‘Born This Way’ truly is an LGBT anthem

No matter what machinations may be hiding in the background, the message shines through in the new song from Lady Gaga

RAFAEL MCDONNELL | Special Contributor

Last Friday, Feb. 11, as I drove into work, I listened to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” on the music player built into my cell phone. I mention that because I’ve never been the most technically-proficient person. In fact, among my friends and family, I’m known as a “late adopter” of technology.

Yet, I daresay that I likely wasn’t the only person to listen to the song that way, that day.

You couldn’t go anywhere last weekend without bumping into “Born This Way.” From restaurants, clubs and shops to radio, TV and the Grammy Awards, the song was everywhere. According to Billboard magazine, “Born This Way” was downloaded nearly 450,000 times between that Friday and Sunday, Feb. 13 — setting a record for a female artist.

The song also debuted at number one on the “Billboard Hot 100” this week. Only 19 songs have done that since 1958, including those by Elton John, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Aerosmith.

But before this column turns into a Casey Kasem imitation, let me say I’m mentioning these statistics for a reason.

It’s not important if “Born This Way” sounds like a song Madonna released in the late 1980s. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Lady Gaga or not. It also doesn’t matter why she recorded the song — whether it is a paean to her LGBT fans or merely a cynical marketing ploy to sell a product.

The rapid pervasiveness of “Born This Way,” much as the “It Gets Better” videos did last fall, has the potential to spread discussions of LGBT issues far from Oak Lawn, Greenwich Village or West Hollywood. It transcends borders of geography, race, class, social status and history. How could it not, with lyrics like “No matter gay, straight, or bi/ Lesbian, transgendered life/ I’m on the right track, baby/ I was born to survive”?

Think of it for a moment. A kid in rural America, miles away from a traditional LGBT community, might be questioning her sexual orientation or gender identity. That kid may not have an understanding family or easy access to supportive resources. But if she has an Internet connection, or a digital music player, or even (gasp!) a CD player or radio, she will hear a message affirming her individuality played either on demand or seemingly every 90 minutes.

Saying the specific words of support and affirmation towards the LGBT community are what matters. Who cares if Lady Gaga emerged from an egg while doing it?

Let’s look at it from another perspective.

The field of semiotics is the study of communication through signs and symbols. Those who study semiotics believe that all cultural phenomena can be studied as a form of communication. Since bursting onto the musical scene, Lady Gaga is undoubtedly a cultural phenomenon. But, what’s the message being sent, and what’s being received?

To me, the message is a simple one.

From her concerts to her activism supporting the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Lady Gaga has reiterated a clear and consistent message of support for the LGBT community, whether she’s wearing a meat dress or a bra shooting sparks.

With the debut of “Born This Way,” she has cranked that message to maximum volume via multi-channel distribution. Its permeative nature will undoubtedly shape conversations from Dallas to Dime Box and beyond, and it has the potential to open minds and change hearts. If it does that, it’s a success.

Yes, there have been other songs offering support and understanding to the LGBT community. For example, I remember hearing Erasure’s “Hideaway” in the late 1980s. But at the time, that song was never released as a single and it never garnered much radio airplay.

Other pop songs, from “Over the Rainbow” to “I Will Survive” to “It’s Raining Men” have been adopted as anthems for the LGBT community — even though they weren’t directly written for us.

Add to that the technological changes that allow stories, music and art to go viral. The phone on which I listened to “Born This Way” can also play the YouTube video of the Grammy Awards performance, and upload comments and links to Facebook and Twitter. All of this serves to amplify the message behind the music.

That’s what makes “Born This Way” different. Lady Gaga is in your face with a specific message that all people — not just the LGBT community — should, as the song says, “rejoice and love yourself today,” and it’s being communicated on an unfathomable scale.

It also doesn’t hurt that it has a good beat and you can dance to it.

Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager at Resource Center Dallas. E-mail him at rmcdonnell@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Gay blogs reveal Clay Aiken has a new beau right here in Dallas

Celebgalz.com

What is it with pop stars and Dallas men? George Michael started the trend with his tolerant beau Ken Goss, Then we find out that Lance Bass is dating someone originally from Dallas. Over the past few days, the gay gossip blogs have been buzzing about local actor Jeff Walters and his celeb boyfriend Clay Aiken. After we found that out, his appearance in the audience at Theatre 3′s Drowsy Chaperone all started to make sense.

Perez Hilton posted this clip about the two’s appearances in town, which included stops at Pinkberry, Gaylord Texan and Borders. Aiken also took in Ohlook’s production of The Rocky Horror Show where Walters played the title character. And then it came out that Walter is an underwear model. Hot. Then it came out Walters had sexy pics on Grindr. Extra hot.

Colleague Chance sent me this TwitPic of Aiken at Theatre 3. Initially we thought “that’s random.” Come to find out, Aiken was doing so much more here.

Oh, and Aiken’s tour stops in Grand Prairie at Verizon Theatre on March 8. In case you were more interested in his music than his love life.

—  Rich Lopez

Pat Benatar comes to Uptown Borders Aug. 12

This could make for a difficult lunch hour. You’re either going to get a sub sandwich combo, or have a rock icon sign your book.

Next Thursday, Pat Benatar comes to Borders to sign Between a Heart and a Rock Place: A Memoir that came out in June. The clincher – it’s at 12:30 p.m. But come on, it’s Pat “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Love is a Battlefield” four-time Grammy winner Benatar.

She may not be what Madonna or k.d. is to the gays and lesbians out there, but don’t tell me you didn’t belt out “Shadows of the Night” when it came on the car radio driving home on a dark highway with tears streaming down your cheek. No? Just me? OK, nevermind. Anyway, she at least gave the lesbians some love performing at the Dinah Shore couple of years ago.

If you do head out there for the signing, don’t start taking your CDs, posters and other memorabilia. The officials say “please note that this event requires a wristband and that ONLY books will be able to be signed.” Now you know.

—  Rich Lopez

After three 'straight' years, 'Tango' drops to #2

and-tango-makes-three

For three — if you’ll excuse the expression — straight years, “And Tango Makes Three” has been the most banned book on the American Library Association’s list of most banned books.

The children’s book by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell tells the story of two male penguins at New York’s Central Park zoo who share a nest and hatch an abandoned egg.

This year, Tango the penguin with two gay dads, got knocked off the list by a series of books written in the style of instant messages.

Taking the No. 1 spot is writer Lauren Myracle series including “ttyl.” Drugs and offensive language are the complaints. The books don’t promote drugs. They just deal with them a 21st century realities for kids. Kewl.

Of the top 10 banned books, a few others are listed for LGBT content. “Tango” holds the #2 spot.

“The Perks of Being A Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky is #3. The main character has two gay friends. In “My Sister’s Keeper” (#7), the sister is a lesbian.

The books are in good company. J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” perennially makes the list (#6 this year). Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” is #9.

Note to Border’s on McKinney. You did a good job of putting other bookstores in Oak Lawn out of business. I buy this book along with “Heather Has Two Mommies” for any friend who has a baby because I believe children should be raised with good children’s books. PLEASE STOCK THESE WONDERFUL BOOKS.

—  David Taffet