Author’s Preface February 17, 2017: Since posting this article initially on Transpire I had offered through accepted channels the opportunity for Lady Gaga or a verified proxy to respond to this article and that I would be happy to post it as a regular article. No response was given. However, this week Lady Gaga did something even better as reported by National Public Radio, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Washington Post, and many others. She joined with over 140 other artists in protest against the new Texas anti-transgender legislation currently making its way through to the governor. NPR quoted 2 days ago: “Transgender and gender non-conforming young people are already subjected to bullying and harassment,” the letter reads. “Can you imagine the message these bills send to children — the message of ‘that child is unwelcome, that child is dangerous?’ ” (http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2017/02/15/515385815/lady-gaga-jack-antonoff-among-142-artists-opposing-texas-bathroom-bill).
While this writer does not believe that Lady Gaga began more actively supporting the trans community this way as a result of this article, I welcome her actions as an ally I have more generally known her to be. And for this I give her my heartfelt thanks.
She has often appeared larger than life, a musician who’s more than a musician, eager to stand for human rights and for empowering youth. Whether in her surprise-filled concerts or her artsy music videos, Lady Gaga has connected with her fans in ways that few artists have ever done. It’s a connection one might expect from a hypnotist or a counselor, but with a healing balm that might be spoken of as an object of ARTPOP”.1 Her trappings have been likened to that of drag queens in the same spirit as her rival Madonna had employed them in her video “Vogue”.2 For such a connection, some have falsely rumored that Lady Gaga must be herself transgender, or even a “hermaphrodite”.3 But in 2016, despite a tumultuous year for transgender people that brought legislative attacks in many states directed against this demographic, Lady Gaga has rarely mentioned transpeople at all, except within a larger context of LGBTQ.
It’s strange because Lady Gaga has long been a political figure in her own right. She most notably challenged the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law in 2012 in video speeches, and even demonstrated on video how people can phone their legislators in support of its repeal. Repeal happened.4 Not a few credited her efforts for bringing that about during a time in which President Obama’s view on same sex marriage was “still evolving.”5
More than that, and despite misuse of the word “transgender”, transpeople have found a place in her song Born This Way which became the theme for her Born This Way Foundation that reaches out to youth facing bullying, and empowering them through the arts and community involvement:
No matter gay, straight, or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered (sic) life
I’m on the right track baby
I was born to survive!6
Not a few transpeople, especially trans youth have found a special connection with Lady Gaga. The “Little Monsters” as “Mother Monster” (Gaga) calls them, even have their own forum in connection with Gaga Daily, which has at times included a special section for LGBT . Transfolk have long been well represented in that forum.7
It isn’t hard to see why. Lady Gaga has long embraced a bisexuality of her own despite lack of clear representation of bisexuals in LGBT organizations. Nor has she been a stranger to cross-gender representations in her art. She stunned and delighted audiences when she first appeared on stage as the male Jo Calderone, a persona which also found expression in her video You and I.8 She took cross-gender roles to a blatantly erotic level in G.U.Y., an acronym for “Girl Under You.”9
Beginning in 2014, America saw a new trend with respect to the trans phenomenon. Transpeople became strikingly more visible, beginning with the debate between Janet Mock and CNN’s Piers Morgan that sent the latter’s career into a crash landing and made the former a hero.10 Then saw the debut of its Olympic hero as Caitlyn Jenner and the expanding interest in trans youth through the leadership of Jazz Jennings. It was enough for TIME magazine to devote its June 2014 issue to the subject, with its cover story The Tipping Point despite drawing ire from the Religious Right who pressured libraries to not display the print version lest it “corrupt the youth.”11 Lady Gaga herself voiced her support for Caitlyn Jenner when Caitlyn made her modeling debut in Vanity Fair.12
But the ascendancy of 2015 was met in 2016 by anti-transgender legislation beginning in South Dakota in which Governor Dugaard vetoed HB 1001, a bill that would have criminalized transpeople using restrooms consistent with gender identity.13 North Carolina was the first to successfully pass such legislation in the form of HB 2 and this action was followed by other states as well.14 In Massachusetts leaders passed legislation to protect transpeople15 and Pensylvania’s governor issued an executive order to do the same.16 Lady Gaga issued this statement on the Born This Way Foundation website addressing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s actions to protect transpeople from discrimination, beginning in 2015 and taking effect in January 2016.17 Her statement represents her only one concerning transpeople per sė:
The LGBT community has made incredible strides in the fight for equality over the past few years – but there is still so much more to be done, especially for the transgender community. Every day, transgender people are faced with bullying, harassment and discriminatory policies just for being honest about who they are. It’s time for that to change.
