Posts Tagged ‘lady Gaga’

The Daily Mail got a bit hot under the collar today as Jorgie Porter (who?) performed her dancing on ice routine in a ‘racy PVC leather outfit’.

But the DM didn’t mention that her partner, a buff metrosexy man, also performed in a ‘racy PVC leather outfit’ and maybe even looked better than she did. They both out -danced and out- styled their opponents who frankly in their silver slinky numbers looked a bit like ABBA  tribute band rejects.

Of course, ice skating has always been pretty damned flamboyant. But, as Mark Simpson pointed out early in 2010, young men ice dancers such as Johnny Weir have really changed the playing field when it comes to showing off and looking good on ice.


As Simpson said back in 2010:

‘I think this kind of performance shows what fearsome things today’s generation of young men are capable of.  Flamboyance can be a very powerful, very liberating quality and doesn’t have to be something just for flamers.  Or Lady G.

I wish I were capable of it.  But I I’d probably have to have Weir’s figure, not to mention his youth, to pull it off.  That and a hefty pair of cojones.’

I found out that Gaga’s latest album and single were to be called ‘Born This Way’ towards the end of last year. My heart sank.  I knew it was going to become, if not a popular gay anthem, at least a symbol of the worst kind of essentialist thinking around sexuality. Unfortunately my fears have been proven right. The single went straight to number One in the American Billboard charts, and gay rights organisations and campaigns have been using it as shorthand, as way of securing the ‘gay’ identity as fixed and natural. We all know it is a crap song. We all know Gaga is looking a little less triumphant than she says she is feeling. But this doesn’t really matter. It is serving its purpose, ideologically speaking.

I’m beautiful in my way / ‘Cause God makes no mistakes / I’m on the right track, baby / I was born this way,”

If I have to see those words or hear them one more time I might just declare myself ‘straight’.

The most recent confirmation of the discursive power of Gaga’s lyrics, that she apparently wrote in five minutes flat, comes in the form of an article in Salon.

Ominously, the article is called ‘Fact Checking Lady Gaga’s Born This Way’. Because pop songs are now scientific papers that have to be ‘fact checked’? How very clinical.

Rahul Parikh, the author of the piece, quotes a psychiatrist, Ron Holt to support his view that we are all, indeed, ‘born this way’. Holt says that sexual orientation

‘refers to a person’s erotic response, regardless of the gender that evokes that response. Sexual orientation, he says, is fixed. This is in contrast to sexual behavior, which a person can alter. In other words, people can’t change their sexual orientation, but they can hide it.’

I don’t quite understand this paragraph, as I thought ‘sexual orientation’ was dependent on the gender that evokes sexual response. But anyway, Holt’s assertion is that sexuality is fixed. It is what we do with it that is open to change, or, as Parikh says, what we hide.

In a rather deft move, Parikh then goes to put Freud, the Grandaddy of modern theories of sexuality, up against Lady Gaga, a popstar, to show how the Austrian psychoanalyst and philosopher was surely lacking in his understanding, that he was wrong and Gaga is right, ’cause God makes no mistakes’. And Gaga, as a major 21st century celebrity is a kind of God.

‘Freud, unlike Lady Gaga, took the position that it was environmental, the result of child-rearing. If you were a boy, and your mother was overbearing or your father cold and distant, you were more likely to be gay. Freud’s view dominated medical discourse for much of the 20th century’.

According to this Salon article, the ‘constructionist’ view of sexuality which came from Freud, ‘may have led to various attempts by religious groups to try to “convert” gays “back into” heterosexuals’ . Because if something is not fixed but is dependent on environment, it can be influenced, tampered with, ‘cured’.

‘Science and sensitivity began to creep into that discourse’.says Parikh. Ah yes, because when it comes to studies of sexuality, science is known for its sensitivity isn’t it?

‘In 1973, the word “homosexuality” was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of psychiatry. The 1990s were an era of discoveries that began to point toward a biological basis for sexual orientation, including a then hotly discussed 1991 study showing differences in the size of certain parts of the brain between straight and gay men. Since then, science has built a case against Freud and in favor of Lady Gaga.’

