But Gaga was born that way
“I’m just a holy fool, oh baby it’s so cruel, but I’m still in love with Judas, baby.”
When the infamously stylized hit “Judas” came around to Manila a year after its release, we soon realized that this city was not a place to tolerate Gaga’s very loose reenactment of Magdalene ditching Jesus because she’s got the hots for Judas.
Goodness, we’ve seen this. In 1987, American photographer Andres Serrano dunks a cross in piss. In 1996, Madonna hangs from a cross on her Confessions tour. In 2011, local artist Mideo Cruz installs a wooden penis on Jesus’ face.
In 2012, Lady Gaga barely survives her Southeast Asian tour “Born This Way ball,” where religious conservatism seems like what water hose is to controversial grease. Lady Gaga. Demon. Satanist. Antichrist. I don’t condone unnecessary religious insensitivity, but when church leaders appoint themselves as our protectors, I can’t help but be on the defense.
“They’re not playing ‘Judas’ in Manila?” my gay friend from Melbourne asks me with incredulity on Skype the night before the concert. He acts as if drunk and adds, “But it’s such a good song!”
“In addition to being a Bishop and a Pastor to my Christian community, I stand as a Preacher of Righteousness to my beloved land!” declares Bishop Reuben Abante of Biblemode Youth in a Facebook note (the organization that fronted the #StopLadyGagaConcert rally). “We don’t want a society of amoral people who do not have a sense for (sic) whatever is good or bad, or right or sin.”
I imagined drama of biblical proportions during the concert, like we were all going to be book-burned alive for being heretics. Never having been much of a fan, I thought, “Well, I don’t really want to be caught dead in a Gaga concert.” And first thing the next morning, I came across Red Tani of the Filipino Freethinkers’ satirical piece about the very nightmare, I laughed and choked on my spit.
The protesters of the “Born This Way” ball in Manila were up against not only a glory-hound and bulk-concert musician, they were also up against a performance artist you hear in just about every bar in the world and lives to make you question your beliefs and to tell you that you can be whoever you want to be. And although she’s happy if you leave her at the club at the end of the night, close listening becomes a matter of which side of the fence you’re on, or better yet, how open-minded you’d like to be.
“There’s no way to really know me unless you see me live. Artistically, humanly, in any way,” she tells Perez Hilton on his show, “All Access.” Knowing her, therefore, was not possible if you were one of the protesters holding a vigil against what was made to look like a Satanist party.
Concept-wise, behind all her videos (the “Judas” video, for example, was inspired by “Christian Lacroix and punk high street fashion”), Lady Gaga has always strived for high-production appeal. While people criticize her for copying Roisin Murphy or riding selfishly on music’s fondness for the political, she is a provocative and controversial vessel of animosity that we need, if only to steer discourse where the ice is soft.
“I can’t be reactionary in the way I create. I can’t only make based on what I believe other people want to see or make a safer choice,” she explains the “Born This Way” cover to Perez. “I am effortlessly and endlessly in a moment of transformation.”
She wouldn’t know how to sing this song sharp enough to drive a stake into Catholic hearts, if she hadn’t been brought up Catholic herself. “In the most biblical sense, I am beyond repentance.”
Raised as a repressed Roman Catholic, as are most of us, I interpret her “release” as a kind of Catholic teaching: repression leads to rebellion leads to self-discovery.
The sin of religious fundamentalists is, they believe they are the bastion of self-righteousness, carrying the burden of having to save everybody, and dismissing outsiders as sinful. The bishop, after all, is a Preacher of Righteousness to our beloved land.
However, standing at the crossroads of right and wrong, the young, who feel alienated from this moral code and don’t fit, inadvertently end up coming to Lady Gaga for support. “Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 5:10). Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it comes down to Gaga on YouTube. As Gaga explains, her fans are “feeling more secure about themselves through pop culture.”
It’s ironic that church groups are protesting against Gaga and her supporters, forgetting that these “monsters” have been cast out of the very structure that was meant to protect them in the first place. Over the years, Lady Gaga has become a gay icon, and being gay—if you ask boxer Manny Pacquiao and beauty queen Miriam Quiambao—just ain’t cool.
The presence of religious conservatism—religion police, no less—and the persistence of extremist denominations like the Westboro Baptist Church (“God hates fags!” leave no couch space for the dejected queer or anyone “abnormal.” How are these “castouts” expected to withstand blows against their self-identity and still stick around for Sunday Mass? If they find solace in Lady Gaga’s “Hair” (“I scream, ‘Mom and Dad, why can’t I be who I wanna be, to be?’”), is this not something brought upon by their upbringing? Being gay is no social leprosy. Sure, the standoff between the Gaga fans and the anti-Gaga must wind up in a handshake, but quite often the “persecuted” Christians forget that they are really on the offense.
In the arena, there is a plurality of voices—mine is one, Gaga’s is (definitely) another, and whether I like it or not, the protesters have their own voices, too. When they say the people around me should feel worthless in the eyes of God, I guess howling and hooting would be a natural response. I understand that I could have practiced more restraint when the “Judas” song came on—as I don’t have much against the larger Christian community but its close-mindedness. I agree, we have to respect the religions of other people, and keep in mind that they may also be offended. Similarly, we have to respect Gaga for staying true to herself despite the warnings not to act lewdly.
After all, that’s who Gaga is—someone so relentlessly outré that obstacles to your dreams are peanuts. Lady Gaga is just a chameleon of the zeitgeist that often needs to reflect upon itself. Mother Monster definitely isn’t Satan, she just uses controversy to flip a close mind and let an underrepresented minority breathe. Gaga tells us that we’re born this way, and so is she.
She addresses the Manila crowd: “I just feel like, you know, so many people have been protesting and it really doesn’t bother me truly because I know that there has to be change, but for all those kids all over the world that take their lives when they’re so young because they feel bullied or they’re afraid because they’re gay and they don’t want to tell anybody, don’t you think that some of us should stand up and say the god**n truth?”
As she puts it out on Twitter: “And don’t worry, if I get thrown in jail in Manila, Beyonce will just bail me out.”