In the last six months, Lady GaGa’s been a controversial topic among people in the LGBTQ community. Some critique GaGa’s marketing machine, an apparatus that, according to Gays Against GaGa, sets queers up to be “pawns for companies like Target, [and other businesses] that funnel [gay] dollars toward anti-gay extremists.” Others critique GaGa for her overly simplistic, pandering messages (e.g., “love him or capital H-I-M”); essentialism (e.g., “I’m born this way”); and self-importance (e.g., “I am mother monster and you are my little monsters”).
I fell out of love with GaGa upon hearing “Born this Way,” “Judas,” “Edge of Glory,” and “Hair.” I’m happy to say that I’ve fallen back in love with GaGa. The aforementioned songs make much more sense to me after listening to them in the context of her sophomore album. Moreover, GaGa repeatedly showcases her intelligence and thoughtfulness in interviews. She’s cultured, contemplative, and fearless. I am happy to embrace both GaGa and rightful, necessary critiques of her art. I fear many cultural critics forget that enjoying and critiquing art/commodity are not mutually exclusive positions.
One of my favorite songs on GaGa’s new album is a tune that I initially found tired and unimaginative: “Hair.”
Hair holds rich symbolic meaning in Western culture. Think, for instance, what hair means to a woman with cancer. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, my PhD advisor, Linda Park-Fuller, cut off her hair. “That was probably the most debilitating part of the whole process for me,” she describes. “I don’t know what it is about our hair—men or women—we don’t like to lose our hair. I guess because it represents to us something about our attractiveness, our youth, our sexual identity.”
In “Hair,” GaGa capture’s Linda’s sentiment. Hair represents freedom, sexuality, life, and growth. Each time I hear the song “Hair,” I think about what it was like for me to grow up in Texas. I had long, golden hair, a high-pitched voice, and feminine features. I was also living in the age of popular gender ambiguity, brought to life by Robert Smith of The Cure, Boy George, and Madonna. It’s not easy to look like this…
…when you live in Texas.
Up until I was a sophomore in high school, many of my peers called me a “faggot” each and every day I attended school, punched and kicked me, and even threatened my life. In “Tales of a Fighting Bobcat,” I detail how schools are ill-equipped to respond to anti-gay bullying. Moreover, most school administrators tend to blame victims rather than those who engage in acts of brutality.
My parents were similarly at a loss for how to help me. “Why don’t you cut your hair,” my father would ask. “I bet kids at your school will stop harassing you if you dress more conservatively and cut your hair.” I loathed the idea of chopping off my locks. My hair individuated me. Long before my first same-sex kiss, my hair symbolically represented that I was, in fact, different from my peers. Cutting off my hair was ironically a form of castration. Asking me to cut my hair was like suggesting I should stop being me. More than 20 years later, I realize that my parents’ well-intended homophobia came from a sincere and utterly misguided place. I ended up buzzing my hair; not surprisingly, the abuse didn’t end.
While promoting her album on “The View,” Lady GaGa recently connected her recent music to the bullying and abuse she endured in school. “Getting picked on in school, it sticks with you for life,” she claimed. Here’s more of the interview:
I 100% agree with GaGa. I’m a 35-year-old man who has lived an extraordinary life. I have a great job, tons of friends, and lived out so many of my dreams. Despite all my success, I will never let go of the little boy inside of me who, on more than one occasion, had to literally run for his life. The spirit of my childhood informs every decision I make. He is my conscience, the reason I endure and self-reflect. My long, rebellious hair is the first thing I recall when I think about my childhood.
I recently came across various artifacts that chronicle most of what I describe in this entry.
(Above, click to enlarge) I love how my dad refers to me as “one of the more delicate of God’s children.” I am MANY things, “delicate” is not among them. In the 1980s and 1990s, “delicate” was code for “gay,” just as today people use the term “flamboyant” when they mean to say “faggot.” I do feel for my father. This letter provides a clear sense of how much he loved me.
(Above, click to enlarge) My guess is that I got caught with a friend’s lipstick in my bathroom and my parents asked me if possession of the makeup meant I was gay. This letter was my response. Notice how I adamantly deny my sexual identity. What follows is my father’s beautiful, thoughtful response to me:
(Above, click to enlarge) For the record, I WAS smoking cigarettes AND pot, AND drinking at this age, yet, in my Dad’s mind, my hair was the TRUE cause of my misery.
This is the shit I think of each time I hear “Hair.” Thank you, GaGa. This song is so much more than music to me.
“I just wanna be myself and I want you to love
Me for who I am
I just wanna be myself and I want you to know
I am my hair”