By taking action to ban discrimination and harassment against transgender people, Governor Cuomo is helping to make that change a reality. Standing up for the trans community will take more than just promises. It will take all of us – elected officials and advocates, transgender people and allies – changing laws, reforming policies, and transforming our culture.
Tolerance and acceptance make every community stronger. Young people understand that and so should our politicians. It’s time that all transgender people are welcomed and protected. It’s time lawmakers nationwide follow Governor Cuomo’s example and make our country a kinder and braver place for everyone.
The conspicuously rapid passage of HB 2 in North Carolina on March 27 erupted in a political firestorm that included a boycott of the state by many agencies. Many performers refused to perform in North Carolina so long as HB 2 continued its institutionalizing of discrimination, especially against transpeople. Supporters of the boycott included Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr.19 Others, most notably Cindy Lauper, did not refuse to perform but performed in such a context as to back protesters of HB 2.20 But during all this tumult, one voice remained strangely silent: that of Lady Gaga.
What we saw in Lady Gaga’s tweets on the days following passage of HB 2 when the news hit the press and protests were underway began with a retweet about Diva Week from Vogue Runway, now appearing under the username xoxo, Joanne. She followed this with a series of tweets of gratitude for events surrounding her birthday. 21
The next tweet that gets down to addressing the issues of the world was this retweet which was good news indeed:22
Lady Gaga focused upon was the issue of sexual assault during this time. She had been promoting her song Till It Happens to You during this time and forward when Ke$ha used it in her performances, reflected in a May 8 retweet from People Magazine and this tweet addressing Ke$ha directly:23
Ke$ha had come under criticism for a comment she had made about transwomen:
Freaks are what make everything mildly more interesting in life but with trannies, they make me want to be a better woman. I see these men who have way better bodies than I do, more beautiful faces, better complexions, beautiful makeup, and they’re more fun than any person I’ve met in my life. They make me feel like I’m not a very good woman.24
But in March Ke$ha sought to balance this faux pas with a response to the anti-transgender legislation already underway:
We are all equal. That is the principle this country was founded on. And yet we’re still not living up to that. Even today, we have presidential candidates who oppose marriage equality.
Here in Tennessee, right now, there are 25 anti-LGBT bills active this session that would roll back LGBT rights and hurt equality. Specifically, one bill that would prevent transgender students from accessing appropriate sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity. I know people have been talking about that all night, but that’s fucked. I’m not okay with it.
You have my love and my support until the day I die.25
It seems strange that Ke$ha, who needed to do damage control with respect to transpeople, spoke against the rising tide of anti-trans legislation while the more blatantly political Lady Gaga said nothing concerning it. In fact the next time any tweet concerning LGBTQ peoples from Lady Gaga came in a swift set of tweets in response to the Orlando Shooting: 26
So she vocally stood with the victims of Orlando but not so readily for a more specific demographic being victimized by bigotry in multiple states. It seems like a paradox that Lady Gaga would demonstrate such reticence. There’s no real evidence of mean intentions in her silence. We can only speculate regarding the causes for such a silence, especially now since after the election of Donald Trump she has pledged continuing support of LGBTQ rights.27
Perhaps one should look no farther than her general mission against bullying and promoting kindness. While voices called for a boycott of North Carolina and less action against other states who passed similar types of draconian legislation, it may be seen as inconsistent for someone with a mission like Lady Gaga’s to be part of the voices of boycott. However, HB 2 and other such legislation clearly intended meanness against transpeople, such that the Attorney General of North Carolina announced early on that he would refuse to prosecute cases for such a ridiculous law.28
You would think that, with so much mean rhetoric flying from both directions over the ensuing months, Lady Gaga would have answered with the sanest responses of all, again to promote kindness in the face of politicized hate. But this didn’t happen either. It could be that Lady Gaga missed an important opportunity. Did Lady Gaga lack the words she needed over the months to interject a message of kindness in the political turmoil?
