This morning I came across an interesting opinion post which attempts to explain why Lady Gag’s song, “Born This Way” is a poor anthem for the LGBTQ community. Actually Alex Gabriel never defines who the anthem is bad for- he never articulates the community he is talking to or for.
of sexuality as inborn erase those of us, like me, whose orientation isn’t simple, and it’s ultimately authorizing to see queer people as different by nature from their straight counterparts, so I’m struck that the philosophy of ‘I was born this way’ is as counterproductive as the song’s ideas about God. In general, Gaga’s lyrics are well meaning, but they implicitly suggest the wrong alliances – and, worse than that, they strip us of agency.
I think Gabriel has it all wrong, but I also find the piece a good read as both a starting place for dialogue, as well as an illustration of the dangers of using one’s own experience as if it were universally applicable. I also applaud Gabriel for critical thinking and trying to look deeper than the surface, even if I disagree with what I think he finds there. Asking questions is often more more valuable that getting caught up in what is supposed to be a right answer. Lastly, I appreciate what I take as a “Queer” perspective on a subject that seems like mainstream Gay or Lesbian, even if I think he is totally full of crap. A self-described “old style political queer, brings new type queer thinking to the table, and that is a good thing in and of itself.
Gabriel finds two major flaws with Gaga’s lyrics, and his first is his best argument, even if it fails in the end.
For a start, I don’t believe in God. (Yes, I’m angry about it. No, I don’t eat babies.) That might sound glib, but there are lots of ‘natural’ things for which a god would have to answer: Ugandan babies with HIV, for instance, or South Asian tsunamis claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. If we take on homophobia with the idea God never allows anything bad, we have to apply the same logic to catastrophes like those. If he isn’t making mistakes when they take place, I’m not sure we should listen to him at all.
The use of “God” here may be disliked by many, but it is a very far reach to suggest that the lyrics suggest that “God never allows anything bad.” Sure, I have seen the posters and stuff that say things like God doesn’t make trash, and that is a bit trite, but Gabriel totally misses this dichotomy between born this way and choose to be this way. His evidence? This notion of what God would have to answer for like Ugandan babies with HIV. This argument is really all about what constitutes bad or good, and the issue Gaga is talking to is a different one. Her argument is about if I as a person am being true to what is natural or not. For example, at one time school children were forced to write with their right hands, even if they were left-hand dominant. Or a person may choose to use one hand even though what comes naturally is to use the other. That is the essence of the born v choose debate.
Personally, I’m not real big on the God thing either (I self-identify as a Post-Christian Buddhist), but God is a language for “creator” that many understand, and it is the word weapon of choice used by the anti-gay folks. I’m not sure God has to answer for Ugandan babies with HIV. God didn’t give them HIV. To think about God in this way requires a very narrow and restrictive view of God that is just as theologically unsound, as is the argument that God hates fags. Neither holds up when the theology is explored deeply. But Gaga doesn’t offer it as theology. Rather, she describes honoring her youth and speaking within a framework that makes sense to her.
I must be myself, respect my youth
My mama told me when I was young We are all born superstars
In the ’60’s there was a Hebrew Theological movement, commonly called “God is Dead,” that suggested that God as understood within the Hebrew Faith must not exist, or else how could the holocaust have happened. Gabriel is not the only one to question our perception of God in the face of seeming atrocities and calamities. These movements and ideas are simply a part of the only theological pursuit.
As Gaga sings:
I’m beautiful in my way ‘Cause God makes no mistakes I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way.
She is validating that there is more than one sexual orientation and all are part of the spectrum. One is not a mistake and the other the right way to be.
Gabriel also conflates a series of ideas or subjects that are not one in the same, yet treats them as if they were, under the heading of sexuality. Sexual orientation, sexual preference, sexual identity, and lastly sexual behavior are not one in the same thing. All are individual things that combined may be the basis for what we call sexuality. Gaga, on the other hand is speaking to only one of these: sexual orientation. That makes a huge difference.
Gabriel mentions how homosexuality is a cultural construct dating back to when the term, homosexual was coined. I would also suggest reading Greenberg’s, The Construction of Homosexuality. It is a fairly dry and scholarly read, but well worth the time and effort to read the whole of it. While homosexuality or even “gay” may be seen as a cultural construction, sexual orientation is not in any way, and describes a biological quality to a person. Orientation is understood to be either exclusively homosexual, exclusively heterosexual, or bisexual. ( I suppose asexual could be argued to be a part of orientation, although that isn’t as clear.)
Gaga draws no lines and excludes no one:
No matter gay, straight or bi Lesbian, transgendered life I’m on the right track, baby I was born to survive
So there is room for even Gabriel who admits:
but I’m ultimately somewhat indifferent to the gender of any partner I choose so I doubt that if I absolutely had to, I’d be incapable of living a straight life. A special ill will is sometimes kept for bisexuals, who could be exclusively heterosexual but choose not to be. Where are they left by ‘Born This Way’, and the idea we should all stop bashing gays since they just can’t help it, rather than since no harm is being done?
I think most of us would call him bisexual even if he confuses sexual behavior with sexual orientation. Truly all of us are capable of being sexual with a person of the same sex or a person of the opposite sex. Gaga encourages us to align our behavior with our orientation and love ourselves as we are.
Contrary to Gabriel’s assertion, Gaga never suggests we should all stop bashing gays because they can’t help it. That is 100% his ideas and not hers. Rather, Gaga encourages everyone to remember that no matter how others treat you to love yourself and survive.
Gabriel’s real motivation isn’t at all old style queer, but rather new edition queer which is opposed to anyone casting any definition upon one. This is fine (albeit futile), but I think Gabriel protests too much. Gaga isn’t doing what he claims. If anything, just the opposite. As Gabriel complains about losing agency, he alone is guilty of taking his own away by attributing to Gaga messages not in her lyrics.
Gaga has some good advice for Gabriel who believes his own orientation is complex (It isn’t by the way) She suggests:
Just love yourself and you’re set
Actually good advice for everyone.
Below are some goodies. The link to Gabriel’s opinion, a link to the lyrics, and also one of my favorite covers of the song. Enjoy!