Typically I pride myself on being able to blend in most places. It is my goal whenever I visit a new city, to be able to give directions to tourists when they approach me. This is not hypothetical. This has happened multiple times. Is this weird? Of course it is. Is it the point? Of course it isn't.
Last Monday night however, I was unable to blend in. Late that afternoon, I made a decision to run down the turnpike to the Lady Gaga concert in Tulsa. Figuring it would be a spectacle, and a highly produced concert, it seemed that it would be a fun way to spend a weeknight.
Obviously, Lady Gaga is a polarizing entertainer. She doesn’t do anything halfway. You might be offended by her music or lifestyle. You might be confused or even frightened when you see her on TV at award shows. Maybe you like her music. Maybe you are asking your husband, “isn’t Lady Gaga a character in a children’s book?” right now. Bottom line, most people don’t know what to do with her. But I’ll get to that later.
I knew finding the right person to go to the show with would be difficult. Give her credit, my wife really wanted to go. But she is 39 weeks pregnant and obviously not in concert shape. Though, I would later discover that had she gone, she wouldn’t have been the only pregnant woman in attendance. However, she would have been the only pregnant woman not exposing her belly. Drawing attention to your unborn child by painting “Little Monster” or “Born This Way” on your bare stomach must have been part of the unwritten dress code.
Option two and three. I invited some work friends. No takers. Option four, a friend from Tulsa. Family stuff, he said, but thanks anyway. My last attempt to find a concert companion fell apart when my brother backed out at the last minute. Too tired he said. Option five out the window. No big deal. My mind was made up. I was going to the concert alone.
I found a single ticket on craigslist, sent a text message and moments later, had a seat with my name on it. I exchanged a few texts back and forth with the seller and agreed to meet for the swap downtown before the show. All pretty cut and dry. Standard procedure.
The deal went rogue when my phone buzzed a few moments later with a simple question: do u have a cigarette? I replied: yes.
This was of course a lie. I don’t smoke, never have, and therefore didn’t have a cigarette. Why was I compelled to oblige the request? My thought was that I could use the cigs as bargaining power and reduce the asking price for the ticket. You know, like in a prison movie.
I made a quick detour at the next exit, jumped out and ran into the QuikTrip, and bought my first pack of cigarettes.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes” I told the cashier. “I want to buy some cigarettes.”
“Okay?” long pause. “What kind of cigarettes?”
I’m not exaggerating this at all, “Umm… The red ones” I told him as I pointed to the rack over his left shoulder. He gave me a perplexed look and slid the pack across the counter.
Ten minutes later, I met up with the seller and her girlfriends outside a pizza joint in downtown Tulsa. I offered $10 less than we had agreed upon PLUS an unopened red pack of cigarettes. She looked at me a little strange but took my offer. Boom. You can enroll in my class, Negotiations 101, this fall semester.
On to the show…
As I spun through the turnstile, I sensed that I was a little out of place. A plaid shirt and jeans are more than adequate in most settings. But in hindsight, I was dressed like I was playing bass in a church’s contemporary worship band. A cool church though… probably one that has a café in the lobby or a pastor who preaches with an ipad. I certainly wasn’t wearing the proper uniform for Lady Gaga’s service. All around me I saw masks, bare stomachs and fishnet hose. And that was just the guys.
Now, I expected people to be dressed up. It’s fairly easy to diagnose why fans dress up for sporting events and concerts. In short, everyone wants to be a part of something bigger. In some small way, when you put on a wild costume, you actually become a part of the show. The theory is that Lady Gaga wears bold costumes and so should you. By dressing up, the show spills into the audience and it becomes an experience. No longer is it something we watch but something we create together. Ordinary fans become "Little Monsters."
From a professional standpoint, I wanted to dissect the “experience” side of the evening. That was pretty straightforward and worth the price of my ticket. But as the night progressed, it became obvious that Gaga is not just selling music, she is leading a movement. Her pro-gay stance was very obvious in everything from her dance routine to her “How are all of my Tulsa gays?!?” question/proclamation.
Throughout the rest of this post, I am going to attempt to articulate why Lady Gaga is important in the gay community. This might make some people uncomfortable. I get that. That’s not my intent. I’ll be choosing my words carefully so I’m sensitive to both sides. I’m not making a statement. I’m just want to draw some connections. So I did some research. I'll admit it’s not exhaustive but it’s a start.
When I got home, I got in touch with a friend of mine and asked him what he thought. He went to the concert, got down close to the stage and is a self-professed Little Monster.
My friend is also gay. He, along with his husband, is pretty vocal about gay rights and always willing to share his experience. He's a sharp guy. I called him because I knew that he wouldn’t be afraid to give his point of view. According to him, the Lady Gaga movement boils down to two things: what she says and what she does.
First and foremost, Lady Gaga connects to the gay community because she doesn’t take herself too seriously. My friend loves her because though she is strong, she still lampoons herself. Bottom line, she sees the type of woman that culture pushes girls to be and rejects the Barbie doll image.
"Mother Monster", as her devoted fans call her, isn’t afraid to remind her fans that she too has been called a freak. Most importantly, she is okay with being an outcast. This was extremely empowering to those around me that night. The message was clear. Be different! You were born this way! Forget them and embrace it!
That night, I met several people who have embraced their differences. They were taking in her words like gospel. When she prayed to Jesus (yes, that Jesus) in between songs and reminded him that, “he loves everybody”, I think I heard the girl wearing just her underwear in front of me shout amen.
Secondly, my friend told me that Lady Gaga is an icon in the gay community because she is “sexual without being sexualized.” This was an extremely interesting observation, one I want to make sure I communicate faithfully. He told me that though Lady Gaga’s wardrobe is very (let me say it again) very skimpy, she doesn’t dress like she does to be sexy. She does it for herself. My friend put it this way, “she has taken the control of her sexuality back from heterosexual men.”
Okay. Okay. I’m sure you have a kneejerk reaction to that. I’m still thinking it through too. Let me attempt to put it in context. I’m going to assume that seeing a pop star leverage her sexuality like Lady Gaga has would be very appealing to someone in the GLBT community. If someone has been told his entire life that he has to be a certain way, even if he feels completely different, Lady Gaga would be an inspiration. I can see how someone could resonate with that.
I’m writing my 1,380th word and still feel like I have a lot of ground to cover. Hopefully you’ll have some further insight. Please know that I’m not trying to be divisive. I’m just thinking through an experience I had with 15,000 screaming music fans. Excuse me, I mean 15,000 “Little Monsters.”
Oh yeah, back to what you should do with Lady Gaga. As Christians, we are called to engage and respond to culture. I believe Jesus calls us to that. So... you probably shouldn’t picket her concerts, even if you disagree with her stance 100%. In fact, if you disagree with her, you ought to pray for her. That’s a good place to start.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking about what my night with the monsters taught me. I guess you could say that engaging someone who is different than you is hard work. But sincerity goes a long way. Everyone I talked to in the lobby that night, probably close to 50 people, was extremely gracious to the outcast wearing a plaid shirt.
I learned that everyone wants to be part of something bigger. And that everyone likes to dance, even if they can’t dance. And that everyone, regardless of how crazy the costume or how heavy the mascara, is looking for acceptance. To be liked. To be told that they are loved. Unconditionally.
Which brings me to my last question, who's going to tell them they are?