But possibly, her silence could be attributed to the timing of her song Till It Happens to You. HB 2 was directed against transpeople out of popular and cultural fears of sexual assault against women and children, evidence of which has been conspicuously lacking.29 Lady Gaga may have found her position an awkward one. Does her silence reflect a basic lack of personal resolution concerning transsexuals, that she really doesn’t entirely believe that we are not about that after all?
Or has her past acceptance of transsexuals only happened due to their alliance with lesbians, gays, and bisexuals? Her own bisexuality may be the source of a bias of one in a general bias that transsexuals have at times faced in LGBTQ centers everywhere, a milieu of generalized tolerance but with a strain of sentiment that LGB peoples often prefer that transsexuals just go away.30 Does Lady Gaga’s reticence reflect kind of conflict in which her mission of inclusiveness may conflict with a deeper resentment?
Perhaps Lady Gaga simply does not involve herself in the politics of states in which she does not reside? Most of us don’t. But when there’s a moral issue at stake, fueled with the straw man depictions of transpeople as sexual predators and a red herring promoted by the Religious Right to vilify a minority, you’d think that a voice of kindness would want to intervene. Does she hesitate because voters live outside her immediate political sphere?
Only our beloved Lady herself could answer. Some of us transpeople have felt a letdown by someone we have deeply admired for her gutsy political stance and overall inspiration. She has captured the love and respect of many of us. She has also surprised us again and again and again. What did your silence mean, Lady Gaga? Where has your voice against hate been all these months when our people have been under wholesale attack… or should I ask by a name you use now at times, Joanne?
- Liddle, Monique. Lady Gaga’s 4 Tips for Captivating Your Audience (April 13, 2013) Web: Wise Ink: http://www.wiseinkblog.com/audience-2/lady-gagas-four-tips-for-captivating-your-audience/. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
- Mason, Julia. Madonna Didn’t Invent Voguing. And the Drag Balls that Spawned the Dance Have Been Around Since the 1860s (November 4, 2015) Web: History Buff: http://historybuff.com/madonna-didnt-invent-voguing-and-the-drag-balls-that-spawned-the-dance-have-been-around-since-at-least-the-1860s-J0obd2zwd8rQ. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
- Galindo, Davi. Why Is Lady Gaga’s Gender Questioned? (September 5, 2015) Web: Quora: https://www.quora.com/Why-is-Lady-Gagas-gender-questioned. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
- Gaga, Lady. A Message from Lady Gaga to the Senate September 16, 2010. (September 17, 2010) Web Video: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GG5VK2lquEc. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
- Dwyer, Devin. Timeline of Obama’s “Evolving” on Same-sex Marriage (May 9, 2012) Web: ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/05/timeline-of-obamas-evolving-on-same-sex-marriage/. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
- Gaga, Lady. Born This Way Lyrics (2011) Web: Gaga Daily: http://gagadaily.com/lady-gaga-lyrics/born-this-way/born-this-way/. Etrieved December 5, 2016.
- (n.a.) Forums (n.d.) Web: Gaga Daily: http://gagadaily.com/forums. Retrieved December 5, 2016. Trans participation is known to the writer by personal experience.
- LadyGagaVEVO: Lady Gaga – Yoü And I (August 16, 2011) Web: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9YMU0WeBwU. Retrieved December 5, 2016. Jo Calderone appears at 1:35.
