Lady Gaga‘s VMA appearance as alter ego “Jo Calderone” has been getting quite a bit of attention in the LGBT blogosphere this week. Naturally, MTV News did a round-up of the more complimentary side of things, and while I think it was a bit dodgy to dismiss her critics as “activists who see a disconnect between the pop star’s outspoken activism and the fact that she is not gay herself” (the criticisms go way beyond that), they did find several voices from the LGBT community who had thoughtful things to say.
“There is barely any visibility for FTM, drag kings and lesbians on television. There is a huge imbalance,” NYC drag king and host/creator of the “Mr. Transman” pageant Murray Hill told MTV. “For Lady Gaga, the biggest pop star in the world, to go on TV with millions of people watching in drag as a man and then to actually say ‘lesbian and transgender’ live is undeniably powerful and creates change. She ups the visibility big time and gets the language into the mainstream.”
Personally, I agree that drag kings deserve more play in the media, and I also loved the fact that she said the word “transgender” out loud. But I’m not sure what this performance in particular had to do with transgender people. After all, she’s hardly the first cisgender (a non-judgmental term for “not trans”) performer to dress in drag for a performance. She was not pretending to be a transgender person; she was pretending to be a biological male. (Not that I think it would’ve been better had she pretended to be trans.)
LOGO’s John Polly addressed this when he said, “I don’t know that it was even a statement on the LGBT community; it’s just a character she wanted to play. But since we don’t see [drag kings or female-to-male transgender persons] much, we perceive it that way.” Ding ding ding!
The lesbian-focused blog After Ellen was more unreservedly upbeat. Writes AE blogger Drummerdeeds:
Perhaps I’m just so fed up with the anti-gay rhetoric in the media these days that I’m getting too excited about Gaga doing an entire awards show in drag (even celebrating all bro-style after seeing Beyoncé’s baby bump), but I don’t care — it’s huge! That gaunt, filthy-mouthed boy represents the hope I have for some serious change.
Most commenters agreed, at least on an aesthetic level, that Jo Calderone was tops:
I have some sexual feelings towards Jo that I didn’t have for Gaga. This is a little strange.
A few former detractors were even won over:
I usually tolerate Lady Gaga. She’s alright, and some of her music interests me, but the majority of the time I find her kind of annoying/not that interesting. But Lady Gaga as Jo? Huge fan! I like that she totally disappeared into character, that it wasn’t about wearing a cactus on her head (or, you know, a giant yellow block that looked like cheese like Katy Perry), but simple, back to basics and well, HOT. Totally attracted to Jo. Count me as a fan now.
However, a few people in the commenting community were less impressed:
bitch panders to the glbt community. i am about to offend alot of glbt people but i speak the truth. gaga is using our community. gaga knows how loyal glbt people are so she throws in glbt friendly lyrics and “supports” our causes but like wearing meat and showing up at the vmas in an egg, its all about topping herself, shocking people, and making some statement. gaga would just as quickly turn her back on glbt people if her publicist said that mainstream america wasn’t buying her album any more because she supports glbt causes. gaga cares about fame notice i didn’t say MONEY i said fame. gaga wants to be recognized. honestly she reminds me of that annoying kids who keeps interrupting other peoples conversations with “look what i can do.” every ten seconds. gaga wants controversy it sells her album so she does wacky and crazy things to keep people talking even if she hurts people as a result. again her behavior at the vma was not a statement in support of glbt rights it was her way of shocking straight america with “oh my gaga is dressed like a guy.”
This commenter wouldn’t be the first person to accuse Lady Gaga of shallow tokenism. However, it should be noted that this was definitely the minority opinion.
In the end, I think Lady Gaga’s heart is in the right place with respect to LGBT issues, and she does seem to genuinely care about her fans. It’s great that she uses her public platform to talk about these things, especially when there’s still so much hatred floating around. (The irony of MTV’s simultaneous support of Odd Future does not escape me.) But merely dressing up as the opposite sex is not a revolutionary act in and of itself, and I don’t know if she necessarily meant it to be. Let’s see what the lady has to say for herself when she reappears.