefit is a small price to pay when you’re an isolated twelve year old on the verge of suicide.

Unfortunately, I fear that a certain near sightedness is at play here. Our generation has become slightly too comfortable knowing that the necessary help lines, support groups, and clubs are available in most North American cities, that they overlook the fact that gay marriage is still just an idea for our brothers and sisters south of the border or that there are millions around the world who still only have cultural figures to guide them through the often traumatic experience of coming out.

One can argue that it isn’t ethical to be making millions off of the broken self-esteem of gay youth or any other individual dealing with similar issues and I can see their point. Capitalizing on any kind of struggle is bad. But can we all please be a tad more realistic here? Name one entertainment industry do-gooder, from Oprah to Bono, who hasn’t profited from their supposedly benevolent work.

They may be small gestures, but having the support of someone with the largest spotlight and the loudest microphone is not insignificant.

 



About the Author

Elie
Elie
|Toronto Contributor| Laptop hugger, metaphor enthusiast, lover of sandwiches, and writer of greeting cards.




 
 

 
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9 Comments


  1. Kira

    I’m conflicted when it comes to Lady Gaga. She’s all about the LGB, but as for the T… I don’t know. I find her kind of cissexist (I am thinking of this statement: http://entertainment.msn.co.nz/celebrity/?blogentryid=319190&showcomments=true).

    Anyway. I agree that looking at bisexuals as only “half gay” is crap, but I’m not 100% behind Gaga (though I do think that yes, she’s done some amazing stuff for the LGB community).


  2. Ty

    Wow, awesome article Elie!

    For the record.. I’ve been a ‘Gay Against Ricky’ for years.. wayyyy before he came out. (only half kidding here).

    But you’re right.. BIG time celebrities often align themselves with causes to further promote themselves. Let’s give Gaga a round of applause for picking one that affects the world over and one that takes more than a photo-opt at some charity dinner. Good on ya for bringing light to this-


  3. MAB
    MAB

    Long time lurker, first time poster here.

    Listen, I love the Gaga as much as anyone, but really, she’s in the business of entertainment, but more fundamentally, in the business of building a brand. If part of building that brand means that there are some corollary benefits to the communities that she supports/boost, then more power to her! Part of the joys of freedom is that we can choose to support/detract from whomever or whatever we please. So let the Gays Against Gaga say what they please; ultimately, it just means more publicity for her, and more publicity for the causes she espouses!


    • Elie

      This is true. At the end of the day, she’s an entertainer who’s making a lot of money off of her activism. (Forbes recently placed her as the world’s most powerful celebrity, ahead of Oprah.) Her influence is monumental and earning power is massive. But in the grand scheme of things, Lady Gaga is the least of the LGBT community’s problems. Why not roll up our sleeves and focus our collective energy on the very people who continue to stifle us instead of sit around and criticize one of the few individuals of her magnitude who’s trying to help?


  4. Hi Elle,
    We like your site, and we’re honored that you chose to write about us, but really bummed that your piece is filled with so many falsehoods and inaccuracies.

    Gaga didn’t drop the deal when the news of Target’s anti-gay policies broke. That news broke in July 2010. Gaga announced the deal in February 2011 despite the criticism.

    Gaga dropped the deal only after tons of gays started turning on her when the hypocrisy was highlighted.

    You say that Target has reformed its policies, but there has been ZERO evidence of any policy change.

    Finally, we have NEVER argued that she “isn’t gay enough.” We dare you to find even ONE place on our site where we make such an argument. We don’t care if she’s straight, lesbian, bi, or whatever. Her personal orientation is irrelevant. No one person can represent all of LGBT america. We just wish it was someone who wasn’t using racially and culturally insensitive language and terrible embarrassing music.

    One more thing: we are small-town people. We know that it’s important to have ANY lifeline you can get. But you can get all kinds of lifelines that aren’t simultaneously exploitative. It’s not that hard! But we gotta support them so they can reach more people!


    • Elie

      Thank you for taking the time to respond to this piece. Though I do think you bring up a valid point about Gaga knowing about Target’s shady history with anti-gay candidates prior to signing the deal, you conveniently forget to mention that she had entered into business with them with full intention of helping reform their policies. Her statement to Billboard magazine was the following:

      “Part of my deal with Target is that they have to start affiliating themselves with LGTB charity groups. Our relationship is hinged upon their reform in the company to support the gay community and to redeem the mistakes they’ve made supporting those groups.”