- Lady Gaga – G.U.Y. – An ARTPOP Film (March 22, 2014) Web: Video: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNu_-deVemE. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- Nichols, James. Janet Mock, Transgender Writer, And Piers Morgan Spar On Twitter After CNN Appearance (February 5, 2014) Web: Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/05/janet-mock-piers-morgan_n_4730500.html. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- Sifferlin, Alexandra. The Tipping Point (October 30, 2014) Web version: TIME: http://time.com/3547834/the-tipping-point/. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- Billboard Staff. Lady Gaga, Sam Smith & More React to Caitlyn Jenner’s ‘Vanity Fair’ Cover (June 1, 2015) Web: Billboard: http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6583121/caitlyn-jenner-vanity-fair-lady-gaga-sam-smith. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- Botelho, Greg and Drash, Wayne. South Dakota governor vetoes transgender bathroom bill (March 2, 2016) Web: CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/01/us/south-dakota-transgender-bathroom-bill/. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- (n.a) LGBT Nondiscrimination and Anti-LGBT Bills Across the Country (updated midweek) web: American Civil Liberties Union: https://www.aclu.org/other/lgbt-nondiscrimination-and-anti-lgbt-bills-across-country. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- Associated Press. New Massachusetts transgender rights law goes into effect (October 1, 2016) Web: LGBTQ Nation: http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2016/10/new-massachusetts-transgender-rights-law-goes-effect/. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- Spangler, Aryn. BLOG: Governor Wolf Signs Two Anti-discrimination Executive Orders; Urges Legislature to Pass Statewide Anti-discrimination Bill (ROUND-UP) (April 8, 2016) Web: GOV: https://www.governor.pa.gov/blog-governor-wolf-signs-two-anti-discrimination-executive-orders-urges-legislature-to-pass-statewide-anti-discrimination-bill-round-up/. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- Reisman, Nick.Cuomo: Transgender Regulations Adopted (January 20, 2016) Web: State of Politics: http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/01/cuomo-transgender-regulations-adopted/. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
- Germanotta, Cynthia. Tolerance and Acceptance Make Every Community Stronger (2015) Web: Born This Way Foundation: https://bornthisway.foundation/tolerance-and-acceptance-make-every-community-stronger/. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
- Miller, Matt. Here’s Every Person and Business Boycotting North Carolina for Its LGBT Discrimination (April 13, 2016) Web: Esquire: http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a43931/north-carolina-anti-lgbt-law-boycott/. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- Garcia, Ahiza. Cyndi Lauper to use North Carolina concert to raise money for LGBT group (April 15, 2016) Web: CNN Money: http://money.cnn.com/2016/04/15/news/cyndi-lauper-north-carolina-anti-lgbt/. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- Twitter feed for Lady Gaga, March 25-29, 2016. https://twitter.com/ladygaga. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
- Ibid, March 30, 2016.
- Ibid, May 8, 2016.
- (n.a.) It Seems Ke$ha is Threatened By Trans Women (n.d.) Web: WomenistMusings: http://www.womanistmusings.com/it-seems-keha-is-threatened-by-trans/. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
- On Top Magazine Staff. Kesha Says She’s ‘Not OK’ With Anti-Transgender Bills (March 7, 2016) Web: On Top: http://www.ontopmag.com/article/22409/Kesha_Says_Shes_Not_OK_With_Anti_Transgender_Bills. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
- Twitter feed for Lady Gaga, June 12, 2016.
- Mandell, Sean. Lady Gaga Will Always Continue Standing Up For LGBT Rights Under Trump (December 2, 2016) Web: LGBTalk: http://www.lgbtalk.com/lady-gaga-will-always-continue-standing-lgbt-rights-trump/. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
- Blythe, Ann. NC attorney general refuses to defend state from HB2 legal challenge (March 29, 2016) Web: The News & Observer: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article68780657.html. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- Borrello, Stevie. Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Organizations Debunk ‘Bathroom Predator Myth’ (April 22, 2016) Web: ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/US/sexual-assault-domestic-violence-organizations-debunk-bathroom-predator/story?id=38604019. Retrieved December 6, 2016.
- Brydum, Sunnivie. LGBT Groups Respond to Petition Asking to ‘Drop the T’ (November 6, 2015) Web: The Advocate: http://www.advocate.com/transgender/2015/11/06/lgbt-groups-respond-petition-asking-drop-t. Retrieved December 6, 2016.