In Portland, Lady Gaga Dressed More Respectably Than I Did
Yesterday, I attended the rally protesting Don't Ask, Don't Tell in Deering Oak Park in Portland, Maine. My wonderful husband Jason and I live about a mile away, but he was at work, so I went by myself.
I arrived early and was lucky enough to get a standing spot in the second row. School had just let out, and there were many teenagers walking together, laughing and smiling. Portland is a progressive city but relatively small - the population is only about 66,000 - so it isn't every day that we can see the world's most famous pop star for free. I've been to other political rallies in town, and with rare exceptions, all the ones not involving Lady Gaga have been far more sparsely attended.
As expected, she didn't arrive until the very end, which makes sense, as it would be unkind to arrive early and then have all the celebrity watchers leave before the politicians and soldiers spoke. Of the early speakers, our Congressional Representative, Chellie Pingree, was the most eloquent. I feel fortunate to live in one of the few districts with an honest, unabashedly liberal Congressperson who will actually fight for the right things. The soldier's generally spoke well and passionately against the bigotry they had to face. Some were endearingly self-deprecating about not being the most famous musician alive.
Listening to them gave me a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was very proud to see my own tribe represented by such outstandingly skilled people. On the other hand, I couldn't help asking myself if any of them had participated in torture or in bombing children. Some of them spoke of the many missions they had run in Iraq. So I had to ask myself what I was really applauding. I strongly believe in the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and for LGBT soldiers to be treated as full equals, but if I'm honest, that means we're equal to create just as much misery around the world as straight people do. It was a relief for me to see some protest signs at the periphery saying "No more homo blood for US imperialism." Despite its blatant broadside, it gave the event a more nuanced feel.
The other signs were the expected mix of adoration of Lady Gaga and calls to repeal DADT. My favorite sort-of-unrelated protest was a handsome shirtless transman carrying a sign saying, "I'm trans. You have a problem with that?" He seemed very proud of his hard-won masculinity, and that made him even sexier in my eyes, even though a similar swagger in a cisgender man would not have appealed as much to me.
In keeping with Gaga's over-the-top wardrobe, I decided to look a bit nuts. So I attended barefoot, wearing a twenty-foot-long scarf, a very brightly striped jacket, a pale green military shirt and short blue shorts, and a held up a sign saying "Every Man Has a Man Who Loves Him." Lady Gaga is a big Yoko Ono fan, and I thought she might appreciate the reference to Yoko's brilliant pro-gay anthem. Portland has brick sidewalks, so my feet are still a bit sore after walking barefoot for about two miles.
Lady Gaga arrived in a huge black van, and like a good dominatrix, she made us wait a few more minutes while a soldier led us in a loud chant of "This law sucks!" Then a local student leader spoke, and she gave a strong speech while pointing out that it also kind of sucks to be the last person to speak before a crowd waiting for You Know Who.
May I assume you've seen the videos of Lady Gaga speaking? If not, they're all over youtube and elsewhere. She came across more powerfully live, especially when she shouted at homophobic soldiers, "Go home!" She didn't seem calculated at all but instead seizing the same opportunity that John Lennon and Yoko Ono had, when they realized that they were ludicrously famous and that every thing they said and did would be on the news, so why not put that publicity to work for something good in the world? Gaga managed a level of moral force and outrage I don't expect from megacelebrities, so I salute her for that. And as everyone says when they see someone famous in person, she is shorter than I realized.
She wore a relatively restrained black suit and very high heels, so I was a bit out of step with her in my crazy clothes, but that was ok. The crowd absolutely loved her and cheered every word. In her activism, she may have done far more than Obama to get the injustice of DADT overturned, especially when she pressured Harry Reid to bring the issue to a vote. While that isn't an ideal situation and only feeds our warped celebrity-worship culture, we'll take our leaders where we can find them, and Gaga stood up to the plate powerfully.