      Further evidence of changes to Target’s policies can be found on Target’s corporate website and are highlighted within this article (http://www.billboard.com/#/features/lady-gaga-talks-target-deal-for-born-this-1005041982.story). Was she criticized for working with them and did that have an effect on her ending the deal? Probably. But looking at her unending support for the LGBT community from the start, I have no doubt in my mind that she had every intention of working towards a more productive, queer positive solution as well. We can go back and forth on whether this was a well-timed PR strategy to ensure that she remain good with the gays forever. Even if it is, I choose to see the cup as half full and I think that it’s incredibly significant that the most powerful celebrity on earth (according to Forbes magazine) ended a deal with one of the world’s largest retailers over a gay rights issue when no one else has done the same.

      As for discussions regarding her sexuality, I bring that up several times in the article because I have a hard time believing that this much criticism, whether from your website or anyone else, would be projected her way had she come out as a lesbian, and not a bisexual woman. A bisexual individual is as much a member of the LGBT community as anyone else and they have every right to speak for our cause. Melissa Ethridge, for example, doesn’t exactly represent me but I appreciate the work that she does and the strides she has made in our collective struggle for equality. Dan Savage may not speak for everyone but the work he has done is incredibly significant. No one person will be able to to represent everyone but every little bit counts. Lady Gaga may not represent you or your readers, but instead of nitpicking at every one of her moves, why not use that energy for something a little more productive?


      • gaysagainstgaga

        Again, you’re ignoring the timeline. Gaga only claimed that she was trying to reform Target AFTER she had come under scrutiny and criticsm for her opportunism and hypocrisy. And even in that billboard piece, Target never once confirmed her claims of “reform” attempts.

        Please stop trying to paint us as biphobic to avoid addressing our actual arguments. We’ll criticize lesbians who work against the interests of LGBT people just as hard as we’ll criticize bisexual people or straight people. Don’t get us started on Camille Paglia (or Roy Cohn, or Mary Cheney, etc!)

        Bullying? Really? We’ve responded to every angry little monster who’s written to us that it’s perfectly okay if they like LG, or find her inspirational. We don’t like her songwriting, but we’re not afraid to admit that she’s got a hell of a voice. All we’re trying to do is ask some critical questions and open up some space for a diversity of views.

        Finally, we kind of resent the idea that our activism is “unproductive”. We’re trying to fight racism, ableism, corporatism, etc, and those struggles are as important to human liberation as fighting homophobia. Implicit in your criticism is the assumption that a blog about a pop singer is the only kind of activism that we do. C’mon, this blog is something that we do 15 minutes a day 3 times a week on our lunch break, in the midst of 60 hour work weeks doing offline activism!

        You’re a smart dude, but this article is beneath you. Why don’t you address our actual arguments instead of these straw men? What about the racism in Born This Way, for example?


        • Britta

          I’m just gonna jump in here and say that Lady Gaga, being a huge icon in society for better or for worse, is in a huge way a reflection of it. All the racial undertones (and overtones) in her songwriting is a reflection of our society, which still seems to see white, wealthy, cisgendered people as the “norm”. I’m not saying that’s right but that’s what it is right now. Same with her “I look like a tranny” comment – offensive, definitely, to imply that trans people are unattractive, but as much a part of society right now as “that’s so gay,” only much less publicized. I hate to let someone off the hook because of their upbringing – it certainly doesn’t excuse anything, but that’s the world LG was brought up in, like so many others (at least I assume she’s an Earthling), that’s the world view she reflects, and that’s the world we’re still living in unless we change it.
          And as Elie’s been saying, she is at least trying to help to change it. Sure, maybe she only broke the deal with Target because of criticism – but she broke the deal. Sure, she has a huge amount of profit coming to her because of all her LGBT activist dabbling – but she’s dabbling in our activism. Sure, she may be taking advantage of the controversy and attention surrounding everything LGBT these days – but she’s bringing attention to our issues, which is certainly the first step to solving them.

          As a huge (perhaps even THE) pop icon of our society – and it’s very hard to argue that she’s not, nowadays – Lady Gaga is a reflection of that society. And guess what? She’s not perfect. Well, neither are we. But she’s involved, for whatever reason, in making it better for the LGBT community, and guess what else? She’s succeeding in bringing attention to us and our issues, if nothing else. In a way she’s opened the door. We can take it from there if we work together and stop arguing over her possible motivations and use the chance she’s given us to make results – if we do that, everyone wins.



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