The ‘hotly discussed 1991 study’ is actually a very dodgy piece of research indeed, which has been discredited. The idea of a ‘gay brain’ is a sort of Frankenstein sci-fi fantasy, that Mark Simpson demolishes much better than I could:

And yet, like a zombie rising from the dead, Simon Le Vay’s ‘gay brain’ is resurrected on a regular basis, not least by Salon itself. In 2010 Salon promoted a book by Le Vay which was really only rehashing his already proven to be wrong theories:

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Salon article then goes on to quote at length, another discredited ‘sex’ scientist: Michael Bailey. According to Salon, Bailey ‘is very confident that Lady Gaga is right.’ As if they have all had a conference together where Gaga has performed ‘Born This Way’ and had it approved by a panel of experts.

Even Bailey and Parikh  admit that ‘there are some subtleties you have to get through before you can understand that’ we are ‘born this way’. And by subtleties he means, ‘bullshit science’.

‘For example, if we are “born this way,” then why do studies of identical twins, some done by Bailey himself, reveal in many cases that one twin is straight and the other is gay? If they’re genetically identical, how can they be anything but the same in every way?’

The article does not answer this question satisfactory and starts using words like ‘speculation’ and ‘we don’t know’ and ‘may’  and ‘we are in our infancy of our understanding about sexual orientation’… to show that this is not a proven theory.

And that’s the thing. Nobody knows for sure how we come to ‘be’ who we are, how we come to have a certain sexuality. And nobody, not even God, or Gaga, ever will.  The key difference for me between Freud and Gaga and Bailey and Le Vay, is that Freud embraced how we did not know for sure how sexuality is formed. He did not use his ‘science’ to impose a dogmatic view of sexuality on everyone. He was far more concerned with individuals and how their development and experiences affected them emotionally. The others are trying to come up with an over-arching theory of sexuality, in order to moralise and police sexuality. In order to normalise it.

The context in which this ‘science’ is presented is America, where the ‘far right’ and Christian fundamentalists are pitched in a battle against gay rights campaigners. The gay rights lobby, and liberal America, presents sexuality as innate and fixed, because this counteracts the Christian right’s view that it is a chosen ‘sinful’ activity, or a disease that can be cured. If we are ‘born this way’ then surely God meant us to be like this? ‘Cause God makes no mistakes,right?

Except maybe he has. Because the article then goes onto mention ‘a major wild card in this entire discussion, one that puts to the test Ron Holt’s assertion that sexual orientation is fixed: women’. That’s right.  Half the population may actually not fit this scientific theory after all!

‘While most of the research has confirmed that men are “born this way,” Bailey says, there is an emerging view about women that is very different from men. “Leading researchers are beginning to believe that female sexual orientation is a bit more flexible than that of men,” he says. “Women have a higher rate of bisexual feelings than men. It’s not uncommon for a woman who has been in a lifelong heterosexual relationship to become attached to and develop a physical relationship with another woman.” ‘

But actually this attitude towards women’s sexuality being more fluid than men’s is just part of the same, ‘liberal’ conservative discourse, whereby it is actually men’s homo-sexualities which are being treated as ‘sacred’, fixed, and separate from men’s hetero-sexualities. Because it is homosexuality, and more significantly, male bisexuality, which threatens the whole concept of being a ‘man’.  Which, in America especially, is almost important as being Christian. Again Mark Simpson has written more lucidly than I can on the subject of the denial of men’s bisexuality by scientists such as Bailey.

I hope Mark might add something to this attempt at a take-down of Salon and its stroking of neuroscientist’s egos, because I know it is his field more than mine.

While I wait for his response, take a look at the photo at the top of this post. It  is from an American blog called ‘born gay born this way’.

This is a site where people send in photos of when they were children, to prove that they were ‘born this way’. I find it quite heartbreaking. It is full of gorgeous pictures of cherubic kids, playing cowboys and Indians, dressing up in Mommy’s dresses, putting on make-up, having water pistol fights, dancing. Being children. And then accompanying the pictures are little essays explaining how these kids knew from a young age that they were ‘different’ from other kids, because they didn’t do what ‘normal’ boys or girls did.This is Amanda. Isn’t she adorable? Does she look like a lesbian to you? She looks like a kid to me!

I am depressed but also glad that Salon has produced such a blatant, disingenuous piece of journalism. And that Gaga has shot herself in the foot by making the worst and most sanctimonious pop song since —er—- Michael Jackson’s Earth Song.  Because it gives us a chance to challenge head on the ‘gay agenda’ and the ‘essentialist’ agenda of liberal America in particular.

Parikh ends his article even more cynically, by quoting The Smiths ‘what difference does it make? It makes none’. But if it makes no difference whether or not we are born or made into certain sexualities, why make so much effort to prove one or the other?

Gaga’s album hasn’t even been released yet. But she has provided the liberal ‘conservatives’ with some invaluable ammunition in their war against sexual choice. You know what? I’d rather be identified as a good old-fashioned pervert in the Freudian sense. At least then my sexuality could not be co-opted by the do-gooders and the God botherers.

SO this is for you Siggy. Touch Me, I’m Sick!

Born This Gay?

Posted: February 14, 2011 in Identity
Tags: , ,

A few days is a long time in pop music. Since Lady Gaga released her much-anticipated single, the eponymous track of her forthcoming album, the critics have been quick to help us decide how to interpret it. Sometimes a pop song is just a pop song-but not when it is by someone as famous and controversial as Gaga, and not when it is overtly about sexuality and identity as Born This Way purports to be.

Most of the critics have been, predictably maybe, going along with the official line, that it is a new ‘gay anthem’. Born This Way is  ‘the gayest song ever’ according to  Elton John, destined to replace and obliterate Gaynor’s I Will Survive as the gay anthem to end all gay anthems.

Less effusively but equally ‘gay’, Dorian Lynskey and Jon Savage of the Guardian have placed the song in the tradition of gay and other minority anthems that have included ‘You Make Me Feel’ by  Sylvester, ‘I Was Born This Way’ by Carl Bean, and  ‘We Are Family’ by Sister Sledge.

Jon Savage places Born This Way firmly in the essentialist, innate camp of the nature/nurture debate when it comes to sexuality:

‘The idea that sexuality is inborn, rather than some lifestyle choice or unfortunate disease, is at the heart of much modern gay identity formation. It flies in the face of the old contra naturam argument, and gives the lie to the idea that homosexuality can be converted, or “cured”. It also offers a kind of counterbalancing self-assertion that is necessary in the face of hostility and prejudice: as Lady Gaga sings: “In the religion of the insecure/ I must be myself.”

But, there is one voice of dissent that has not jumped on the Gay Pride float of Born This Way.

Ben Trott and Arturo Garcia also at The Guardian have pointed out how, up till now, Gaga had challenged the concept of fixed identity, by always changing her image, refusing to be pinned down about her sexuality, and even alluding to a gender identity beyond the male/female binary.

“I am the excuse to explore your identity,” she told Vogue. Of her fans, she says: “I look at them, and every show there’s a little more eyeliner, a little more freedom, and a little more ‘I don’t give a fuck about the bullies at my school’.”

It’s against this background that Born This Way is such a disappointment. Gaga claims Elton John called it the “gayest song” ever. In reality, it’s a very conservative portrayal of sexuality as god-given or natural. It’s the polar opposite of the monstrosity meme. Of course, sexual desire is a complex thing and not simply a matter of free will either. Where Gaga is at her best, though, has been in playing with precisely this complexity, and encouraging others to do the same’

I agree with them. This song is a disappointment, not just musically but also in terms of what Gaga has come to symbolise.

Also, despite the fact she sings in the song, ‘don’t be a drag, just be a queen’, her first performance of the song, at the Grammy’s last night, was definitely a drag. In all senses of the word. Madonna in drag.

There is more to say about this song in terms of the politics/’science’ and cultural attitudes towards sexual and other  identities. There is more to say also about how it draws on religion:

‘I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way’

I am still hoping that my favourite  pop cultural commentator, Mark Simpson, will sum up some of the implications of the song before the dominant ”gay anthem’ version has become the ‘correct’ interpretation of it. In Anti-Gay, back in 1996, he and his co-writers asked, ‘Gay Culture- Who Needs It?’  I think that question is worth reiterating, especially against the din of the consolidation of ‘gayness’ that we are experiencing today, as it informs the sensibilities of commercial pop, popular culture and popular ‘received wisdom’. Maybe Mr Simpson has his hands over his ears. I wouldn’t blame him if that was the case.

One thing is for certain. The place that Born This Way is to occupy in our pop culture psyche will become clearer as time goes on.

But like I said, these days a few days is a long time in pop music. And I think the meaning has probably, sadly, already been established.

Born This Way? It’s gay.

UPDATE: Mr Anti-Gay (and a previous Gaga fan) Simpson has spoken and he says:

‘It’s a catchy single, of course, and will make a lot of money, but everything about this song is backwards. The music, the lyrics, the mentality. For all the self-righteous posturing it’s completely free of any content. But brimming over with bullshit. Not only are we ‘born this way’, and ‘God makes no mistakes’, and being gay is an ethnic trait, sexuality is now some kind of smug fucking railway – ‘on the right track baby’. It’s as if someone decided to remake The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a GLAAD public service announcement, with Harvey Fierstein in the role of Frankenfurter…

Maybe I’m completely and utterly wrong. Maybe this is a genius masterstroke. Maybe she’s deliberately parodying American gayness with her rainbow vomit lyrics and slavish Madge idolatry to show it up in its worst possible light – to inoculate The Gays against… themselves.

I mean, after the global-scale, towering cackness of ‘Born this Way’ can there ever be a ‘gay anthem’ again?’

I do hope not.

UPDATE 2: This is a comment from the author of the cif Guardian article, Ben Trott:

‘I think the song represents a change in direction for Lady Gaga (or her and her peeps). And more over, I think this change coincides with a general trend. Basically, there’s a resurgence of the culture wars in the US at the moment, and conservatives are very much on the offensive. Progressives have been forced onto the back foot (and a meaningful left is nowhere to be seen!) Born This Way is symbolic of this progressive retreat. Gaga, until now, has sort of stood for one of the most out-there, stereotype-challenging forces in the very mainstream of pop culture. As I try and argue in the article, up until now, she hasn’t just been saying we-all-have-a-right-to-be-who-we-are. She’s been more radical than that: She’s been saying, I can also become who/what I want – and have an awesome time doing it! That’s part of why she’s got so much flack from conservatives. With this song, though, she’s very much on the defensive. She’s moved away from the world of fantasy and monsters, moving onto the terrain of the Christian right by invoking God. (She sings: “I’m beautiful in my way / ‘Cause God makes no mistakes / I’m on the right track, baby / I was born this way”.)

The song is obviously partly a response to the awful, recent spate of teen suicides in the US as a result of homophobic bullying. Obviously, it’s great that people like her – and all of those that are involved with things like the ‘It Gets Better’ project – are speaking out. (Jon Savage says some good things about this over on the Guardian’s music blog). But the question I think is worth asking is this: What’s the best way of fighting in this culture war? How should progressives/the left/LGBT(IQetc…) people respond to the attacks by the right? Is Lady Gaga right to move away from the offensive and onto the defensive? Personally, I think it’s bad strategy: too much of a retreat, conceding too much ground too quickly’.

Is Lady Gaga A Feminist Icon?  screeches Kira Cochrane* in The Guardian (sorry but I imagine she is a screecher).

I sincerely hope not. Feminism does not deserve such an exciting and imaginative diva to represent her dowdy and puritanical aims and objectives. Especially when Ms Cochrane* splutters and stumbles her way through an attempt to deconstruct Gaga that is more pedestrian and much-less heartfelt and delightfully deranged than Ms Paglia’s ‘She is no Madonna’ rant a few days previously. ‘Femininity is a sham’ announces Cochrane. Oh. Thanks for telling us. Here was I thinking we were all ‘natural’ women, expressing our inner goddesses via Mary Janes and Harem pants every day.  Maybe if she had said ‘gender is a sham’ I would have sat up and taken notice of her mumblings. But she didn’t. Feminism relies on essentialist notions of gender, on the ‘male’ v ‘female’ dichotomy, on women as victims and men as oppressors.  This sham is the bread-and-butter of feminist journalists like Cochrane. 

Before I start screeching myself, here to calm me down is another Cochrane, a Mister this time, writing about Quentin Crisp, a man of great beauty who showed us what a sham gender is. And one who could outwit and outcamp both Kira and, for my money, the Lady of Gaga herself.

*N.B. On re-reading this and the article, I realise I am suffering from a severe case of post-feminist-itis which has rendered me incapable of reasoned analysis of writings by feminists, particularly those who write for the Guardian. I hope I am recovered of my faculties in due course.